UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State's annual senior day came and went this year, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin opted for a different approach when asked about his first class.
By a simple season count, sure - it's Franklin's first class, as the fourth-year head coach prepares to lead the Nittany Lions to their second consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearance.
When asked during a Wednesday post practice session earlier this season though, Franklin replied it's actually not his first class, noting instead, it's auspiciously blended with previously committed recruits as well as a few from the previous institution and even some signed in the mad recruiting scramble after he arrived on location in Happy Valley.
He made no shortage of comments on how impactful the class has grown to be, but either way, a deeper look at the 2017 senior class reveals something truly remarkable.
What's revealed is a group of young men who were all presented with a unique challenge, one familiar to those before them, and by the end of their journey, one forever unknown to those who will come after them.
To put it simply, these seniors arrived in Happy Valley in perhaps some of the most uncertain conditions, committed to the promise of potential. Through ambiguity, they carried on, ushering in an era that some might even go so far as to call a rebirth.
Their stories are all unique. While some surround surging success, others are spotted with adversity.
By now though, they are the stories most Nittany Lion fans know by heart.
The common theme among them all? The will to win, and heart to never give up along the way.
It was between Penn State and Ohio State during Mike Gesicki's recruiting process. Ultimately opting for the Nittany Lions, he did so to the tune of a collection of Ohio State fans reaching out telling him to have fun losing to the Buckeyes for the next four years.
"When we beat them my junior year and ended up going on to win the Big Ten Championship, that was kind of something that I held close to me just because I remember everybody saying that we weren't going to be able to do it," Gesicki said. "Everybody doubted us. Nobody even thought that was a possibility. For us to be able to achieve what we were able to achieve in these past four years is really special to me."
For DaeSean Hamilton, Grant Haley and Jason Cabinda, there was of course, the same excitement surrounding their Penn State decisions but questions still lingered as they signed on without even so much as the promise of a postseason bowl game.
"I think coming to Penn State now, it's easy," Gesicki said. "I think now, if you don't go to Penn State it's like what are you doing, why would you not want to go to Penn State. We had 111,000 people at a game this year in a stadium that's supposed to hold only 107,000. There's so many reasons why to pick Penn State now, dating back to just four years ago when my class was picking Penn State, there were so many reasons why not to pick Penn State but we understood what potential we could have coming here together as a class and we were able to do it."
As with most things in life, the seemingly overnight success didn't happen overnight.
"Guys had been through multiple head coaches so you could see a difference between player personalities and the way people were toward the coaching staff," Haley said. "I don't think anything was different for me, but for them you could tell. There was something in their mind that was kind of holding them back a little bit and really becoming that Penn State brotherhood from freshman to senior class where everyone is so closely connected."
Penn State went 14-12 in the first two years of their Nittany Lion careers, with scholarship reductions and injuries opening opportunities for members of the now-senior class to be thrust into major roles.
They rose to the challenge.
"When we first got here we had seven or eight guys play our freshman year and played a good role - started some games and stuff like that and played really big roles on special teams," Cabinda said. "It started there."
Cabinda didn't start the first four games of the season his true freshman season, but can remember clearly to the day when he got the call. The Friday before Penn State's home outing against Northwestern, Sept. 27, 2014.
"Friday comes around and the redshirt lift is at 6 a.m., so boom - I go and I do the redshirt lift," Cabinda said. "I get out of class and coach [Brent] Pry calls me around 9:45 a.m. and says hey, you're starting tomorrow. Meanwhile I just did heavy squat, heavy deadlift and my legs are shredded apart. [Dwight Galt] calls me as soon as I get out of class and he says hey, we need you in the building, we need to regen you. He throws me in the ice tub and I think was sitting in there for like 20-30 minutes trying to get my legs back."
He can even remember the day Marcus Allen got the call up too.
"I still remember when Marcus [Allen] got his first start against Ohio State in a white out," Cabinda said. "He was freaking out before that game. I will never forget the anticipation for him that week before when [Ryan] Keiser went down. Everybody just had his back, supporting him, saying you got this, you're ready for this moment and all those kinds of things. Without your teammates, I don't know if you can go out there and perform."
Undoubtedly, it's the bond between teammates that kept the foundation solid, as a once young group continued to grow from those who came before them.
For Gesicki, it was Jesse James.
