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Spring Football: Offensive Line Growing in New Scheme

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11849801.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You won't find a group more motivated to be successful than the Nittany Lion offensive line.


The past is ancient history, and the unit is looking ahead with great confidence following a strong start to 2016 that began in the weight room over the winter.

"The winter conditioning period was very productive for our group," senior Brian Gaia said. "Each guy had a specific goal, whether it was getting bigger, maintaining weight or getting more flexible. And I think we all grew significantly both physically and mentally."

It has been a period of change for the men in the trenches. In addition to learning a new offensive scheme, the Lions are working through their first spring practice period under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. The first taste of things this spring has left the unit wanting more.

"Across the board, this offense just fits our offensive line very well, and I've seen a lot of guys take a big step forward this spring," said junior Andrew Nelson. "I love this offense in general. I think you can talk to anyone and they will tell you that they are enjoying it. We've had good success this spring."

It has been a period marked by installation on the field. The Nittany Lions have taken the new scheme in stride, and it has resulted in a high number of explosive plays this spring. Sure, there is an adjustment to learning new terminology, but the Lions have been locked in on the task at hand.

"There are a lot of new wrinkles going in, so obviously there is going to be an adjustment," said Nelson. "But offensively, I think guys are doing a really good job being focused and locked in with all of the new stuff going in."

Gaia and Nelson are two of the offensive line's biggest leaders. Gaia has more game experience than anyone on the roster (37 appearances), and Nelson has evolved into a consistent voice for the unit.

Gaia is in the process of adapting to a new home on the line. The Pasadena, Md., product started his career as a defensive tackle. He moved to guard before the 2014 season, and now he is meshing with the rest of the unit at the center position. Being the voice during pre-snap situations, Gaia knows the importance of leadership for the unit.

"At my position now, I feel that way," said Gaia. "I dictate when we get set and when the play starts. Being a senior and in the spot that I'm playing, I feel like leadership is something that is on my shoulders."

The most striking difference for the offense this spring is the tempo at which the group practices. The Lions are moving to the line at a swift pace and without going into a huddle. The speed lets the offensive players set the tone.

"I think the tempo of how the offense is operating really helps us," said Gaia. "We will be used to working at that pace, and the defense will face a challenge. We can dictate how quickly things move."

The players love operating at a faster pace. It can put a defense on its heels, and the strength and conditioning gains from the winter period are paying huge dividends for the line already this spring. With five practices left in spring drills, intensity is high as the unit continues to learn the intricacies of a new offense and grow as a collective group.

"The competition between the group makes everyone better," said Gaia. "We've had a number of different combinations on the offensive line, so all of us have played together at some point. That helps with the chemistry building."

With the groundwork being laid for 2016, confidence is a huge factor in the offensive line's evolution. There are four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl back and a host of groomed, young talent ready to take the next step into the rotation. Optimism is very high for a group that is ready to take a step forward.

"The offense has come out this spring with a different mindset," said Nelson. "We have an extremely positive attitude of what we can accomplish, and I think that starts with Coach (Joe) Moorhead."



Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Offensive Line

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 10th during spring drills on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the offensive line.



The Offensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
20/4

Who's Back:
Ryan Bates (So./Fr.), Noah Beh (Jr./So.), Brendan Brosnan (Jr./So.), Adam De Boef (Jr./So.), Tom Devenney (Sr./Jr.), Derek Dowrey (Gr./Sr.), Brian Gaia (Gr./Sr.), Evan Galimberti (Sr./Jr.), Alex Gellerstedt (Fr./Fr.), Steven Gonzalez (So./Fr.), Sterling Jenkins (So./Fr.), Wendy Laurent (Gr./Sr.), Brendan Mahon (Sr./Jr.), Connor McGovern (Fr./Fr.), Andrew Nelson (Sr./Jr.), Paris Palmer (Sr./Jr.), Zach Simpson (So./Fr.), Chance Sorrell (Jr./So.), Charlie Shuman (Jr./So.), Chasz Wright (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
11846704.jpegOne group that entered spring practice eager grow is the Nittany Lion offensive line. The Nittany Lions return four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl and are now under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. Experience is a big piece to an offensive line's success, and the Lions are much more seasoned up front than they were at this point last season.

