Connect with us


‘Seeing the game differently’: Sophomore safety shows breakout potential for Penn State football

Rising sophomore KJ Winston could be ready to make a splash in Penn State’s secondary this season.



Penn State Football, breakout potential, safety KJ Winston
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Utah Utes tight end Logan Kendall (32) runs the ball against Penn State Nittany Lions safety Kevin Winston Jr. (21) in the second half in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For better or worse, the 2023 season for Penn State will be defined by new faces and young depth players stepping into elevated roles. Nowhere is this more emblematic than in the Nittany Lion secondary. While the room is filled with veteran leadership and playmaking ability, Penn State’s safeties will be tested this year. Gone are stars like Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown to lead the way in the defensive backfield. But during Saturday’s Blue-White Game, sophomore safety KJ Winston showed that he has the breakout potential Penn State football needs this season.

KJ Winston flashes breakout potential in Blue-White Game

If you follow Penn State football recruiting, you’ve likely been waiting for KJ Winston to make his mark. A former four-star prospect, Winston was a top-ten player in Maryland coming out of DeMatha Catholic in 2022. As a true freshman, Winston quietly burned his redshirt last season. Appearing in 12 games, Winston recorded 11 solo and 16 total tackles in 2022.

As a recruit, Winston showed physicality and raw athletic ability, making evaluators excited about what he could do at the next level. During Saturday’s Blue-White Game, that talent flashed for really the first time at the collegiate level. Second on the team with six total tackles, Winston was one of the first players mentioned by James Franklin, noting that he was “flying all over the field.”

Winston didn’t appear surprised by his performance when we spoke with him after the game. “My main thing was to do my job and trust my teammates to do theirs. That’s what we always preach,” he said. “So, I felt like I did that. I played at full speed, played fast, and the results were what they were.”

Penn State football needs to find a star safety this season

The secondary was one of the strengths that led Penn State to the Rose Bowl last year. That’s to be expected for a unit with soon-to-be NFL Draft picks like Joey Porter, Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown (and future NFL talent Kalen King) leading the way. But this year poses a new challenge for Manny Diaz and Anthony Poindexter. Like Porter last season, King is expected to lock down one side of the field for the Nittany Lions. Whether or not the secondary continues to play at an elite level depends on everyone else.

A critical component of this 2023 defensive will be the ability of another defensive back to rise up and display breakout potential. Like Saturday, KJ Winston’s speed and aggressiveness could help him do just that. “I feel like the physicality I can bring to the secondary and just being a competitor [is what he can bring to the defense],” Winston said. “I feel like that’s the main thing. Just being a competitor back there to help the team out.”

Winston also noted that the mental aspect of his game has taken a step forward this year, which has helped improve his play on the field. “I think just knowing what I’m doing and knowing what the offense is trying to do to me and seeing it before it happens,” Winston said when asked what he has improved since last season. “So, I feel like that’s what allowed me to make a lot of plays. Because last year, I was just going out there and playing ball. Now, I’m seeing the game differently.”

If Winston can continue his growth from the end of last season and spring into the summer, then he possesses all the skills to be one of the standouts on the Penn State defense in 2023. But even without a returning star like Brisker or Brown, the Lions’ defensive backfield isn’t expecting a dropoff in play this season.

“…we just want to make each other better and compete,” Winston said. “Everybody looks at each other the same. We all want to compete. No matter who it is, we know whoever’s on the field is going to make a play.”

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at or direct message us on our social media. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


Spinstralia Casino: online pokies real money, real fun! Get in on the action today!