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Leader of the Lion Pride: Cabinda to Co-Captain 2017 PSU

Written by: on Friday, July 21st, 2017. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.


Printed in the July 20th Bucks County Herald

Hunterdon Central possessed an elite all-State running back in Jason Cabinda. His 50 career touchdowns set a school record. Flemington’s Cabinda helped to lead the Red Devils to the 2013 Group IV State Championship.

“My 1-AA offers, for the most part, were running back offers,” Cabinda said. “But being able to play linebacker at Linebacker U was irresistible and something that I couldn’t turn down.”

The Pennsylvania State University has had 13 linebackers drafted in the NFL’s first two rounds and 11 Lion ‘backers made Pro Bowls. No other college’s linebacking tradition shines brighter.

“Another great part about this University is the football alumni who come back. They care. They want to keep that tradition going,” described Cabinda, a senior linebacker who will co-captain the Nittany Lions this Fall. “Jack Ham comes to practice and I’ve picked his brain. NaVorro Bowman and Tamba Hali have been back. It’s really special knowing that those guys care enough to continue to mentor us as best as they can.”

Cabinda is doing his part to make sure that his name will someday be uttered with the same reverence as Ham, Bowman, Poszluszny or Arrington. Despite missing five games last season, Cabinda still ranked third on the Nittany Lions in tackles. He led the 2015 Nittany Lions in tackles.

“Jason is a rare difference-maker from the second level,” said Rich Cirminiello, the Maxwell Football Club’s Director of College Awards. “He diagnoses in a flash, wraps up in space and never, ever takes a play off. Even when he’s not making the stop, his infectious motor is helping make someone else on that Penn State D a little better and hungrier.”

All Cabinda did in his first game back from injury was record 13 tackles, including two for loss. Against #2 Ohio State. In the Nittany Lions’ signature post-Paterno era win.

“After that game, you really saw the mindset of the team change,” Cabinda noted. “You saw the confidence grow.”

The Buckeyes were the third victim of an eventual Penn State nine game win streak. Win nine was the Big 10 championship which punched the Nittany Lions’ Rose Bowl ticket.

In the two weeks after Ohio State, the Lions held Purdue and Iowa to a combined (italics) 76 rushing yards. Cabinda had nine tackles in both games; his nine against Purdue led PSU.

“Honestly, I knew it (would be a special year) since camp,” Cabinda replied. “It was the most talented team we had since I had been at Penn State. You could see the resilience and the mindset of the guys. Guys were never ready to let up and the heads were never down.” In Penn State’s 38-31 thrilling defeat of Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 in the second quarter.

An Economics major, Cabinda draws rave reviews for his natural leadership and his sweat equity in Penn State’s success.

“Eighth grade is where I started to grow into my body,” Cabinda remembered. “I was always a kid who started at the bottom and earned his way up to the top. I was never that kid who people said I was going to be a D1 prodigy.

“With the kids I grew up with, the best kids were the hardest workers,” he continued. “I saw that if I wanted to be the best on the team, I was going to have to outwork everybody.”

“Culture driver” is a phrase that Cabinda uses to describe leadership. “What made my teams at Hunterdon Central so successful is that we had guys who were culture drivers,” Cabinda continued. “The best players were the ones who did the right things. We didn’t have captains or star players who were screwing up on Saturday nights.

“I always thought that being a leader meant being that example. You had to do everything right whether somebody was watching or no one was watching. My coaches instilled in me that you see what your true character is,” Cabinda concluded, “when no one is watching.”

The Nittany Lion star made a very public character move last Christmas by announcing his return for his senior season. One service ranked Cabinda as the eighth best inside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft. Although he was a sure lock to be selected, Cabinda had unfinished business at Happy Valley.

“I hadn’t graduated yet,” Cabinda explained. “The number one thing I came for, when I made the decision to come to Penn State, was to get that degree so I would be able to have that to fall back on once football is over. And playing for those fans, knowing how many of my guys are coming back and the opportunity we have this year played a huge factor as well. It made it a pretty easy decision.”

Appropriately, Penn State’s commencement is around Mother’s Day. If anyone is tougher than the Lion co-captain, it may be Jason’s mother Natalie, an educator.

“Seeing what my Mom has gone through and having to work multiple jobs to keep a roof over my head. The sacrifices that she has made- coming from Cameroon- so my two sisters and I could have better opportunities, I owe it to her,” Cabinda said. “I owe it to her to work this hard because she didn’t come all the way over here for us to be slacking.”


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