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VIDEO: 2018 THON Pep Rally Dance

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Among the most highly anticipated THON weekend events, check out the football athlete hour pep rally dance! 

Nittany Lions Host THON Explorers

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Penn State welcomed THON's Four Diamonds families through the doors of the Lasch Football building for a fun-filled afternoon of games and ice cream.

"It's awesome to be able to bring a smile to a kid," former Nittany Lion Nate Stupar said. "The feeling around this building today was so amazing with these kids, high energy. The environment was awesome. For them to be able to see the facility, what we did when we were here playing football, it was really fun."

Several staff members and a few former Nittany Lions in NFL cheerfully greeted the families in the locker room before breaking to explore.

Stupar (New Orleans Saints) joined Anthony Zettel (Detroit Lions), Jesse James (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Super Bowl Champion Stefen Wisniewski (Philadelphia Eagles) for the afternoon, taking time to sign autographs before a group picture.

"This is what Penn State's all about," James said. "There's not a better time to be in Happy Valley than during THON. I'm happy they invited me to come back and be involved."

Check in with Wisniewski for a quick look at a few of his thoughts following the Super Bowl victory. 


THON Features: Teammates Unite For The Kids

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One of Penn State's most impactful weekends on campus has nearly arrived. As more than 700 students take to the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State football's Charlie Shuman and Nick Scott will be among the passionate individuals dancing for the cure. 

Both Shuman and Scott will dance for the cure for childhood cancer of course, as the annual 46-hour dance marathon kicks off Friday evening. Shuman will dance on behalf of the Penn State Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) for the second consecutive year, while Scott will dance for the first time, representing the student leaders organization. 

While football pairs the two as teammates, it's the desire to support families impacted by childhood cancer that's uniting their cause.

As SAAB's treasurer this year, Shuman had the feeling he would be selected to dance again. It was only cemented when a few dancer spots came open.

For Scott, football experiences sparked his interest, but he chose to go outside of what he calls his "athlete bubble" to do more.

"I think throughout my career I've done a lot through the football program for the community and I wanted to make sure that I left my footprint somewhere other than the football field and influence people other than using my jersey to do so," Scott said. 

Scott took to social media to help raise funds for his organization to earn dancer spots. He started a Facebook page to spread awareness for his cause.

First introduced to THON during his freshman year, Scott was part of the football pep rally routine and made his first visit to the Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey with the team. 

"I got to see what the kids go through on a day-to-day basis and that was really tough for me since the first time I visited Hershey my freshman year," Scott said. "I knew I always wanted to help out people who are struggling, especially kids. I've always wanted to take it a step further and do more outside of the football team."

Last year Scott joined his girlfriend on the floor as a member of her pass list, which gave him a bit more of an idea of what to expect. His pass list this year features Johnathan Thomas, who he'll lean on when fatigue begins to take its toll. 

On the floor for the entire 46 hours though, is Shuman, who Scott won't have to spend too much time looking for when it comes to finding his 6-foot-8-inch teammate for a boost of motivation.

"The first thing he told me was not to expect him to give me any piggy back rides, which is fair," Scott said with a smile. "I understand he's dancing too." 

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Shuman knew he wanted to do it all again from the moment he finished THON 2017 - even though he didn't exactly remember the final moment.

"I was my normal self until right up to the end," Shuman said. "It was really important to read the dancer mail. I had a letter from a kid I know from back home who suffers from cancer so being able to read that, I was like okay, if he can do this every single day, I can do this. One more hour of my life is nothing compared to the battle he has for the rest of his life." 

Shuman's biggest piece of advice for Scott though, is simply to remain positive.

"Charlie's a pretty positive guy so if I get down I'll start to feed off of him a little bit and vice versa," Scott said.

While Shuman can offer tips to Scott and his SAAB teammates ahead of time, it's the type of adventure where preparation comes better through experience.

"You kind of have to experience it for yourself," Shuman said. "I can give everyone as many tips as I want, but everyone is going to react to staying up for 46 hours differently."

Come Friday, the two will actually be on different teams for the weekend, with Scott on the purple team and Shuman on the orange team. 

Shuman's thoughts on the matter?

"We're going with 'compete in everything you do' throughout the weekend for sure," Shuman said.

Pep Rally Prep
There's no sneak peek when it comes to this year's THON pep rally dance from Shuman or Scott, which debuts Saturday night. 