"It's the older guys who are there for you," Gesicki said. "When I was a freshman here, Jesse James was a huge role model for me and a guy who I looked up to. You kind of see it go full circle when I'm the old guy and a guy like Danny Dalton comes up here his freshman year and he hits that freshman wall and then he tries to talk to you about it and you've been there before, you've been on the other side of that conversation."
For Cabinda, it was Mike Hull.
"I think to me, a guy who really affected me, affected my mindset, the way I look at the game and the way I prepare, that's Mike Hull," Cabinda said. "There's no doubt about it. Seeing that guy work, seeing the way he played, he left it out on the field day in and day out."
Ask any senior and names like Michael Mauti, Allen Robinson and Anthony Zettel will all come up, often followed by the stories of how they helped shape the mindset and work ethic of a soon-to-become senior class who would continue to carry on an already proud tradition of grit and tenacity in the face of adversity.
"I think coming in with this class, when we came in we had goals of changing his program around and it took a year to two years to really get to that point but I think deep in our hearts we really knew that we could change this program around," Haley said.
Following a 24-17 loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer bowl, there were still plenty of questions remaining as the 2016 season rolled around.
"Going into the going into the third year of our season with the coaching staff, is was like kind of a question mark there," Haley said. "Like what are we going to do, how are we going to turn this around and get Penn State back to where we want it to be and obviously last year, even the first four games, it was tough. We were 2-2 and a lot of people were down on us."
By Oct. 22, 2016, momentum shifted, as the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 2 Ohio State at home in a thrilling 24-21 comeback win for the ages.
"Playing Ohio State last year, it was a special moment," Haley said. "I think for me, it was just all shock. There's a culture change because everything just came and fell into place. Almost two years earlier, the struggles that we had, barely making it into bowl games, 7-6 records."
Surely, the Ohio State victory takes a rightful place in history, but for a few of the seniors though, there were moments prior to the stunning win where the feeling of something special sparked.
"The game that everybody forgets about is the Minnesota game in which we're losing at halftime, we haven't really got anything going yet and we put together a second half come back and we ended up pulling that one out in overtime," Gesicki said. "Without that game, it doesn't matter if two weeks later we beat Ohio State, because without winning that game, there's not the excitement that comes along with being Big Ten champs because we wouldn't have made it there."
Through the 2017 regular season, including conference championship games, Penn State is 21-5, which is tied for the eighth-best record in FBS during a two-year stretch from 2016-17. Among just five losses across two seasons, the last three have been by a total of seven points.
More than any win total, championship or record set in the record book could every showcase though, is the lasting legacy the group of seniors will leave behind.
On Wednesday, Penn State welcomed 21 Nittany Lions in a 2018 signing class ranked the highest in program history since rankings began in 2000. On Saturday, Penn State will pack its bags and hit the road, with an intriguing matchup against No. 11 Washington in the 47th annual Playstation Fiesta Bowl on the horizon.
With one final thing left to do, for these seniors, perhaps all that really remains is passing the torch.
"You look at what we came in here saying we wanted to and then being able to do that, it's a huge accomplishment in itself," Cabinda said. "To us, the most important thing is being able to pass along that torch, making sure it's something these guys can pass along and make sure they remember the values, our roots and what got us here to begin with, so we can continue the success and bring the longevity back to Penn State that we all know."
There's still work to be done though, leaving no time to look back and no time to reflect.
That moment though, will come.
"Obviously when the guys leave here, after our bowl game and our last game together, we'll sit back and we'll talk about it and cherish it for a little bit. I think I'll really sit back and think about it when there's really nothing else that I have to do and I just relive my college days and what we were able to do here," Hamilton said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State signing day came early this year, with new NCAA rules allowing prospective student-athletes to make things official earlier than the typical February date.
Come Wednesday, excitement and anticipation filled the Lasch Football Building as months and months of hard work resulted in one of the most intriguing signing classes, tabbed the highest rated since rankings began nearly 20 years ago.
"I want to thank our staff for all the hard work they've put in in developing these relationships," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "That's coaches as well as our recruiting staff, as well as our administrative staff. I want to thank our players. I also want to thank the families and high school prospects out there that believed in us, and want to come and help us continue to build."
The Lasch Building opened bright and early, with Franklin arriving well before sunrise. Staff members, coaches, families and supporters soon streamed in, as festivities began in the "war room" right around 7 a.m. As the sun peeked through, Penn State first signee of the morning became officially official as linebacker Nick Tarburton kicked off the day with a 7:33 a.m. signing.
