In the run-up to Penn State’s game at Michigan Oct. 24, 2009, a Michigan website called Graham Zug the Lions’, “little white slot receiver.’’
Not much of a moniker. Zug isn’t little (6-foot-2). He played the slot but also the other wideout positions.
He is undeniably white.
Regardless, after Penn State’s 35-10 victory, Zug found out he was “Amish Lightning.’’
Zug, a former walk-on from Manheim Central High School, had scored three touchdowns in what might have been the best game of a unique, remarkable college career.
“I knew it was going to be a good game for me,’’ Zug recalled Thursday. “I was matched up with a safety on every play. I just did what I was supposed to do.’’
Michigan, then as now, was a man coverage team. Then the Wolverines played their safeties in a cover-two, with one safety responsible for the slot receiver, who on this day was usually Zug.
“A wide receiver ought to be able to beat a safety most of the time,’’ Zug said. “I knew I had a two-way go, depending on how (the safety shaded) - the middle post or a corner route.’’
On Penn State’s first possession of the game, Zug beat a safety on the corner route and QB Daryll Clark hit him for a 10-yard touchdown.
Early in the third quarter, Zug again beat a safety, again on a corner route, for an 11-yard TD. On the final score, a 17-yarder, Zug lined up wide and beat an all-Big Ten cornerback, Donovan Warren, who played in the NFL.
Clark threw for 230 yards and four TDs that day. Zug finished with five catches for 59 yards. The Lions got one of their three Big-Ten era wins at Michigan, on the way to an 11-2 season that ended with a 19-17 defeat of LSU in the Capital One Bowl and a No. 9 national ranking in the final AP poll.
Zug redshirted in 2006, played 42 snaps in ‘07, and got some traction and a semi-regular role on the 2008 team that won the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl.
But he truly emerged in 2009, starting nine games and racking up 46 catches for 600 yards and seven TDs.
He had some big catches in big moments, including a 49-yarder in the Lions’ 13-6 win at Ohio State in ‘08, and several key, chain-moving grabs in the Capital One Bowl defeat of LSU.
Zug’s story inspired some old-school sportswriting, for some reason. That meant nicknames. The Zuggenator. The Zuggenaut. Someone in the Penn State media crew - Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News is a suspect - leaned on the moldiest cliches about Lancaster County and came up with “Amish Lightning.’’
Such things get around, in press boxes. Postgame, a writer from Michigan asked Zug what he thought of it.
“Whatever you guys wanna say,” Zug answered, laughing. “Yeah, whatever you want.”
Zug is now the offensive coordinator at Palmyra High School, which is preparing to play Warwick in a District Three playoff game in Lititz Friday.
He said many of his current players are too young to really remember him as a player.
Still, once in a while the young Cougars will happen upon a picture or video, or even the nickname, on the Internet.
Zug’s response is too easy: “When you score three touchdowns in the Big House, we’ll see what they call you.’’