"They're working really hard," Scott said. "I've been a little bit involved, just making sure they're staying on the right track answering any questions they have and what to expect. I think these guys have a real shot."

In the spirit of THON weekend, check out the 2017 THON pep rally dance below.

Seniors Cap Careers on Top

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - With Washington in desperation mode, the outstretched hands of senior linebacker Brandon Smith snatched up a Husky fumble to clinch the game. It was perhaps a perfect ending.

In mid-November, when reflecting on his decision to turn down Ivy league scholarship offers to walk on and pursue his dream to play at Penn State, it was Smith who said ultimately, it came down to simply having faith and going for it.

For more than just Smith, much of the narrative surrounding the 2017 Penn State senior class has been all about belief - and going for it.

"I think this team is a team that believes in themselves," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "Starting last year, once we kind of got on a roll, this team believes they're going to win every single game they play against every single opponent. You look at our season, there were some ups and downs and twists and turns and adversity, but these guys never stopped believing in one another." 

Through unpredictable moments along the way, when guided by its steady senior class, there has been no shortage of the get up and go for it mindset when a challenge is presented.

"This just means just getting Penn State back where we were, back where we're supposed to be," senior safety Marcus Allen said reflecting on the win. "We had a chip on our shoulder coming into this game."

It's a chip that's been there for a while, since the day most of these Nittany Lions committed to Penn State, extending on through the disappointment they saw in the eyes of their seniors around this time last year. From a macro to micro level, it's turning 7-6 records into back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time since 2008-09, and defeating a Washington team that entered the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl with significant hype in all three phases of the game.

Most of that's in the past though, and Saturday, in its winningest bowl game in program history, Penn State extended its streak, adding another chapter to its proud Fiesta Bowl history with a 35-28 win against Washington.

Led by a seemingly surgical performance from quarterback Trace McSorley, it was the Nittany Lions who were executing in all three phases of the game in their 2017 curtain call.

"I think as a team, you saw the final product today," senior tight end Mike Gesicki said. "We were able to grow all season long, we had great bowl prep and today, from the offensive line to the defensive line, everybody on the defensive side and everybody on the offensive side, we did a great job and we were able to capitalize on every opportunity."

McSorley shattered the Penn State bowl record for career passing yards, bolstering his total with 402 yards of total offense (342 passing, 60 rushing) to become the first Nittany Lion in program history to surpass 400 yards of total offense in a game twice in his career.

He twice found senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton for a pair of touchdown passes, his second, for 24-yards, coming at a critical moment in the third quarter to send Penn State ahead 35-21.

"Yeah, it was really, really important, because momentum was starting to swing there," Franklin said.

The key to his stunning success came on third down, as he went 12-for-12 for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Producing 11 first downs, eight of his third down passes went for at least 11 yards or more.

McSorley would hardly take credit postgame though.

"Our offensive line did a tremendous job the whole game but really on third down," McSorley said. "They had a different sense of urgency to themselves on the third downs. And then you've got guys like Ham [DaeSean Hamilton] and Saquon, they did a great job separating versus man. We knew that was going to be a challenge this week that they were going to come up try to press us at the line and not give us a lot air, suffocate the air out of the zone. And we'd have to win against man and be accurate with the ball. And that's something our receivers did a great job getting open and making plays on third down."

For offensive lineman Ryan Bates, getting better on third down started as early as the offseason.

"This whole offseason, that was a big emphasis compared to last year because last year that was one of the things we struggled with," Bates said. "It showed today on the field and the whole season really, how much we worked on it."

Headed into the game, Washington hadn't allowed a team to score more than 30 points in a span of 26 games, armed with the nation's No. 1 ranked rushing defense.

"The whole week we heard how big their defensive line was, how good a good defense it is, running game, only gave up 96 yards average," Barkley. "We got 92 on one play."

Just like fans have become accustom to this year, Barkley dazzled, ripping off a 92-yard touchdown run to tie for the longest run in Penn State history, while also setting a Fiesta Bowl record for the longest run.

Defensively, Penn State stifled the Washington run game, keeping star running back Myles Gaskin to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.

"Coach [Brent] Pry reiterates it every week, playing harder, playing hungrier and being humble," senior corner back Grant Haley said. "We knew we had a challenge in their running attack and their quarterback, we did a lot of different things, we kept the pressure. I can't give enough credit to the d-line tonight, they played unbelievable."