"It was a race for his mom to be number one in the boat today, just like Nick, ultra-competitive," defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. "It was important to get him here first."
Penn State saw its first of three five-star recruits sign on the dotted line, as wide receiver Justin Shorter made his signing day announcement official surrounded by his family at 7:37 a.m.
In the first six announcements alone, Penn State saw commitments in the top-ranked individuals from four different states, including Shorter (New Jersey), tight end Pat Freiermuth (Massachusetts) and running back Ricky Slade (Virginia).
The Nittany Lions only added to the list later in the day, with perhaps the grand finale coming in the official signing of five-star athlete Micah Parsons, making him the third consecutive prospect ranked No. 1 in the state of Pennsylvania to become a Nittany Lion.
A simple glance at the class through part one of the early signing day period includes 21 signees, 10 on offense, nine on defense one kicker and one athlete. Among six new Nittany Lions hailing from the state of Pennsylvania, what is perhaps more profound is that the members of the class span 12 different states and into a different country, reaching as far as Florida and Texas.
For assistant head coach, defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, the diving into states like Texas and Florida was anything but an easy task, noting that as Penn State's win total continues to increase, the yes on Penn State also continue to multiply, making the Nittany Lions a game changer, with a total of four 2018 early signees coming from either state.
"It was tough, obviously, we hadn't dove into, especially, Texas and then Florida," Smith said. "They are heavily recruited areas and we made some inroads there. We feel like this is just the beginning to tapping into both those states. We are happy with the three guys we got. Obviously, to go down into Houston, which is a hotbed, and also Tampa and Dallas, we just hope to get one or two more each year if we can."
Franklin announced that six Nittany Lions will join Penn State next semester, naming Parsons among the group.
"Excited about the fact, obviously, about the class overall, but I'm also excited we've got six guys that should be here in a couple of weeks," Franklin said. "They'll be here mid-semester, Trent Gordon, Isaiah Humphries, Zack Kuntz, Jesse Luketa, Micah Parsons, and Nick Tarburton will all be here in a couple of weeks. I think as you guys have seen, we've played freshmen, and whether that's guys that graduated early and came in December or come in the summer, they're going to have an opportunity to compete."
That group includes one tight end, one athlete, one safety, one corner back and two linebackers.
Also from the group, Franklin noted that Penn State fans can expect to see Parsons at middle linebacker this spring, with the option for things to change depending on how he progresses.
"We're going to play Micah Parsons at mike linebacker this spring and see how that goes," Franklin said. "We know he can move back to defensive end. But we're going to have him here for spring ball and see if he can do that. Right now, we don't have a defensive end committed in the class."
Speaking of Parsons
From committed to decommitted to committed again, even Franklin noted that the story of Parsons' recruiting process will likely end up somewhere in his memoirs from when he's retired. Building the relationship early though, Pry recalled one of the first times he caught Parsons live.
"Coach Spencer and I watched him play live for the first time when he was in 10th grade and when we walked away, our jaws dropped at the performance," Pry said.
Since the day he arrived on campus though, a focus on securing talent in the state of Pennsylvania has consistently been at the forefront of Franklin's approach. When looking at Parsons, Franklin pointed to true sophomore running back Miles Sanders, a once top-ranked incoming Nittany Lion from Pennsylvania, as a sort of turning point for those who would come after him.
"I think Miles [Sanders] got this thing started," Franklin said. "Very appreciative of Miles and his mom for kind of getting it going. Miles made it cool to stay home and play at Penn State."
Penn State also saw Nazareth, Pennsylvania wide receiver Jahan Dotson opt to return home to Happy Valley in his commitment.
"Recruiting, in-state kid we were trying to connect with," Franklin said. "Kind of ups and downs, twists and turns in this recruiting process, but at the end of the day things worked out the way they were supposed to work out. We were able to keep an in-state, local player home, which I think is a win-win for everybody. Him having an opportunity to get a world-class education and play big-time football and do it in front of everybody he loves."
Dotson joins a trio of wide receivers in this year's signing class poised with potential, something that has wide receivers coach Josh Gattis extremely pleased.
"When you look at our receiving core, we signed three very talented receivers [Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, Justin Shorter]" Gattis said. "All three are a little bit different; they bring a different skill set to the room which we are really excited about."
