Astorino prepares to lead young Lions secondary

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Drew Astorino has watched Penn State's Rose Bowl loss to USC more than once, calling it "a good teaching tool."

Unfortunately for Astorino, his future opponents also will watch the Rose Bowl tape, licking their chops with every Mark Sanchez completion. No unit had a tougher afternoon in Pasadena than the Nittany Lions' secondary, which surrendered 413 pass yards and four touchdowns in the 38-24 loss.

Penn State loses all four starters at defensive back, and the secondary will undoubtedly be the team's least experienced group entering the 2009 season.

"We understand that teams are going to come after us next year, it's pretty evident," Astorino said. "We always have a great defensive line. Our linebackers are great, too. So people are going to think that the secondary is the weakest link of our defense.

"Hopefully, we can take that to our advantage and show teams that they're not going to be able to do that."

With all four starting jobs open entering the summer, Astorino has become the secondary's de-facto leader, and he's not a bad one at that.

The sophomore safety appeared in all 13 games last fall, making three starts, and recorded 39 tackles with two interceptions and seven pass deflections. His more notable accomplishments came as a Pennsylvania high school star at General McLane High in Edinboro, Pa.

Not only did Astorino led General McLane to state championships in both football and basketball, but he made the critical plays to win both titles. He scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:55 left to lift General McLane to the Class AAA football title. Several months later, he hit the game-winning basket with two seconds left to win the hoops championship, which happened to be held at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

"I felt confident taking the final shot," Astorino said. "I felt confident with the ball in my hands in football. It was definitely good and I liked having the ball in my hands, but also, it was a little bit of luck.

"In football, they called the play. In basketball, I got the pass."

With a personal inventory of clutch plays, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Astorino isn't the type to get nervous on the gridiron for Penn State. He welcomes pressure, and he'll have plenty of it on his shoulders this fall.

"He's a pretty good player, one of the better players back there," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "But one guy can only do so much. He can help, but we've got a long way to go."

Paterno didn't hold back this spring in voicing his concerns about the secondary, which lost cornerback A.J. Wallace, a projected starter, to a hamstring injury shortly after practices started. Astorino understands Paterno's anxiety, but he's confident that the unit will come together by Sept. 5.

"We definitely have a lot of work, but we have a lot of potential," he said. "We're going out there to prove that although we're young, we still can be a very good secondary."