The Nittany Lions also held All-American punt returner Dante Pettis in check.

"Big factor in the game was limiting the impact that their punt returner was going to have in the game," Franklin said. "It helps if you don't punt. We didn't punt very much. And then when we did I thought Blake [Gillikin] did a great job of banging the ball deep down in the corner with enough hang time that they had to fair catch it."

More than the stats, in years to come, it might be tough to remember Saturday's final score. Penn State fans won't have to look too far though to find the lasting legacy of a senior class that won't long be forgotten.

"Coming here in a time that wasn't so easy to commit to Penn State from an outsider's perspective and now we're leaving this program as a top 10 team, back-to-back 11-win seasons, a Big Ten championship ring and now a New Year's Six Fiesta Bowl ring, it's something we're going to cherish for a long time," Gesicki said. "I'm really happy to be able to go out with these guys."

VIDEO: Fiesta Bowl Postgame (Players)

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - No. 9 Penn State football took down No. 11 Washington 35-28 in the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Following the win, Nittany Lions Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley, Marcus Allen and DaeSean Hamilton joined head coach James Franklin at the podium. Head inside the locker room for more exclusives with the Nittany Lions. 

Postgame Press Conference

Offense: Gesicki, Bates

Defense: Haley, Cothran

VIDEO: Fiesta Bowl Postgame (Franklin)

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - No. 9 Penn State football took down No. 11 Washington 35-28 in the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Following the win, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin took to the podium. Listen in. 
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl has arrived, as ninth-ranked Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) prepares to meet No. 11 Washington (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) in its seventh appearance at a bowl destination that's proven both triumphant and historic across the years.

For all the action from the University of Phoenix Stadium, as well as exclusive and behind the scenes content, follow along with the gameday live blog.
Live Blog No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 11 Washington
 

RELATED LINKS: I Live BlogFiesta Bowl Media Day Highlights I Offensive Media Roundup I Defensive Media Roundup I Travel Day I Fiesta Bowl Media Central I Head Coaches Press Conference Photo Gallery I Nittany Lions in the NFL - Week 16

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's the eve of the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, as ninth-ranked Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) prepares to meet No. 11 Washington (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) in its seventh appearance at a bowl destination that's proven both triumphant and historic across the years.

While the Nittany Lions and the Huskies have never met in the Fiesta Bowl, Penn State is making its first trip back to the event since 1997, when it captured a 38-15 win against Texas on New Year's Day. With a 6-0 all-time record in the Fiesta Bowl, perhaps no outing is more unforgettable than in 1987, when the Nittany Lions claimed their second national championship in program history with a 14-10 victory against Miami. 

Although proudly in the past, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted the Nittany Lions haven't spent much time discussing Fiesta Bowl history, instead focusing on being present in the moment, preparing for the challenge ahead.

Arriving in the desert the day before Christmas Eve, the Nittany Lions did a typical Sunday walk through before kicking up the intensity for bowl practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

From feasting at Fogo de Chao to Topgolf and kickball, the Nittany Lions also had plenty of time to celebrate, with the fall semester finished, graduation complete, and even the early signing day period out of the way all before arriving in the Valley of the Sun. 

"I've been very impressed with our players and staff," Franklin said. "We talk all the time about bowl games and about being present and enjoying the time they have, doing the different types of things like Topgolf and things like that. But when it's time to meet and practice and work hard, they have to be able to be mature enough to flip the switch back and forth, and our guys seem to handle it pretty well." 

Turning toward Washington, as Franklin says, the Huskies have all the right ingredients to be successful at the highest level. Perhaps mirroring the Nittany Lions in many ways, Penn State will have one last opportunity to send its senior class off on a high note. 

"I think obviously when you're playing these Pac-12 style offenses, you better keep playing for four quarters," Franklin said. "And you better have a finisher's mentality because I think University of Washington can put up big points and they've got explosive players and they've got a veteran quarterback."

With a pep rally scheduled for Friday afternoon, the Nittany Lions will be greeted by fans who have traveled across the country to see the 2017 in action one final time. Preparations are all but nearly complete, all that's left to do is take the field.

"These guys love to play football, so going out on the field, sometimes that's really what they're looking forward to," offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. "They want to go play ball and they love to be able to be with their teammates and play football and that's the thing that they love to do. I think that's a thing that's really overlooked on great teams, especially in college. The teams that love to play the most, those are the teams that are the best."