Headlining the list of returnees is the most experienced player on the field for the Nittany Lions. Graduate senior Brian Gaia has appeared in 37 career games for the Blue and White, including 25 starts during the past two seasons. The Maryland native started his Nittany Lion career on the defensive line before shifting to guard prior to 2014. He was the only offensive lineman to start every game in 2015, and now Gaia is the leader of the unit after shifting to center during the offseason.

Redshirt junior Andrew Nelson is another guy who has been an anchor for the offensive line during the past two seasons. The Hershey product started eight games last fall (missed four due to injury) and all 13 games of his redshirt freshman campaign in 2014. Nelson had a superb offseason and is a consistent performer at tackle. An All-Freshman Team selection two seasons ago, Nelson has started games at both tackle positions and will again be a staple in the starting lineup when the season begins in August.

Fellow redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is another Nittany Lion with significant game experience on the o-line heading into 2016. The Randolph, N.J., native has started 20 times and appeared in 25 contests during the past two seasons. Mahon has spent the vast majority of his time on the game field at the left guard position.

Senior Derek Dowrey is alongside Gaia as one of the most experience players on the roster. Dowrey has played in 33 career games, including six starts. The Virginia product moved from defensive line to the offensive trenches before spring practice began in 2014. After graduating with a degree in journalism in December, Dowrey is again positioned to be a contributor on the line in 2016.

The fourth returning starter from the bowl game back for 2016 is one of the team's most improved players from the end of the season. Paris Palmer transformed his body during winter conditioning and added significant size to his frame and increased his overall core strength. After transferring from Lackawanna College, the 6-foot-7, 302-pound tackle appeared in 13 games and started 11 contests last season.

Senior Wendy Laurent is another very experienced piece on the offensive line for the Lions. The Hamilton, N.J., native has played in 22 games and started eight games. Laurent has experience at all three interior positions along the offensive line.

In addition to the corps of players with significant game experience, the unit has a host of talent looking to break into the rotation once camp commences in August. The battles for playing time along the offensive line will be very competitive. The list of names at the interior positions includes the likes of Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Chasz Wright, Adam De Boef, Tom Devenney, Evan Galimberti and Zach Simpson. At the tackle positions, keep an eye on Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Sterling Jenkins, Chance Sorrell and Charlie Shuman as they compete for playing time.

Additionally, the offensive line includes two early enrollees who are on campus going through the paces of their first spring practice period. Connor McGovern and Alex Gellerstedt joined the roster in January after decorated scholastic careers.

With more depth and experience, coinciding with a new offensive scheme, the Nittany Lions and Coach Limegrover know that the group can take a significant step forward in 2016. The Lions have approached spring ball with a great attitude and will carry some confidence into the final weeks of spring practice and into the start of fall camp.


Quoting Coach Limegrover:
"One thing that has really impressed me since I've been here is that there is a real hunger amongst my group. There is a nice mix of younger guys and older guys, but they share the same passion for improving. It showed during our offseason workouts, and it's transferring onto the field here this spring. When you have a group of guys who are willing to work and put it all on the line, they are pretty easy to coach. With being a new offense and a lot of new installation, my hope is that come April 16 my guys have a good idea of fundamentally what we are trying to accomplish as an offense and a foundation of what needs to continue to be built upon when we get back together in August."

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By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Randy Jepson of the Penn State men's gymnastics team is celebrating his 25th anniversary of coaching the Nittany Lions this season.

 

In addition to being part of the coaching staff, Jepson graduated from Penn State in 1982, where he was a member of the squad and earned the position of team captain, winning All-American honors on rings.

 

"I've been with this university for so many years now and I couldn't image myself anywhere else," said Jepson. "It's funny I've been here so long, yet it feels like I haven't worked a day in my life-I think that's the key, if you do something you love you'll never get sick of your job."

 

Jepson has been able to earn National Coach of the Year in 2000, 2004 and 2007, and lead the men's gymnastic team to three national championships and three Big Ten titles.

