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Penn State Building on Spring Depth

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football wrapped its 2018 spring season with the annual Blue-White spring game. In the culmination of a series of 15 spring practices, the Nittany Lions took to the field in front of more than 70,000 fans for a final session before breaking until training camp.

There's wasn't exactly anything Penn State head coach James Franklin learned from the final spring practice of the season Saturday, instead focusing on yet another standout spring crowd, in addition to a few final flashes from some promising young talent on the roster. 

An estimated 71,000 packed into the stands at Beaver Stadium, marking the fifth consecutive year the Nittany Lions have drawn 60,000 or more for the spring game.

The energized crowd was treated to a glimpse of the future early with wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer connecting with quarterback Trace McSorley for the first of two touchdown grabs. 

"It felt good," Hippenhammer said reflecting on his first trip to the end zone as a Nittany Lion. "I prepared all spring for that moment and it finally came and I just executed."

Hippenhammer's second touchdown catch came on a 29-yard toss from quarterback Sean Clifford in the fourth quarter.

"This is kind of who Mac is, Mac's a gamer, he happens to make plays in big spots," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne said. "I can see it in his eyes, especially after that first series where you could tell he was really focused and locked in. When he does that, he's hard to deal with." 

Nearly 400 miles from Beaver Stadium, Penn State baseball was battling with Michigan. A two-sport student-athlete though, Hippenhammer was in Happy Valley instead of Ann Arbor. It's a unique situation in today's typical student-athlete path, but a scenario that Franklin noted is absolutely do-able with the right individual and the correct situation.

"Penn State was a school that I felt would give me the opportunity to play both [sports], Hippenhammer said. "When I got here, coach Franklin had discussions with coach Cooper so I knew it was real."

Part of the agreement between Hippenhammer and Franklin though meant keeping academics in line.

"He crushed it in the classroom and did better than I even anticipated," Franklin said. "Coach [Rob] Cooper had a spot for him and I know he has been really pleased for him. Once spring ball started we shut him down with baseball because he is on a football scholarship and now once spring ball ends he will go back to doing baseball as well as his academic responsibilities." 

Prior to spring ball though, Hippenhammer's day started with football winter workouts bright and early in the morning before heading over to baseball for an afternoon practice following a full day of classes. 

"It's a lot of going back and forth," Hippenhammer said. "You just have to keep a balanced mindset and stay focused. It was a really long day but for me I think it was worth it because my dad always told me to play both as long as you can so I'm just making the most of the opportunity I was given." 

As he has done consistently through the spring season, Franklin gave credit to the blue team's offensive line, consisting of mainly Nittany Lion starters. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover noted last week that the level of competition drove the group all throughout the spring season. 

Come Saturday, Michal Menet emerged to take a firm hold on the starting spot at right guard.

"I think staying healthy has been a huge thing for me to be able to develop my skills and techniques every day," Menet said.

As both Franklin and Menet noted postgame, dealing with nagging injuries early in his career set him back. Now fully healthy, it was Franklin who noted Menet is now one of the more improved Nittany Lions from the end of the season to now. 

"We think he has the ability to play all three inside positions, right and left guard as well as center, we think he may have a really bright future at the center position as well with his quickness," Franklin said. "He creates some flexibility, which is what we are trying to create throughout our program, guys that can play multiple positions, solve problems for us, but overall I have been very, very impressed with him really since the end of the season."

Looking at the offensive line as a whole though, Menet noted the Nittany Lions have built on strengthening the finishers mentality, which on occasion plagued Penn State in 2017.

"I think everybody is really buying into all the techniques and fundamentals that coach Limegrover has been teaching us," Menet said. "I think we've been taking strides every day." 

If Franklin had to name a player of the game Saturday though, he'd look to cornerback Zech McPhearson, who finished with three pass breakups and two tackles.

"We've created a lot of depth and competition at that position so it's exciting," Franklin said. "He's a guy who I think has really kind of showed since the end of the season that he means business and is going to factor in for us this year."

That business-like mentally all started when McPhearson shifted his mindset following the end of the season. He wanted to play. 

The work doesn't stop with spring ball though, as McPhearson noted this offseason is going to be very big for the emerging Nittany Lion. 

"In the offseason I definitely want to get stronger, maybe get a little bigger but keep working on my speed," McPhearson said. "I feel like that helps me a lot driving on routes and things like that." 

It was of course hard to miss what looked like a second James Franklin on the field Saturday. Instead, it was Penn State alum, actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key who joined the Nittany Lions as a guest coach.

"I really, really could not be more appreciative of you guys asking me to come and guest coach," Key said postgame. "The welcoming spirit and atmosphere of this university is the same as it was when I attended and I think for the most part I can see that the players are spry and dedicated and I look forward to the fall." 

More from Key below. 

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