Doubts trailed Jake Plonski (Erie, Pa./Cathedral Prep) everywhere last season.
On the sidelines, all the pacing and water breaks in the world couldn't extinguish the butterflies. After a freak injury in gym class that resulted in a torn ACL and meniscus, the 2013 linebacker admittedly was nervous. Thoughts of his left leg giving out shot through his mind as he sprinted around the corners.
With a constant battle against pain, he knew he wasn't the same linebacker. But one season later, with schools such as Penn State and Pitt keeping close tabs on him, he believes as if he's turned that proverbial corner -- and he's no longer concerned with that left leg.
"I'm fully recovered now," said Plonski, whom doctors cleared four days before his junior season. "I always tried to keep a positive attitude because I knew I was coming back my senior season. But it was rough, definitely rough."
The 6-foot-1 linebacker devoted his offseason to becoming a better athlete than he was before the injury. He completely swore off the McDonald's drive-thru for seven months, followed a strict diet and devoted himself to the weight room.
He lost 30 pounds since January, and last year's doubts have flown away like his excess weight. He feels faster, stronger and better than ever. And college coaches are taking notice.
Penn State assistant Stan Hixon makes it a point to speak with Plonski every week. Other schools -- Pitt, Ohio, West Virginia, Duke -- have also reached out to the senior, but the Nittany Lions are pursuing him most.
Hixon requested some film from the linebacker, and Plonski said he plans to ship it within the next two weeks. He hopes Hixon recognizes the difference this season so when they inevitably speak a few days later, he might earn a scholarship.
"Coach Hixon came out or school and told me I look good," Plonski said. "They saw the first game and he told me I'm back on the board, and he just started calling every week. ... He said they're really, really interested."
Penn State initially began recruiting Plonski as a sophomore, but interest dovetailed following that injury. But, like most schools, that interest flew back like a boomerang once they caught a glimpse of the faster Plonski.
Pitt extended multiple game invitations to the in-state linebacker, and Plonski attended the Youngstown State contest. He also plans to attend two games for Penn State, including the Oct. 27 Ohio State matchup.
"At Penn State, the atmosphere there is obviously crazy," he said. "I went to a game sophomore year, and it's crazy down there. Plus, the coaches are pretty cool."
Both Pitt and Penn State would be pretty attractive choices, he said, but he's not sure what one he would pick if both offered. Still, he admired the Lions' tradition and didn't think the sanctions were an issue.
"I don't have a favorite college team," he said. "But I've always followed Penn State. Because I play linebacker, I always thought it would be kind of a dream to play there. So when [Hixon] called me, I was just really happy."