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Program Spotlight: Going For It

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If Andrea Smith had a dollar for every time someone asked her how her husband could transform into a fierce and ferocious competitor on Saturday's in the fall, she'd likely be rich.

Her husband of course, is 6-foot, fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Smith.

"We've been together for seven years and I've honestly never seen him actually angry," Andrea said. "For example, his barber, they are all so shocked when he tells them that he plays football because he seems like the kindest, most gentle person. I guess people have a hard time imagining that he isn't like that on the football field, which is funny."

As Winfield, Pennsylvania natives, both Brandon and Andrea grew up fewer than 80 miles from University Park. A standout linebacker at Lewisburg High School, Brandon always had his mind set on Penn State.

"I always dreamed of coming here and I never really thought that would happen," Brandon said.

While accumulating college football offers, Smith was eventually recruited as a preferred walk-on at Penn State, which made his decision to turn down Ivy League scholarship opportunities, an easy one in pursuit of his lifelong dream.

"I always knew he wanted to go to Penn State," Andrea said. "When he was trying to decide, I think everyone in his family knew that was where he wanted to go. When he told me, I wasn't super shocked, but I guess I was more excited because you realize this is a dream, and he had the opportunity to pursue that."

While deliberating, Brandon knew that choosing Penn State wouldn't be the easiest path, but through personal prayer he found there was simply something about the challenge that was drawing him to Happy Valley. 

"I think ultimately I just looked at it and I didn't want to look back and say that I didn't try it or think to myself, could I have done that or not," Brandon said. "Instead, I decided to go for it and find out." 

In what will soon the end of a five-year career at Penn State, there's a lot he has accomplished along the way, most recently being named to the Allstate AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team.

"I don't think I would have been challenged the same way football-wise at the other places but I definitely don't think I would have been challenged the same way spiritually in those places, and that's one of the biggest things I've taken away after five years being here," Brandon said.

Following a redshirt season in 2013, Brandon did not play in any games during the 2014 season. He made his collegiate debut against Indiana in 2015, but only played in two other games during the year.

By 2016, Brandon burst on to the scene against Temple, having played just 44 career snaps entering the game, he finished with eight tackles, his first career tackle for loss and his first career pass breakup in 68 total snaps against the Owls. 

As injuries took their toll on the Nittany Lion linebackers, Brandon made his first collegiate start on the road at Michigan.

Playing in all 14 games during the 2016 Big Ten Championship season, he highlighted the year with a career-high 14 tackles against Maryland, grabbing his first interception to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.

He hasn't looked back since, now a regular face on the field, most recently stepping into a starting role at Will linebacker, atop this week's depth chart.

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Through his rise to success on the field, what makes his high school sweetheart most proud though, is the character he has kept throughout the process.

"When he wasn't playing the first couple of years, versus last year when he did have the opportunity to be on that big stage, it hasn't changed who he is as a person," Andrea said. "He didn't let any of that affect him - the hard times or the good times, he always remained true to who he is. For me, that's just an incredible husband and best friend, but to so many other people, his teammates, his coaches, I think they've seen that in him, that he's just true and true the same person and they can always rely on him to be who he is. He's just always going to show up and be the Brandon Smith that everyone knows him as."

The same Brandon Smith that everyone knows though, is known for much more than what he contributes on the football field.

A seven-time Dean's List honoree, Smith has already earned one degree in kinesiology and is on track to graduate with a second degree in health, policy and administration. Helped out by a few perfect semesters, Brandon earned a 4.0 GPA in the 2017 spring semester to bring his cumulative GPA to a 3.81. 

While managing academic and football responsibilities, Brandon prioritizes being a husband too, and that means he needs to be diligent with his time.

"I just have to be focused and make the most out of the time that I have," Brandon said. "Sometimes it's easy to get lazy like between classes maybe trying to watch Netflix or something. Instead, I have to try to get my work done during the day and in between classes, take advantage of that time more and try to watch film so when I'm home at night I have as little to do as possible to be fair to my wife and not just come home, do work and go to bed. 

Andrea and Brandon also both recently applied to medical school, a process that is anything but brief.

For Brandon, that meant spending all spring and summer studying for the MCAT, a more than seven-hour test that's a key part of the application process. After passing the MCAT, it was time for applications. 

"The application process was pretty difficult because I was in training camp trying to finish them," Brandon said. "You have to get letters of recommendation from your teachers. I got one from Coach Franklin, he was nice enough to do one for me." 

After completing another round of secondary applications featuring more essays and personal statements, it's now a waiting game for both Andrea and Brandon, who await interview rounds from interested medical schools. 

While they didn't study together, when they do get time to spend together, helping others is something they can both do as a family. 

