Penn State's Jesse Luketa Ready To Make A Name For Himself

Canadian Linebacker Already Has Some Famous Friends

Eric Hagman
June 30, 2020 - 4:42 pm

(93.7 The Fan) - Jesse Luketa doesn't receive the publicity of fellow Penn State linebacker and close friend All-American Micah Parsons, but he has a story--no, make that stories--to tell.  And he intends to add more this football season.

A junior, Luketa didn't take a traditional route to one of college football's elite programs.  He played his high school ball at Erie's Mercyhurst Prep but was born in Ottawa and grew up in the Canadian capital.  That meant as a youngster visiting Greco Fitness and getting the opportunity to get to know hockey players such as the Flyers' Claude Giroux and the Senators' Mike Fisher.  And Fisher's wife Carrie Underwood.

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"She was in the facility, and I'd walk in and say 'Hi, Carrie.' But I never knew who Carrie Underwood was.  I was just a little kid. I'd come to the facility and then head out and play football.  Later on when they left (Ottawa),  I ended up seeing her on the commercial for (Sunday Night Football), and I was like 'that's Carrie,' and my coach said 'that's her.'  It was hilarious."

Later, as a teenager, Luketa began training with Giroux, though it didn't involve skating, something Luketa can't do.

"They started allowing me to work out with them," Luketa said. "When I get home I always have a place at the facility. (Giroux), he's a dude that does not get tired.  Training with him I always have to be on my Ps and Qs. I love training with him."

Before returning to State College last Thursday, Luketa worked out with Giroux and the Los Angeles Kings' Ben Hutton.   Then, he got another workout of sorts leaving Canada for State College. 

"It was kind of hard at first because travel is still banned," Luketa said.  "Myself and (Penn State teammate Jonathan Sutherland), we had our paperwork to get back into the country, but the question was if we would be able to cross if someone drove us.  So, I had to have one of my coaches drive us to the border.  He dropped us off there, and then we had a representative from Penn State come pick us up and drive us back to State College."

Luketa hasn't been permitted to work out with his teammates yet.  In fact, he remains at a hotel, in quarantine, training by himself.

"The toughest part of my transition is I'm alone.  Like it's weird, being back in State College I want to be around my guys, all my brothers, but I have to keep my distance.  That's what's most important.  We really want to make sure we're doing what's in the best interest of the team."

No one close to him has tested positive for Covid-19, but for someone whose family is an important part of his life, this isn't an easy time.

"You know growing up my mom (Rose) always told me 'it takes a village.'  I'm the youngest of seven so I have a whole village behind me.  She played both roles.  The fact she let a young 14 year old leave her home to pursue a dream, by himself, I know didn't sit well with her. She's my motivation.  Everything I do I do for her.  She's my rock."

A valuable backup and special teams performer his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions, Luketa is ready to make a name for himself at Linebacker U.

'Now it's my time to step up," Luketa said. "I have to essentially be the old guy in the room because the other guys are looking up to me.  The onus is on me.  I'm a leader in the room, and I have to be a leader on the field.   Penn State has a standard and a rich history of what it is to be a Penn State linebacker."

Whether it's athletics or academics, Luketa craves knowledge.

"I've been studying our playbook.  I've been studying teams and offensive schemes. I've been trying to continue to grow and evolve as a student of the game.  That's my biggest thing.  I'm always eager to learn and to add to my game in some way, shape or form."

As players report back, and students will follow, Luketa's one concern doesn't involve football.

"I'd say my biggest concern as we return to in-person classes on August 25th would have to be the classroom environment.  Are we going to be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder or will it be every third or every second chair with a student in it?  But right now, I'm just focused getting back with my team, getting back to football."

Wherever this season and beyond takes him, Luketa feels extremely fortunate.

"I've been able to study abroad. I've been able to receive a free education.  With that, I'm in a position where I'll be able to graduate early and pursue my aspirations of potentially receiving a master's degree. That's something where I come from--a second generation immigrant hailing from The Democratic Republic of the Congo--that doesn't happen too much.  I'm forever grateful for everything my mom and my siblings have done for me."

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