 

Many boosters that have been with the program recognize Jepson for the way he preserves the honorable heritage of Penn State's gymnastics, while always finding ways to improve the program.

 

Jepson started his Penn State affair after transferring from the University of Oregon after the school dropped the gymnastics program.

 

"Ever since my first visit at this university I was overwhelmed with the positive feel and sense of community Penn State provides," said Jepson.

 

"When I think of Penn State, I think of family. This school provides people with such pride regardless of when you went to school here. I think it's a very powerful and unique aspect that Penn State has."

 

After graduation, Jepson officially joined the coaching staff in 1983, then in July 1992 he was appointed head coach.

 

"I'm a little seasoned now, but it's always hard to see the seniors go," said Jepson. "The best thing about coaching is watching these guys grow and mature into great gymnast but that just make's it harder to see them leave."

 

Jepson has groomed Olympians, Big Ten honorees, and national champions.

 

"As a mentor, it's great to see the guys blossom into not only great gymnast but great people outside the gym," said Jepson.

 

"I always like to keep track of the guys whether they end up pursuing professional gymnastics or something else.  I think this sport teaches the guys a lot about hard work and dedication, even if they don't recognize it until after the program."

 

Jepson recognizes that although coaching is rewarding, it does come with challenges.

 

"Gymnastics isn't for the weak. I tell the guys all the time this sport constantly tells you that you're not good enough, it's always demanding improvement," he said.  "That also plays a role in being a gymnastics coach, I'm always trying to improve and help the guys find ways to better their routines."

 

Through the ups and downs, Jepson enjoys the challenges of being a gymnastics coach and strives to continue to grow the program.

 

 Up next the Nittany Lions will be heading the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The competition will start on Friday, April 15th and end on the following day.  

Schreiner's Passion Fuels Success in Starting Season

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11849139.jpeg By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since his freshman season, goaltender Will Schreiner has displayed a dedicated work ethic both on the field and off, which has been the driving factor behind the growth the young player has seen in such a short period of time.

Now a sophomore, Schreiner, who has started in net every game for the Nittany Lions this season, has helped Penn State (7-3, 1-0 Big Ten) accumulate seven wins in 10 games and averages a .468 save percentage.

Last weekend, when Penn State rallied past Ohio State 6-5, head coach Jeff Tambroni was quick to praise Schreiner in what he observed as the young player's best game to date as a Nittany Lion.

"Sometimes as a goalie I would imagine, and probably in any position but goalie in particular, you see this first couple shots and you make saves and you start to build on your confidence and you could just see Will's confidence grow throughout the course of the game," said Tambroni. "I thought Will, what separated that performance from his last number of performances was the consistency."

Schreiner made 15 saves, a career-high, for the Kemblesville, Pa., native. Many of the shots came from all over the field, including crease shots and shots in transition, and Tambroni explained being able to make all types of saves added to Schreiner's performance and confidence. 

Schreiner's performance so far this season has surpassed expectations and has been a testament to the work he put in during the 2014-15 campaign.

As the reserve goaltender behind Connor Darcey and Hunter Pearl, Schreiner didn't see any playing time in his freshman season. Players who weren't expected to see much game time participated in additional weight room or weight training sessions, called developmental lifts.

"Will just came into those lifts, and you can look at those things as one of two things, one as something extra to do throughout the course of the week or two, an opportunity to develop yourself physically and to develop yourself mentally to put yourself in a position so that when your number is called you're prepared," said Tambroni. "I always felt Will was the latter and I felt like the respect that he earned and gained in those types of moments can probably best describe his personality."

In those lift sessions, Tambroni, along with the rest of the coaching staff, saw Schreiner's true character: a young man, thrust into the demanding student-athlete life who, even during extra workouts, always had a smile on his face and determination in his eyes.

It was his attitude and positivity that made Schreiner stand out in a room of otherwise loud and outgoing individuals. Schreiner, who can communicate well on the field during a game, is not usually the most vocal in the locker room. Rather, Schreiner is a lead-by-example type, who allows his hard work to speak for itself.

Last fall, when the starting goaltender position was still unfilled, Schreiner pushed himself further for a chance to start between the pipes.