In 2012, Andrea and her sister Emily founded Honduran Soles, a nonprofit shoe organization designed to provide adequate footwear to those in need all over the world. 

"We kind of had this goal where we wanted to raise 200 pairs of shoes and send them to Honduras," Andrea said. "In a matter of months, we had 3,000 pairs of shoes and it just kind of grew from this small dream to this summer, we have sent out over 14,000 pairs in 22 countries."

Andrea's parents graciously offered up their garage, which serves as shoe warehouse for the operation, which she and Brandon, when he has time, dedicate to packing shoes to be sent out with different groups traveling to areas of the world in need.

Together, they traveled to Honduras during spring break in 2015 to spend time with children in an orphanage and build a soccer field.

"When we went there, we were handing out fruit and sandwiches and had some candy," Brandon said. "These kids were going absolutely berserk just to get a lollypop and it probably costs two cents there. Just seeing that level of desperation, in little kids none the less, it makes you realize how blessed we are to live here and how blessed we are to have all our needs met. Most people here have an abundance, way more than they need so it doesn't take much to try to give back and try to improve someone else's quality of life."

Their impact on others spans further than Honduras, as Andrea and Brandon's flower girl in their wedding was a young girl he met during one of Penn State Football's annual visits to the Penn State Children's Hospital.

"Brandon had met her in 2014 when the team went to Hershey over the summer," Andrea said. "I went to Messiah College, which is really close to Hershey, so I started volunteering at Hershey and I got to meet her." 

From a friendship, it grew into a truly special relationship, just one small example of the type of opportunities Brandon is proud to have at Penn State. 

"We just have tons and tons of opportunities and if you just take one minute extra to spend time with one of these people, you see how much of an impact is has on them," Brandon said. "We have this opportunity where people look up to us here and we're just normal people. People love Penn State Football and love the players, it doesn't take much at all to give back to those people."

From academics and community service to marriage and football, it wasn't always easy to find contentment with his role on the team.

"I said this in the team meeting when Coach Franklin had me share with the team one time, I really made a switch, even before I started playing, from woe-is-me to I'm not getting a chance, and this is and that," Brandon said. "I started just loving my teammates and loving the coaches and that changed my whole perspective." 

With a new perspective, how he viewed his Penn State experience, was immediately transformed.

"It wasn't that I didn't work hard, but just little things that I would say to other people or to myself, they weren't good for myself or the team," Brandon said. "When I could make that switch and just love myself, love the players and love the coaches, I started enjoying being here and I think I became a much better teammate during that time."

Now at peace in any circumstance, when looking back on the entire experience, it's his decision to go for it, that has truly made him proud.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people take their opportunities and circumstances for granted," Brandon said. "It's easy to be ungrateful when you're so focused on yourself. I think I'm most happy that I was able to grow out of that immaturity and see that there's a bigger picture here. I get to be a part of one of the best program's in the country at one of the best institutions in the country. I get to help out in great causes. It's just an amazing opportunity and I'm glad that I was able to make the most out of it.

Penn State Building Upon Positives

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Headed into its second consecutive week on the road, Penn State men's hockey has a lot of positives to build upon before traveling to the west coast to play Arizona State.  Read More

Penn State Building Upon Positives

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Headed into its second consecutive week on the road, Penn State men's hockey has a lot of positives to build upon before traveling to the west coast to play Arizona State.

Pulling from game two of last weekend's series at Notre Dame, the Nittany Lions held the Fighting Irish to only one goal in an all-out defensive showcase. Although Penn State didn't put any goals in the back of the net despite various opportunities to do so, head coach Guy Gadowsky was still happy with the performance. 

"We had a lot of 'grade A' opportunities that we never finish on but we take that game any day, we really would," Gadowsky said. "If we could bottle that, we take that game against anyone."

The blue line stepped up and showcased improvements Gadowsky has been looking for all season, allowing zero power play goals through the entire series against the best power play scoring unit in the Big Ten. The defense also held one of the nation's top goal scorers, Jake Evans, to a lone assist throughout the weekend. 

Strength in the defense zone also led to better goaltending on behalf of sophomore Peyton Jones, who totaled 40 saves throughout the series and earned the third star in Saturday night's game.

"As Kyle MacDonald our goaltending coach said, 'It takes one game to turn the tide on goaltenders,'" Gadowsky said. "We know what Peyton can do and we have a ton of faith in him." 

For Gadowsky, it's something he hopes will boost Jones' confidence as well as that of the defense, sparking more improvement going forward.

On the other side of the puck, Nikita Pavlychev has been able to find the back on the net on a more consistent basis this season. Using his 6-foot-7-inch stature along with his aggressive style of play to his advantage, Pavlychev has become an integral part of Penn State's offense.

