Touchdowns keep coming for Cal (Pa.) safety Lamont McPhatter II
Opponents are having a hard time keeping Cal (Pa.)’s Lamont McPhatter II out of the end zone these days.
That’s saying something, considering he plays defense.
McPhatter, a junior safety from New Castle, has touchdowns in the past two games, including a 100-yard interception return against then-No. 2 IUP on Saturday that helped seal a 36-24 upset in the Coal Bowl.
“It’s all about the ball,” said McPhatter, a two-way standout in high school. “Being a defensive back, it’s fun because you get to fly around and make tackles and interceptions. If you play fast, physical and smart, something will give. I just keep that in my mind the entire game.”
McPhatter’s other touchdown came Sept. 22 against Edinboro, when he returned a fumble 82 yards. He has four interceptions and a sack this season and earned the past two PSAC West Defensive Player of the Week awards.
“He always finds himself around the ball,” coach Gary Dunn said. “He has great speed. His game speed is probably better than his 40 speed. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a very dynamic player. He’s got a really good football sense. He knows when to cut it back. He knows when to make a guy miss.”
The touchdown against IUP came on a second-and-goal play with less than five minutes left and Cal leading 30-24. Crimson Hawks All-PSAC quarterback Lenny Williams faked a handoff and threw to the flat, but McPhatter jumped the route at the goal line and raced the other way.
“Lamont does such a great job focusing on his reads and keys,” Dunn said.
IUP was the highest-ranked opponent Cal has defeated in school history, and the victory put the Vulcans (3-2, 2-0) in a tie for first place in the PSAC West with Slippery Rock (4-1, 2-0) and Clarion (4-1, 2-0). Cal visits Clarion at 2 p.m. Saturday. The win also was the third straight for the Vulcans after a rare 0-2 start.
″(The victory) meant a lot for our confidence,” McPhatter said. “It’s just a step in the road. ... Our goal isn’t just to beat IUP this year. (Our goals) are much bigger than that.”
McPhatter’s goal two years ago was simply to get back on the field. After beginning his career at Division I Ball State in Indiana and earning the team’s top freshman award in 2015, he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot during seven-on-seven workouts in the 2016 offseason.
The injury, a break to the fifth metatarsal bone, requires up to five months of rehab, so McPhatter faced the possibility of losing another year of eligibility (he redshirted in 2014). Instead, he elected to transfer someplace closer to home.
McPhatter spent fall 2016 rehabbing, a process that involved a long period of rest before gradually building up strength.
He eventually enrolled at Cal in the spring semester of 2017, a place McPhatter called “the right place to be” after meeting the coaches and players.
McPhatter showed no ill effects of the injury last season, when he recorded five interceptions -- returning two for touchdowns -- and earned first-team All-PSAC West honors.
“It was all about trusting it and feeling good about it mentally, because that’s what happens with those types of injuries,” he said. “They can say it’s healed, but if your mind’s not up to it, you won’t go out there and execute. But my mind was up to it.”
McPhatter is on track to graduate with a degree in finance in December, but he plans to use his final year of eligibility next season. Down the road, he hopes to start a career in wealth management or real estate, but he said making some money in the pros would be his first choice.
Dunn said he expects NFL scouts will soon take notice.
“We preach to our guys that good things happen to people that play hard and hustle,” Dunn said, “and he is the perfect example.”