Gattis also referenced what he and the staff are deeming the best tight end duo in the country, with Freiermuth joining Camp Hill native Zack Kuntz.
"[Zack] Kuntz, I think is very similar to a lot of ways to [Mike] Gesicki," Franklin said. "High school wide receiver, probably a little further along as a tight end than what Mike was. But both big bodied guys that can really run. Kuntz at 6-7, 215 pounds or so came to camp and ran in the 4.6s for us, which is really impressive. Obviously, with [Pat] Freiermuth, you've kind of got the complete opposite. You're talking 6-5-, 215-pound road grader, tough guy with really soft hands."
While its just a small snapshot of all the early signees have to offer for the Nittany Lions, Franklin also noted that the work isn't over, with a second opportunity coming up in February proving just important as today's announcements.
"I think we'll have some more action in the next day or so, and then I think we could have some more action, guys that we're still involved with for the second signing day that we knew they were going to wait until the second signing day," Franklin said. "So there are still some moving parts out there."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball used a balanced scoring effort to top Binghamton in an 80-65 nonconference win Tuesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The final score doesn't quite tell the whole story though, as Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers noted he's proud of Penn State's second half effort.
Although the Nittany Lions shot out to a 10-2 lead early, Chambers knew Penn State wouldn't be able to sustain the momentum. As the Bearcats battled back to tie the score and momentarily jump ahead by three on the strength of a Tyler Stewart triple, 19-16, Penn State opted to regroup.
Moments later, Tony Carr connected on a 3-pointer to even the score before a Lamar Stevens dunk sent Penn State back on top. Although Penn State held on for a 39-36 lead at halftime, Chambers remained confident the Nittany Lions would find their footing.
Less than a minute into the second half, Shep Garner ignited a 9-5 scoring streak with a pair of triples that pushed the Nittany Lion advantage to double figures, 53-41 with 15:17 left to play.
Binghamton wouldn't go quietly, narrowing the gap to eight with 5:20 remaining. Penn State continued to look toward its success from the 3-point line as Reaves and Garner connected on three consecutive treys to bolster the advantage back to as many as 15 with fewer than three minutes left in the game.
On the night, Penn State shot 59 percent from behind the arc, marking its best outing since shooting 52 percent in the win at Iowa.
All five Nittany Lion starters finished in double figures, with Stevens leading the way with 16 points. Much to the pleasure of Chambers, the Nittany Lions dished out 17 assists, marking the most in a nonconference game this season, led by a career-high tying nine helpers from Carr.
Perhaps more difficult than digging deep for the win against Binghamton or what's to come against Rider though, is maintaining focus.
"I'm proud of our guys for the second half," Chambers said. I didn't think we played as well, again, Binghamton give them credit, but we were finding ways. This is such a difficult time for our kids, our players, because you have Christmas, you want to go home, nobody's here, there's so many distractions on the outside with the holidays."
Reaves, who finished with 15 points, four assists and two steals, only echoed what Chambers said about the unique time of year.
"It's difficult knowing that break is coming up and people are trying to go home for the holidays and finals are over and people are just so relieved of the stress and everything, so, I feel that it's time to lock in more," Reaves said. "I try to tell my teammates, I know that we're off of school and we have a break but basketball is not over. We still have games to play, practices to do, treatments to go to so, it's definitely difficult."
For Chambers, the remedy to locking in, comes in mindset.
"We just have to stay present," Chambers said. "We have to keep these guys here, spend time with them because we can. Tomorrow, bring them back in, do some cold tubs and some lifting and some stretching and doing some film work, maybe shoot some free throws because we've been going for seven straight days and that's including exams and we looked a little sluggish in the first half. We found a way to win but we have to be smart about these next couple of days and try to keep these guys on task."
That means relying on leadership too, with Chambers pointing to Garner, who made five 3-pointers for the first time since mid-November, with at least four in five of 13 games this year.
"He made big shots but I want him to lead too," Chambers said. "I'm looking for him to really emerge and not let us miss a step here, not let us stub our toe, to continue the process of getting better. Those are the shots that we've seen him make in the past and he'll continue to make them for us."
After a seven-day grind that included a dominant road win at George Mason, Chambers noted there will be a bit of time away from the court, as he'll host the team for a Christmas party at his house tomorrow evening.