The sophomore forward registered a career-best point streak and extended his goal streak to four games going into game two at South Bend before it was snapped. 

"He actually had a lot of opportunities last year but he struggled in hitting the net," Gadowsky said. "Whereas this year, I know that's something he has really focused on in the summer and it's starting to pay off."

By the time game 12 arrived, Pavlychev had registered only two goals, but this season he has boosted his total to five goals headed into game 13.

The Russian native has been able to hone in on his shooting skills at the Pittsburgh Penguins development camp, where he spent this past summer. The Penguins drafted Pavlychev in the 2015 NHL Draft in the seventh round.

"He works hard every day, he really takes pride in playing in his own end," junior forward Andrew Sturtz said. "It's tough to do that every night and it might not always show up on the scoreboard, but those little things are what's going to help us win." 

As noted by Gadowsky, it's doing the little things that will ultimately lead to success for the Nittany Lions, and Pavlychev is helping to move things in the right direction.

Tuesday Roundup - Nebraska Week

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Videos and notes from Penn State's Tuesday media availability ahead of Saturday's Nebraska matchup featuring one-on-one interviews with seniors Brandon Smith and Mike Gesicki.  Read More

Tuesday Roundup - Nebraska Week

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RELATED LINKS: Transcripts - Franklin I Gesicki, Smith I Watch - Full Press Conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returns to action Saturday, hosting Nebraska in its regular season home finale at Beaver Stadium. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin met with members of the media at his weekly press conference joined by linebacker Brandon Smith and tight end Mike Gesicki.

For Gesicki and Smith, Saturday marks the final time they'll take to the field at Beaver Stadium alongside members of the 2017 senior class. With the emotions associated with a final outing on the home field, both Gesicki and Smith were reflective Tuesday afternoon, looking back at their Penn State careers.

"This is going to be a game filled with a bunch of emotions," Gesicki said. "It is the last game ever playing in Beaver Stadium, and I can still remember the first time I was here in Beaver Stadium. My junior year of high school, I visited for the White Out game against Ohio State, and I remember the atmosphere, the fans, and everything about Beaver Stadium."

Across his four years, Gesicki noted he'll cherish everything, specifically mentioning how much the program has changed since he first stepped foot on campus.

"When I first got here coach Franklin had been here for about five months," Gesicki said.
"There's been some guys on these teams that played for a few coaches. Finally over the past two years, we've had complete buy in by all 125 players on the team. We all have the utmost respect for coach Franklin and trust him, the scheme, and what he preaches to us day in and day out."
 

For someone like Smith, it's this year that has been the most meaningful to him.  

"This is my fifth season and I've just enjoyed all of it," Smith said. "I'd say patience has been one of the biggest things for me, just waiting for an opportunity, and preparation. Just having the right attitude. I talked to the team a couple weeks ago about my perspective switch of just being less selfish and more cheering my teammates on and being happy for the guys who got to play in front of me. Just being able to support them and that shift just lets you work harder, lets you have better focus, and so when your opportunity does come, you're ready."

On The Quote Board -
- Franklin on the unwavering commitment from this year's senior class.

"Those guys should be very proud," Franklin said. "I would hope that we sell out the stadium on Saturday for no other reason than to show these seniors how much we appreciate all their hard work and sacrifices that they've made."

- Gesicki on who will take his place as well as DaeSean Hamilton's in the post practice pass catching group including Juwan Johnson.

"Juwan always says, 'Man, we've got a few more weeks and then I'm going to be out here throwing the ball to myself,'" Gesicki said. "I'm not sure who Juwan is going to let enter this prestigious club of ours but whoever it is, they're going to go out there and get in a bunch of extra work and prepare for Saturdays, just like we have been for the past two years."

- Smith on his transition to linebacker.

"I knew I could play linebacker, so I'd talk to coach Pry and I'd talk to coach Franklin. Once a week, every other week, I'd be up in one of their offices telling them I can do this. I'm not pulling your leg or anything like that. I was thankful to have guys like Ben Klein or Nyeem Wartman who were older guys who were there while I transitioned to linebacker, and they vouched for me. I appreciate them because ultimately they let me switch and I'm really thankful for that opportunity. Who knows, they probably might have cut me if I stayed a tight end. So just thankful for that opportunity."

- Gesicki on the latest member to join the "DaeSean Hamilton friends club."