His determination paid off and at the start of the season against Robert Morris, Schreiner helped the Nittany Lions to a triumphant 20-7 win.

Schreiner carries himself as an easygoing individual, focused on athletics and academics alike. Off the field, the Community, Environmental and Development major, explained his passion for lacrosse is the same passion that fuels his desire to one day aid the movement toward sustainable energy.

"I've always wanted to work with our environment and with businesses, becoming more sustainable," said Schreiner. "I think that's part of a need for the future so I saw that need and also it matched my interests."

Schreiner described a project he and fellow teammate, sophomore Mike Aronow, are currently working on for an earth science class on natural disasters. The project has to do with volcanoes, but the pair won't be building one out of papier-mâché, Schreiner joked.

For now, the project is in the brainstorming phases, but Schreiner knows whatever the pair comes up with has got to be good, just like the team's performance this weekend against No. 5 Maryland (7-2, 1-0 Big Ten).

"We just need to keep our defense in line and if we play well together it'll make me play better," said Schreiner. "If they're giving me shots I can save and see it's extremely good for me. But we'll need to keep up communication defensively and in the goal, I just need to keep my confidence up and don't peak to high and don't get too low and just keep it steady throughout the game."

No. 14 Penn State hosts No. 5 Maryland on Sunday at 7 p.m. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network. 


Lions Focused on Rest Heading Into Stretch Run

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11849114.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has dominated the EIVA conference for the last 17 years, winning titles in each of those seasons.

The Nittany Lions have a chance to make that 18 straight this coming weekend, depending on how things shake out, Penn State could sit atop the EIVA on Friday or Saturday. If NJIT wins its matchup against George Mason on Thursday and Penn State beats Harvard Saturday, the Nittany Lions claim the regular season crown. If Mason wins, Penn State would need a weekend sweep over Harvard and Sacred Heart to claim the title.

There are many scenarios, but the scenario right now for Penn State is simple, keep winning and stay consistent. The Nittany Lions have gotten back to the level of play they were exhibiting during their 11-game win streak early on in the season. For Penn State, though, its fate may somewhat lie in the hands of other people, the focus remains on what they can do.

"We may watch a little of the game on Thursday," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I'm sure we will be paying attention to the game in some capacity, we definitely won't ignore it but we have to win Friday regardless."

Last week, Pavlik was quoted saying that the NJIT match that weekend was Penn State's biggest of the season. Now, it very well may be that this Harvard matchup on Friday is the biggest match. If the Nittany Lion's can't clinch Friday, the importance shifts to the match Saturday against Sacred Heart.

"Sacred Heart caught us by surprise the first time," said Pavlik. "I think we took them a little lightly and they took it to us early on in that match. They are one of the more physical teams in the EIVA and they certainly can play so we can't take them lightly to begin with this time."

Penn State is fresh off a loss to Ohio State, but Pavlik made it clear to the team that the EIVA matches remaining are the ones that are critically important for the Nittany Lions.

"We want to win every match," Jalen Penrose said. "Still, Coach has said that the EIVA is what matters and we are focused on this weekend."

Penn State not only faces a few tough conference opponents this coming weekend, they also face an adversary in fatigue. Penn State is currently in a stretch that consists of five matches in nine days and if you look even further back, 10 matches in 21 days. It is uncommon for a team to face games this closely together meaning rest and relaxation and even more important for Penn State in the coming days.

"We are definitely putting a big emphasis on it," Pavlik said. "Especially in the end of the season it is even more important. I've said we are playing the equivalent of an NHL playoff schedule in these past weeks so we have to be mentally and physically prepared for matches."

Aidan Albrecht shares the sentiments of his coach, saying that the players certainly know how important it is to be healthy and fresh during the season.

"We've taken a lot of swings so at this point in the season the rest is even more important for us as a team so we can be ready for our matches," said Albrecht.

Penn State will take on Harvard and Sacred Heart this upcoming weekend. First serve against Harvard is set for 7 p.m. on Friday and Sacred Heart and Penn State will square off at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

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By: Shannon Rostick, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- This upcoming weekend is a big one for the Penn State women's lacrosse team. Not only because they will be playing one of their biggest competitors, Ohio State, but also because it marks the team's first televised game of the season on the Big Ten Network.

