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Senior wide receiver Cam Countryman is one of a handful of players on the offensive side of the ball who have made significant contributions for Penn football in 2015.

Credit: Ilana Wurman

For Penn football, the first five games of the season have revealed stars on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Thus the question heading into Friday night’s nationally televised showdown with Yale is: Who’s going to be next?

“Everyone that’s on our team can play ball,” senior receiver Cam Countryman said. “Anybody can fill any position that needs to be filled.

“It’s always the next man up mentality with us. We believe in whoever is in that position. When we do what we’re coached to do good things happen.”

Still, there is something to be said for the productive performances of running backs Tre Solomon and Brian Schoenauer, linebacker Donald Panciello, backup quarterback Andrew Lisa and wide receiver Christian Pearson, each of whom stepped into expanded roles during the season’s first half.

But even coach Ray Priore isn’t sure who will be the next man to register a breakout game for the Red and Blue (2-3, 1-1 Ivy). Owing to the team’s youth — 14 freshmen traveled to Columbia — Priore is excited at the possibility of a new face accepting the spotlight.

In New York last week, Pearson hauled in 10 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown, his second of the season. That performance earned him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors, as well as recognition as the National FCS Freshman of the Week Award runner-up.

But giving all the credit to the younger players making highlight reel plays would sell the rest of the team short.

“People don’t realize Cam Countryman was a huge part of how [Pearson] had all those catches,” Priore said.

Countryman doesn’t immediately strike people as a blocker. After all, his 185-pound, 5-foot-11 frame fits more as a slot wide receiver.

Yet the veteran’s grit has made the Quakers’ offense better and opened up opportunities for guys like Pearson, Solomon and sophomore Justin Watson to make catches downfield.

“[While] I wouldn’t say it’s a role that I’ve taken on, it’s something that I’m real passionate about,” Countryman said. “You’re not going to get the ball if you’re not blocking well for the other guys on your team. So whatever I can do to get C.P., J-Wat, [junior wideout Adam] Strouss, [senior wide receiver Christian] Stapleton as many yards as possible.

“I’m going to do it for them, try to bust them loose get them some extra yards.”

As for Yale (4-1, 1-1), despite losing star running back Tyler Varga to the NFL, the team’s offense is nothing to scoff at.

“Tyler Varga is an NFL player, and in this league when different teams have those type of stars they are tough to compete against,” Priore said. “I do believe, however, that their team is a combination of really good players. ... They give you a great balance of an offense.”

The Bulldogs have certainly shown that, while they miss Varga tremendously, they can still put up points and win ball games. Furthermore, three of their four wins have been come-from-behind victories, a trend that exemplifies their ability to adapt.

Still, one check in Penn’s favor is that the squad is accustomed to playing on short rest. With their contest against Yale slated for Friday night, the Quakers can take note from when they had only four days between games yet still won against Villanova. On the other hand, this will be Yale’s first short week of 2015.

“We’ll be ready,” Pearson said of the shorter week. “We’re more prepared than they are.”

The game will also be featured on NBC Sports Network and marks the first time in Franklin Field’s history that it has hosted a collegiate primetime game on national tevevision. But despite the hype, the Red and Blue are trying to look past any distractions.

“It doesn’t matter,” Countryman said of the televised nature of the game. “I play because I love to play.”

“We treat every game as it’s own individual experience. We’ve already played a night game at Villanova so the nighttime part of it isn’t any different,” Priore said. “You worry about who you’re playing, [and] you worry about yourself as you prepare for the game.”

Penn has plenty to worry about with a Yale squad that competed for an Ivy League title in 2014. But don’t be surprised if the Quakers — once again — prove they are more than capable of handling everything thrown their way.

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