UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Don't let Devon Still's scowl and monotone voice fool you. His Penn State teammates promise the defensive tackle is actually a funny guy.
Unfortunately for opponents, Still isn't much fun to play on the field.
Still and fellow tackle Jordan Hill have been disruptive anchors in middle of the trenches early on for a Nittany Lions defense that appears to be rebounding nicely from last year's lackluster season.
In the locker room and between the hash marks, Still's influence goes beyond his imposing 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame.
"He gets very vocal, but when he gets on the field, he's a clown, too," said left tackle Quinn Barham, who made his official high school recruiting visit to Penn State (1-1) on the same weekend in 2007 as Still. "Don't let him fool you."
It's just that Still isn't one to talk much, at least in front of microphones. It creates a workmanlike, lead-by-example image that fits with his new responsibilities as a team captain.
Then he backs it up with his play: 10 tackles, two for a loss in the first games and two bone-rattling hits on bruising tailback Trent Richardson that provided a couple of the few highlights in last week's 27-11 loss to No. 2 Alabama. Perhaps even more importantly for the rest of the defense, Still sees his fair share of double teams, which gives more room for Penn State's athletic linebackers to make plays.
"And in his own quiet way, he's a guy that leads by performance," coach Joe Paterno said. "And he's one of the guys that right now is going to have to come to the front and pick up a couple of guys that have not had the kind of success he's had or paid the price he's paid to be good."
A promising high school prospect from Wilmington, Del., Still tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2007. The following season, Still broke an ankle in preseason camp.
Yet a determined Still got healthy enough to play in the regular-season finale in 2008, a 49-18 romp over Michigan State that sealed a bid to the Rose Bowl. He's been a key contributor ever since.
"To do everything that the coaches as of you. Don't try to shortcut anything," said Still, referring to his work ethic. "Take the long hard road to work to be the best that you can."
Along the way, Still also became a father. His 17-month-old daughter, Leah, has instilled a new sense of responsibility.
"He's matured as a man, a player," Barham said. "I think it's beneficial to him with that role as a father now."
Physically though, Still apparently wasn't in peak shape, at least not for the playing time he expected to amass this season. So Still and Hill joined others on the team including position coach Larry Johnson in dropping weight in the offseason in part to increase stamina.
The results have shown on the field so far. They're an active tackle tandem, which has also helped defensive ends Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore get pressure - each end was credited with two pass breakups last week for tipping away passes at the line against the Crimson Tide.
"Definitely, that was our plan over the summer, to work on getting in shape for cases like (the Alabama game) when we have to go a lot of plays," said Hill, who has 13 tackles, a half-sack and a forced fumble through two games.
"I can tell you with myself, it definitely helped a lot," Hill added. "And you can tell with Dev - he was still fresh."
There's still more to be done. While he's pleased with the play of his front four, Paterno would like the defense to come up with more turnovers. The Nittany Lions didn't force one last week after getting three in the season-opening, 41-7 win over Indiana State.
The next challenge: Temple (2-0) on Saturday and tailback Bernard Pierce, who has already rushed for 287 yards and six touchdowns on 38 carries this season. Still said the defense will need to keep focused on playing gaps and getting all 11 Nittany Lions to the ball.
"When Devon talks, everyone listens," Hill said. "It's just natural to him."