This is a huge deal for the team because it allows more fans to watch them in action and more importantly, it allows prospective players to check out what the Nittany Lions have to offer. 

Sophomore midfielder Katie O'Donnell talked about her experience before coming to Penn State, and how watching games on television had a role in her decision to commit to the Nittany Lions.

"I followed Penn State before and after I committed. I made an effort to watch them play and it was cool to watch and think that you'd love to be a part of that team," said O'Donnell.

These televised games give prospective recruits more opportunities to see how the team plays together, which is especially helpful for recruits who are not close by.

When thinking about committing it is important for these players to see the team playing in a game setting as many times as possible, and for those high school players who live further away from University Park, that is not always feasible. 

Penn State has many players who came from farther states, like seniors Emi Smith and Heather Harman who are from Colorado and Georgia respectively. 

"TV coverage helps for the game in general and it helps with recruits too, especially with recruiting from farther and farther away," said O'Donnell.

The coaches and players alike are excited to see more and more televised games during the season, as it raises awareness for Penn State's team and the sport in general.

Lacrosse is growing in popularity season by season, especially with Penn State moving up in the ranks in the Big Ten. Penn State wants the best players in the country on their team, and the publicity helps to get their name out there to players across the country.

O'Donnell's first televised game experience was last season as a freshman. She talked about how, although it is exciting at first to be on TV, the players do not see too much of a difference during televised games and that it thankfully does not have an impact on gameplay.

"You don't really think about it during the game; the game doesn't change too much, minus a few extra timeouts for TV," said O'Donnell.

"The first time as a freshman last year it was definitely like 'oh my gosh, I'm going to be on TV,' but after that first game it all becomes just the same."

The players do a good job of forgetting about the TV side of things, which is good because they can't afford to lose focus, especially during their Big Ten games and leading up to the postseason. 

Last year marked the first Big Ten tournament for women's lacrosse, and for players like O'Donnell it was an incredible experience to make a tournament run in her first year with the team. 

"It was a great experience coming in as a freshman and getting into the postseason play. It was new and exciting and it was fun to have that kind of win, especially with that group of girls," said O'Donnell

"It was the first Big Ten tournament in women's lacrosse and for Penn State to get that win was a really awesome experience," she added.  

O'Donnell said the team is even more motivated to get to the tournament again after knowing what they can achieve as a unit.

"When you accomplish something like that you only want to keep getting better and it's definitely a goal to get back to the postseason by improving every game," said O'Donnell. 

"It's not something spoken, but it's something we are always working for." 

With a 9-2 record so far in their season, Penn State is fighting hard to get back into postseason play and repeat as Big Ten tournament champions.   

The No. 9 Nittany Lions will continue their season on Saturday, April 9 against the No. 12 Buckeyes at Ohio State starting at 4 p.m.

Spring Football: Post-Practice Press Conference (4/6/16)

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's 10th of 15 spring practices on Wednesday evening. A spring marked by good progress on both sides, the Nittany Lions will return to the field on Saturday to close out the week.

Hear from head coach James Franklin, running back Saquon Barkley and safety Marcus Allen following Wednesday's practice.







Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Riotto Stays Hot as Penn State Wins Seventh Straight

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11846696.jpeg

By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (16-12) defeated in-state rival Pittsburgh (13-12), 7-0, on Tuesday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park to stretch its current winning streak to seven games. The Nittany Lions have won 10 straight in State College.

Nick Riotto continued his hot play at the dish with a three hit night to extend his hitting streak to five games. During that streak Riotto has tallied 10 hits, five RBIs, and four runs scored.

The junior's batting average has elevated to .299, giving him the second highest mark on the team behind Jim Haley. Riotto now has 29 hits on the year, which is also second on the team to only Haley's 37.

"Every at-bat he competes," said head coach Rob Cooper. "He's always working and always trying to get better. It's a guy that you can count on that you know you're going to get his best effort every time up at the plate and that's important."

The danger Pittsburgh presents is its high scoring offense, but a trio of Penn State hurlers shut down the Panthers' bats convincingly.

