Winding road leads back to football for WR Dan Chisena
In 2015, Dan Chisena was the fastest high schooler in Pennsylvania at the Class AAA level.
Posting a 10.52 in the 100-meter, a 21.29 in the 200-meter, and helping to produce a 42.01-second 4x100-meter relay, the Downingtown East product earned PIAA titles in each.
Penn State head football coach James Franklin noticed, offering Chisena a preferred walk-on spot for the Nittany Lions.
“We really liked Dan on the front end. We recruited Dan. Dan won the 100 meters in the state of Pennsylvania his senior year. We really recruited him pretty hard,” said Franklin, “and then the track and field team stole him from us; in a positive way, I guess. They ended up giving him a scholarship, which was really good for him.”
A joke with some cutting truth to it, Franklin’s comments were the third time this spring recounting Chisena’s winding story with the Nittany Lions.
For good reason, too, as Chisena was awarded a scholarship during the Blue-White Game immediately following his 59-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. A fast-rising fifth-year senior with serious speed, Chisena is approaching his third year with the football program with a recalibrated mentality.
Having spent 2016, 2017, and spring of 2018 with Penn State’s track team on its 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams, Chisena eventually tore his hamstring during the last track season.
“That was kind of an event that made me think about, ‘OK, what do I want these next few years to look like?’” Chisena said.
The answer, he continued, was to suit up with Penn State football to round out his collegiate athletic career.
Originally planning to run with the track team for four years before transferring for a fifth and final year with a football program, the injury proved to be a turning point to that thought process.
“I tore my hamstring and that just kind of made me reconsider what I wanted to do,” said Chisena. “I realized that I didn't want to leave Penn State. I love it here, and if the opportunity came that Franklin would be willing to take me back, I thought why not, I'd give it a shot.”
To do so, though, would require an offseason sit-down with the head coach that he’d had to walk away from in the first place.
Not that Franklin hadn’t understood, of course. Having revealed that scholarship money was on the table, something that the track team could offer but football could not at the time, Franklin graciously accepted Chisena’s decision to move from football after just one redshirt season with the Nittany Lions.
Even so, Chisena was admittedly concerned that Franklin might have some lingering hard feelings from the original departure, Chisena’s fears were assuaged almost instantaneously.
“I was in the lobby just waiting and he came out and yells, 'Blast from the past!' He seemed happy to see me, which was really relieving because I didn't know how I was going to be received,” said Chisena. “It was a good feeling, knowing that I would be welcomed back without having things held against me. It's what made me feel really good about coming back.”
The return wasn’t exactly as Chisena had initially hoped.
Back with the Nittany Lions for last summer’s preseason camp, Chisena spent the first four weeks of the season as a scout team phenom, both on special teams and offense. Upon finally earning the opportunity to participate in game action against Ohio State, though, Chisena hyperextended his knee on his very first special teams rep.
Playing through it, Chisena would appear twice more against the Buckeyes, then was sidelined until November when he would reappear for one special teams rep against Maryland in the regular-season finale.
In all, Chisena’s return amounted to just four total game reps. Even so, boasting unteachable 4.3 40-yard speed, and a 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, the wide receiver became an early talking point for Franklin this offseason in a room that experienced significant attrition.
Unprompted, Franklin brought up Chisena’s name as “interesting” during his February Signing Day recruiting press conference at Beaver Stadium. Again, just two weeks into spring practices, Chisena was highlighted as having “had a nice spring so far,” accentuating the position group’s need for size and speed. The next week, Franklin expressed that the staff was “excited” about Chisena’s performance this spring, echoing Deion Sanders’ comments about those who can “run, run.”
Still, Chisena understands that his success as a wide receiver will require more than just being able to run fast.
Devoting his time and energy to translating his track speed into becoming a well-rounded, capable receiver, Chisena acknowledges his progress and remaining room to improve before the start of the 2019 season.
“It's definitely been a big transition, just because you can't just be fast. You have to be able to get out of breaks. You can't just run a go every play, or else they're going to play you 15, 20 yards back on you every time and you're not going to be able to make anything happen,” said Chisena. “So getting back into route running, making cuts, all that change of direction stuff was a challenge. It's something I'm still working on and feel like I've definitely improved a lot over the last several months.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity in front of him this spring, Chisena has now not only earned a scholarship for his final campaign with the Nittany Lions but also has set up even more potential for the months ahead.
Catching the attention of Franklin and the rest of the Nittany Lion coaching staff, it’s a long-awaited future now coming to fruition.
“He’s a guy that we’ve always had high hopes for, and he’s just had a really good, consistent spring,” said Franklin. “He’s mature, smart, strong. Obviously, he’s got a lot of work to do from a fundamental standpoint, but we like where he’s at.”