It's back to work Thursday though, with practice scheduled before Friday's gameday routine. Penn State and Rider is set to tip at 7 p.m. from the Bryce Jordan Center, with live coverage on BTN.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been more than 35 days since Penn State wrestling took to the mat in Rec Hall, and about two weeks since the last time the Nittany Lions took to the mat to compete.
Come Sunday, Penn State opened its Big Ten dual slate in typical Nittany Lion fashion, bolstered by the strength of a healthy lineup.
"It's nice having a healthy team ready to roll," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said.
The Nittany Lions saw both Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph return to action at 133 and 165, respectively.
Competing for the first time since the Keystone Classic, Corey Keener highlighted in his return, closing out productive second and third periods with a pair of late takedowns for an 11-3 major decision.
Following Keener's win, Penn State's Jered Cortez ignited the spark, battling to a close 6-5 win against No. 12 Cole Weaver.
Coming off his first loss of the season in the Lehigh dual, Cortez spent the last two weeks focusing on letting it fly, avoiding what he called a tendency to lock up a bit. Before stepping on the mat though, Cortez relied on the words of coach Casey Cunningham.
"Coach Casey said to just go play wrestle, go out there and you're great when you play wrestle and flow and just throw yourself in there," Cortez said.
Tied at 3-3 headed into the second period, a second period takedown followed by a late third period escape secured the decision for Cortez, who earned his first win against a ranked opponent this season.
"A 6-5 match, obviously 11 points on the board, it wasn't a 2-0 match so I think adjustments made from Lehigh were just letting it fly and giving myself more opportunities to wrestle where I'm good," Cortez said.
Despite the deadlocked score, Cortez wasn't keeping track of the score in his head, instead focused on the words of his coach.
"I was just wrestling, I was just letting it go and I felt him pressure in, and that first takedown I hit was kind of off that same situation," Cortez said. "I felt him pressure in and I'm good there so I took advantage and scored."
Penn State then saw back-to-back pins from Zain Retherford (149) and Jason Nolf (157). Retherford built up a big first period lead before pinning Davey Tunon at the 3:42 mark. Nolf followed, making quick work of Jake Danishek with a pin at the 1:30 mark for his eighth fall of the season, sending Penn State into the break leading 19-3.
Although Joseph earned the win by forfeit, Mark Hall came out dominant for a 17-0 tech fall at 174 before Bo Nickal (184) brought the sold-out crowd to its feet with his fifth pin of the season in less than a minute at 0:42.
While his fast pins have piled up the bonus points for the Nittany Lions, Nickal would actually prefer to be out on the mat a little longer.
"It's fun to get out there and wrestle a little bit more so I think moving forward I'm going to try to let the matches go a little longer because I like being out there," Nickal said. "I'm not really going to let the guy off his back if I get him there so if it happens quick then I guess that's the way it goes."
As the holiday season approaches, Sanderson noted that part of staying fresh and hungry means taking time to spend with loved ones, as the team will spread out to take the next week at home.
"I think it's important that they get home and spend time with their families, enjoy the holidays and the Christmas season," Sanderson said.
MOST RECENT POSTS
- Penn State Focused on What's Ahead
- Balance Brings Success to Lady Lions
- Penn State Focused on What's Ahead
- Balance Brings Success to Lady Lions
- Men's Gymnastics Heads to Rec Hall for a Series of Firsts and Lasts
- Men's Gymnastics Heads to Rec Hall for a Series of Firsts and Lasts
- Cook Leads Men's Soccer in a New Direction
- Cook Leads Men's Soccer in a New Direction
- Penn State Caps Successful Opening Weekend
- All-Sports Blog (6304)
- Baseball (192)
- Coaches Caravan (55)
- Cross Country (85)
- European Tour 2012 (14)
- Fencing (13)
- Field Hockey (150)
- Football (1943)
- General (5)
- Men's Basketball (634)
- Men's Basketball 2013 European Tour (16)
- Men's golf (3)
- Men's Gymnastics (103)
- Men's Hockey (469)
- Men's Lacrosse (189)
- Men's Soccer (156)
- Men's Volleyball (171)
- PSU Road Warriors (16)
- Softball (109)
- Swimming & Diving (107)
- Track & Field (126)
- Women's Basketball (547)
- Women's Golf (10)
- Women's Gymnastics (130)
- Women's Hockey (195)
- Women's Lacrosse (157)
- Women's Soccer (272)
- Women's Soccer Player Blog (44)
- Women's Volleyball (409)
- Wrestling (431)