Pitt is ranked fourth in the country in homeruns per game (1.33) and has smashed 32 total this season. The Panthers had scored 37 runs in their last four games combined and averaged 7.5 runs per game in 2016.

Starter Nick Hedge silenced a powerful lineup to just two hits in six innings of work. During one stretch he retired 10 straight batters before an error allowed Frank Maldonado to reach base in the fifth inning.

"He just went right after guys," said Cooper. "He was able to work both sides of the plate, and he was throwing his changeup and his breaking ball in there for strikes. His mound presence really dictated the whole thing."

"I kept to my same game, just keeping the ball low and trying to get a lot of ground balls and let the defense work behind me," Hedge said. "All three pitches were working, and I had a lot of trust in them."

Hedge picked up his third win of the season Tuesday night, lowering his ERA to 2.42 in the process, good for the second lowest among PSU starters. Dakota Forsyth added two innings in relief and Jared Fagnano closed out the game in the ninth. All three pitchers combined to allow just three hits and totaled nine strikeouts on the night.

Hedge got some early help from the offense courtesy of three first inning runs. Penn State's first three batters loaded the bases with three singles before Greg Guers drove in two runs with a double to right field.

A few pitches later Tyler Kendall skied a sacrifice fly to centerfield to add another tally. Kendall ended the night with a game-high three RBIs, pushing his total to 14 on the year.

"The thing that I love is that he's super aggressive," said Cooper. "Really the thing we've had to do with him is almost scale him back a little bit because he wants to win so bad. He wants to make something happen and he's got to know when to do it. Today was a good time to do it."

The Nittany Lions added four runs in the fifth inning on a Riotto RBI double for his third hit of the night and a Kendall single that scored two more. Kendall came in to score later in the inning on an error.

Penn State seeks to extend its win streak Wednesday against Lafayette at 3:30 p.m. The Nittany Lions will be back at Medlar Field on Friday to begin a three game series against conference foe Michigan State (19-5).



Spring Football Position Breakdown - Running Backs

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the ninth time of the spring season on Monday. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the running backs.



The Running Backs

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
5/3

Who's Back:
Mark Allen (Jr./So.), Saquon Barkley (So./So.), Irvine Paye (Sr./Jr.), Andre Robinson (So./Fr.), Johnathan Thomas (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
11842871.jpegOn the heels of an electrifying freshman season, Saquon Barkley headlines a corps of young Penn State running backs for 2016. Coach Charles Huff's unit is marked by its youthful talent and has made a significant impact on the Nittany Lion offense this spring. The group is primed to be at the forefront of the attack when the season begins in September.

Barkley raised eyebrows of onlookers nearly every time he touched the ball during a stellar freshman campaign. The Coplay, Pa., product set Penn State's freshman season record with 1,076 rushing yards. Named a Freshman All-American, Barkley appeared in 11 games (missed two due to injury) and reached 100 yards five times. Barkley had 34 rushes of 10 or more yards and a Big Ten-high 16 carries of 20-plus yards.

The All-Big Ten honoree tallied 310 yards in back-to-back games against Buffalo and Rutgers, which marked the highest total by a true freshman in more than 30 seasons. Barkley became the first to rush for 100 yards in a quarter during two-straight games since Larry Johnson accomplished the feat in 2002. A powerful back with outstanding footwork, Barkley dazzled during winter conditioning where he topped the team in 40-yard dash timing (4.38), agility (4.00) and power clean max (390). Barkley was also one of just three Nittany Lions to squat 600 pounds.

One of 17 redshirt freshmen to see the field in 2015, Mark Allen emerged as an impact player for the Nittany Lions. Allen appeared in eight games and started one on offense and on special teams. He rushed for 110 yards, tallied 44 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns. Allen's strength is his quickness and play-making ability in the open field. The Maryland product set the second fastest time in the agility test this winter, and he is primed for a significant role on offense with continued progress.

After a very productive season on the scout team offense, redshirt freshman Andre Robinson is poised to join the running back rotation in 2016. The 5-9, 213-pound back provides the Nittany Lions with another weapon capable of big plays in the backfield.

