The evolution of fifth-year senior offensive lineman Eric Shrive has been gradual.
A five-star prospect out of West Scranton High School, Shrive was rated as a consensus top 10 offensive lineman when he made his commitment to the Nittany Lions in 2009. The high expectations that come with the hype weren't immediately met, though.
Losing out to more experienced linemen his freshman and sophomore seasons after a redshirt, some questioned weather or not Shrive's career would ever really materialize at Penn State.
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Last season, though, under the direction of new offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, Shrive saw more chances to get on the field than at any other point in his career. Lining up as a backup on the line at both right tackle and right guard, and earning special teams work, the sheer momentum of opportunity helped propel him into this offseason, he said.
"I think it gave me a little bit of a confidence boost going into the offseason to get after it and to really want to get back on the field this year as much as possible," Shrive said. "I think Coach Mac did a great job of getting a bunch of us younger guys in the games and really gave us a feel for what we're going to feel this year when we're going to go out there."
Certainly, arguing that Shrive has reached the potential proscribed to him out of high school would be a tough proposition at this point.
With Donovan Smith and Adam Gress currently holding the roles as likely starters for the 2013 season at left and right tackle, respectively, Shrive has played backup duty at both spots this spring and has even filled in as the starter as Smith has nursed some bumps and bruises. He's grabbed some attention in the process, though, earning praise from both coaches and teammates for his progression this spring.
"He's playing well," said right guard Miles Dieffenbach. "He's playing very aggressive in the run game. He's getting better in the pass game. He's really worked on his feet and his punch. He's doing a great job."
Like many on the Nittany Lions' offensive line, part of the improvements, besides McWhorter, can also be directly attributed to strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.
Point blank, Shrive is much, much stronger than he'd been before Fitzgerald's arrival, and, particularly this spring, those improvements have paid dividends.
"I think I'm a lot stronger than I've ever been right now, and that's just a credit to Coach Fitzgerald and his strength crew," Shrive said. "We work out hard in the weight room and doing conditioning, but we have fun doing it. It's just a testament to Coach Fitzgerald and his staff for the program that they have us on and the intensity that he brings to the workouts makes everyone want to get better.
"I just think, physically, I know speaking for myself, I feel a lot stronger playing out there right now and I think as you're feeling stronger, you feel a lot more confident, especially up front on the offensive line."
Center and fellow senior Ty Howle echoed the sentiment.
"Since he's gotten here, he's gotten a whole lot stronger," Howle said. "He's playing well. He's versatile, he's playing a lot of different positions, and he's progressed well. Even this spring, he's progressed well, picking up on little stuff on the offense. Just little technical issues. Fitz and those guys have done as much good for him as anybody on this team. They've done well for everybody being physically stronger."
Taking into account Shrive's increasing visibility as the president of Penn State's Uplifting Athletes chapter, of which he was named the Rare Disease Champion Award Winner in February thanks to his nearly $70,000 raised, and Shrive can reflect on his career as a Nittany Lion differently than others might.
"I feel like my decision to come to Penn State has been a great one," he said. "It's been a great experience on and off the field. I feel like I'm getting a world-class education in the classroom, surrounded by great guys and my teammates, and it's been a great experience and I'm really looking forward to my senior year."