"The latest addition would be Andre Robinson," Gesicki said. "Andre has, for the past year and a half, literally - because I live with Andre, been like, 'dude, I wish DaeSean would talk to me.' I'd tell him 'maybe go up and say what's up?' Then Andre actually went through my phone and got DaeSean's number when I wasn't looking. He texted him and DaeSean responded with, 'Who is this?' And Andre was like, 'Oh, yeah, it's Andre.' So then Andre would text him like a hundred times a day, really just annoy him to be his friend. Now he knows that Andre's a funny dude and likes hanging out with him. I would say Andre is the new addition."

- Smith on what this year has meant to him.

"I think this season in general, even though I've been a back-up for most of the season, I've just enjoyed this more than any other season and made an extra effort to build relationships with my teammates," Smith said. "I don't even know if I'll remember actually playing in games. I think just the team and the locker room and things like that. I think this year, more than any, has been the most meaningful to me."

- Gesicki on how much pride he takes in the fact that he didn't give up dealing with adversity early in his career. 

"Ultimately I could have packed it in," Gesicki said. "That's not who I am. I'm a competitor. I had goals and aspirations. Then, going into that spring ball, I would write in my notebook every day. The first thing I'd write is I'm the best tight end. Every single day. If anybody ever read that, they would have laughed at me at that point in my life. Just because they would think you're not even close to that. I knew what I was capable of. That's something that I'm very proud of, how I grew and developed and become the player I am."

Penn State Weekly Check In

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Check in with Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and Nittany Lions Nikita Pavlychev and Blake Gober for a closer look at the week in review and what's ahead.  Read More

Penn State Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State remains on the road this week, headed to Arizona State for a weekend series. Check in with Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and Nittany Lions Nikita Pavlychev and Blake Gober for a closer look at the week in review and what's ahead. 

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Pavlychev, Gober

Monday Notebook: Nebraska Week

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nebraska head coach Mike Riley talks Penn State, and a few remaining updates in this week's Monday Notebook.  Read More

Monday Notebook: Nebraska Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football has turned its focus toward Nebraska, prepping for its final home outing of season Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley took the podium this afternoon in his weekly press conference giving early props to the Penn State defense as well as quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley.

"I think you all know Penn State has a great football team all around with a great runner, very versatile," Riley said. "I really like the quarterback. I think he's a great fit for what they do and their defense is physical, lots of movement. It's a good defense so we'll have our work cut out for us for sure." 

As Franklin noted postgame following the win against Rutgers, he was pleased with the defensive effort, especially in its ability to remain patient and adapt to mid-game adjustments. Penn State senior linebacker Jason Cabinda led the team with 11 tackles, while fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Smith followed close behind with 10 tackles.

With Penn State leading 21-6 in the third quarter, linebacker Cam Brown broke up a Rutgers pass attempt before Cabinda came through with a fourth-and-2 stop on a Scarlet Knight fake punt attempt, setting the stage for a Nittany Lion scoring drive.

In total, Penn State surrendered 101 rushing yards in the first half, but held Rutgers to just 56 yards on the ground in the second half. The Nittany Lion air defense limited the Scarlet Knights to just 43 passing yards, marking its fewest allowed in a conference game since becoming a member of the league.

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Kicking Up the Record Lists
Penn State kicker Tyler Davis continued his rise through the Nittany Lion record book against Rutgers. With five PAT kicks, he surpassed Brett Conway (119 - 1994-96) for the most consecutive PAT kicks at Penn State with 122.

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He also moved to fifth in the Big Ten's consecutive extra points chart, kicking his first of the day to give the Nittany Lions the lead, 7-6, in the second quarter and his fifth of the day to lock up the 35-6 win.

He Said It
Riley also noted his admiration for the way McSorley plays the game.

"I think McSorley is a versatile, competitive guy, makes plays, feet, on the run, throwing," Riley said. "I think that as I've watching him through the year's he's never out. Their comeback came in the championship game was interesting and I think his play was outstanding in that game." 

Statistical Snapshot
Allowing just six points against Rutgers, Penn State's scoring defense is ranked second in the conference and fourth in FBS allowing 13.9 points per game on the year. The Nittany Lions are also plus-13 in the turnover margin, something Franklin continues to highlight in weekly press conferences.

Individually, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is ranked atop the conference standings and second in FBS with 184.60 all-purpose yards. Barkley set a career record against Rutgers, climbing to the top spot on the all-purpose yards chart with 5,055 in his career, surpassing both Larry Johnson and Curt Warner.

Looking at Nebraska
The Huskers head to Happy Valley for the first time since 2013, set to close out a two-game road swing at Beaver Stadium. Nebraska enters Saturday's matchup coming off a 54-21 loss at Minnesota. 

Nittany Lions Showcase a Different Kind of Consistency

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By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion wrestling team is no stranger to bonus point victories, but Sunday afternoon it took some added work to defeat the Bucknell Bison 36-3.  Read More

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