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April 18, 2012Don't let the modesty of Adam Gress fool you.
Penn State's unequivocal starter at left tackle on the offensive line since the second week of spring camp, the redshirt junior has managed to transform himself from a marginal special teams player into, arguably, one of the most important cogs on the Nittany Lions' new offensive unit.
He knows as much, but considering the improvements he's still planning to make, Gress is far from ready to acknowledge the enormity of what he's already accomplished.
"I mean, I guess things look pretty good for me right now, but it's a day-to-day process," he says, after some coaxing. "I still have to have a good summer and come out strong in camp to be starting at the beginning of the season."
At this point, there's little reason to believe he won't.
Of course, just four weeks ago, few Penn State fans had any reason to believe he would, until new head coach Bill O'Brien pointed out just how far Gress had come in winter workouts while under the direction of new strength and conditioning coach, Craig Fitzgerald.
"You can see where Fitz and his assistants and his program have had a direct effect on guys already, like Adam Gress," O'Brien said at his spring practice kickoff press conference on March 26. "Right now you can see that the offensive tackle for us has had a heck of a winter and has already changed his body. You go from looking one way to looking more like a V shape, and that's what you're looking for in your linemen."
On the same day, Fitzgerald told reporters, unprovoked, that Gress had transformed his body into that of an NFL offensive lineman.
The compliments weren't lost on Gress.
"I guess it was kind of flattering. It was pretty cool to hear," he said. "It was encouraging, more than anything, to hear someone say something like that. It just really gave me - I don't want to say the credit I deserve - but I mean, say something positive to me in terms of the gains I've made. That was great to hear."
According to seemingly everyone who is asked, Gress has been the biggest winner from the new strength program. Having entered the winter at 303 pounds, Gress is now up to 310 pounds while having reduced his body fat percentage, he says.
From a dramatically improved bench press weight to better punch and explosion out on the field, Gress acknowledges just how much he has benefitted from the new program Fitzgerald has implemented at Penn State this winter.
"I would completely agree that it's an understatement to say that the strength program has helped me," Gress said. "I mean, overall, what Coach Fitz has done with me personally has just helped me become more powerful and stronger overall in all regions of my body. It's hard to specify one.
"I don't think it would be right to say that I wouldn't have had this opportunity if Coach Fitz wasn't our strength trainer, but I do think that it's made, probably, of all the new changes, that's been the biggest part of it and it's absolutely essential in making me where I am right now in the spring."
The other half of the equation, according to Gress, has been the influence of new offensive line coach Mac McWhorter.
Said Gress, "I think we see eye to eye on a lot of things, and just his coaching style and his techniques that he prefers, I think really just work for me."
Teammates have seen it, too.
Lining up against the likes of defensive ends Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley on a daily basis this spring, each was more glowing about Gress than the last when asked specifically about his improvement.
"I've seen a lot of improvement in Adam Gress,'' Massaro said. "He's made significant strides in the offseason, he's a lot stronger. He's kind of emerging as a force at tackle."
Following the graduation of last year's starter, Quinn Barham, Penn State fans are hoping as much for the season ahead.
He'll make his unofficial debut at Saturday afternoon's Blue White Game, but the Lions' September 1 home opener against Ohio will mark the reward of what has been an incredibly efficient turnaround.
"Of course I think about (starting on opening day) a lot. That's going to cross my mind. It's nice to think about things like that, but I also have to remember that this is a day to day process, and right now it's only the spring," he said.. "I've had a really good spring and I have to continue to keep working hard through the summer and improve myself even more through the summer so that by the end of fall training camp, I'm a better player than I am right now.
"Having not started before and me coming into my last two seasons, having the new staff come in gave me the opportunity to set a new pace and really prove myself. I have two years left, so I wanted to make sure that I was going to get the best out of these two years, so, I guess I've turned it up a little bit for Coach Fitz, yeah."