Redshirt sophomore Johnathan Thomas appeared in three games as a redshirt freshman last fall. Like Robinson, Thomas will be another player capable of providing the Nittany Lion backfield with the tools to be an impact player. Thomas finished with 11 carries for 42 yards in 2015.

Redshirt junior Irvine Paye joined the team as a walk-on during spring practice.

Expectations amongst the running backs is very high. The unit holds itself to a very high standard. Despite being a very young corps of players, leadership comes from Mark Allen and Saquon Barkley. With a new-look offense and a year of game experience under its belt, look for the veterans in the running back room to take another significant step forward in 2016.


Quoting Coach Huff:
"I'm really excited about the expectation the group brings to the room every day. I'm very excited about our young guys, like Andre Robinson who is finally getting his chance after redshirting last year. The competition is fierce, but also friendly. Each one of them believes that they are capable of being the starting running back. But all of them understand that as a group, we all need to be the most productive and hard-working group. Mark Allen is kind of the leader by age. But Saquon (Barkley) and Andre do a good job of pushing him with the expectations of our program. They all kind of raise the bar together. Saquon knows he has a lot of expectations on him, but he's handled it really well. I'm really excited about where they have come from on the first day of winter to where they are now. I'm looking forward to a good year from all of them."

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By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Frequently the person in charge of the behind the scenes work for an athletic team goes unnoticed.

 

It's a position that doesn't get much attention, but it's essential to any successful team. The director of operations position often flies under the radar until there's a hiccup of some sort.

 

In charge of making sure the i's are dotted and t's are crossed for the Nittany Lion track and field program is director of operations, Laura Loht.

 

"I gather all of the information we need to be successful on the road as far as being organized," said Loht.

 

You can find Loht doing a wide range of tasks depending on the day and season. She can be preparing travel arrangements for an upcoming away meet in her office, or pacing throughout the Multi-Sport Facility during a home indoor meet in order to ensure that all aspects of the meet are running smoothly.

 

During the outdoor season, she checks athletes in at the airport for road meets, while also making itineraries and shuttle schedules when planning for outdoor trips.

 

"Getting 60 to 70 people on the road is definitely a challenge," said Loht.

 

Loht, a former three-time All-American and current Penn State javelin school record holder, can't get enough of being around the track and field environment. She also doesn't want to walk away from her craft.

 

"I love javelin, I love throwing and just being around the sport," said Loht.

 

After graduation Loht knew she wanted to continue competing and thought remaining in Happy Valley would be best for her future. The people of Penn State and the passion they have mean a lot to Loht as she bleeds blue and white herself.

 

Shortly after graduation, Loht started working as the operations assistant within the program. She helped out the program in that position for six months until being hired full-time as the director of operations. Head coach John Gondak told Loht that the director of operations position is a "foot in the door" for a future coaching position.

 

"I want to get into coaching eventually," said the 2014 Penn State kinesiology graduate.

 

Alongside her operations duties, Loht is training for competition herself. Before getting into her office at the Multi-Sport Facility in the morning, she gets up early to complete her daily training sessions. Last weekend, Loht threw in the Florida Relays in Gainesville, Florida. Loht also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials and looks to give it another shot in a few months. She looks forward to another opportunity.

 

"Every year something special has happened in my career," said Loht.

 

Loht chose to go to Penn State for its top-ranked kinesiology program and didn't want to exactly be the top javelin athlete on the team coming in.

 

"I was going to come in as the number two girl and that's what I wanted. I wanted to be competing with someone, not just come in and be the 'big dog'," said Loht.

 

During her athletic career at Penn State, Loht and current senior Lauren Kenney were elite javelin throwers for the Nittany Lions.

 

"In my opinion, we were the best duo in the nation for a while," said Loht.

 

The duo of Loht and Kenney matched up against each other in high school before competing together for Penn State. Loht attended Indian Valley High School which is a little over 45 minutes away from Happy Valley and Kenney went to nearby State College Area High School.

 

From her time in high school, through Penn State and post-graduation, Loht has continued to do great things on the track, and she is hoping to continue that excellence in this role.

 

For more on Nittany Lion track and field, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.

 
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