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What to Watch For - Penn State
1. When asked about the Penn State defense, Washington head coach Chris Petersen noted that a challenge in approaching the Nittany Lions, is the variety of talented individuals who can all make plays when called upon. 

"You watch them play as a defense and there's not any one guy that has this huge name out there because they're all making tackles," Petersen said. "And that's what I think a good defense does. It's not any one or two guys that keeps showing up, it's like they're all getting a piece of this thing and I think that's one of the things that really makes a defense special, and I think they've got that." 

Led by linebacker Jason Cabinda (85), Penn State has seven different Nittany Lions with at least 40 tackles on the year and 30 different individuals who have at least assisted on a stop in the back field this year. Ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, Penn State is allowing opponents just 15.5 points per game.

2. Washington All-American defensive tackle Vita Vea said earlier this week that outside of consensus All-American running back Saquon Barkley, the one person the Huskies have to contain to stay in the is quarterback Trace McSorley. Owning the top two single-season passing touchdown totals in program history, McSorley enters the matchup with the second-longest active touchdown passing streak in FBS (27). He also became just the second individual in Big Ten history to record 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season, having registered nine games this year with both a rushing and a passing score.

"He's the engine to the offense," All-Pac-12 first team defensive back Taylor Rapp said. "Anytime we can play a dual-threat quarterback like that, it can be pretty frustrating, because like I was telling all the other guys, our DBs can cover down all the receivers, lock them down, do our jobs, but Trace can scramble outside of the pocket for a little bit and scramble for a first down. So that can be frustrating."

3.  There's no doubting the impact that Barkley has on any given outing for the Nittany Lions and the Huskies are well aware of the strengths he brings. Barkley has toppled program records and ascended to the top of record books at a staggering pace, most recently recognized as the Paul Hornung Award winner as the most versatile player in the nation, among a host of other postseason accolades. Barkley heads into Saturday's matchup ranked second in the nation with 179.50 all-purpose yards per game as just the 24th individual in FBS since 2000 to total more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a single season.

"He does everything so well," Rapp said when asked about Barkley. "He's so versatile. He can catch the ball out of the backfield a lot. He can run the ball well inside the tackles and once he gets outside in space, it's so hard to tackle the guy, he makes people miss so much."

What to Watch For - Washington
1. Among the things keeping Franklin up at night, one of the Huskies he listed was Washington's Dante Pettis. 

"You're talking about a guy that owns the NCAA record for returns for touchdowns," Franklin said. "Nine is a lot. So that's scary."

Ranked tops in the nation in punt returns (20.4), the All-American earned first team All-Pac-12 honors at two positions this year, also averaging 11.6 yards per catch with 62 receptions on the year. Penn State has been successful in containing top returners on special teams this year though, something the Nittany Lions are confident about headed into the challenge.

"Our special teams unit, we love a challenge," Nick Scott said. "We take a lot of pride in facing guys who are dynamic in the return game and shutting them down. That's something we've done really well and hopefully that's something we can keep going. It takes a lot of hard work, confidence and just a mentality." 

2.  When listing what he sees in the Washington defense this week, Barkley said something along the lines of, "you all know about Vita Vea." While the Nittany Lions are averaging 41. 6 points per game on the year, Washington hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 30 points in the last 26 games dating back to 2015. For Franklin though, Washington's defensive strengths are more than just its interior defensive tackles.

"You've got 6-5, 340 pounds, and 6-3, 320 pounds, and they play like it," Franklin said. "And I think they do a really good job of complementing those two interior d-tackles with what they do on their perimeter with their secondary. They do a great job of defeating blocks and fitting runs and playing what we call trap coverage where they'll trigger the corners and things like that, make it really difficult."

3. Washington running back Myles Gaskin was also among the Huskies keeping Franklin up at night. As only the third Husky in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons, Gaskin is a key explosive component in the Washington offense. Described as both speed and elusive by the Nittany Lions this week, Penn State isn't overlooking the junior second team All-Pac-12 honoree.

"He's a very good back," linebacker Jason Cabinda said when asked about Gaskin this week. "I think he runs hard. I think he has really good vision. He's able to get to the outside and kind of challenge the edge of the defense." 

The Final Word -
When asked about preparing for a Washington team that's similar to the Nittany Lions with strengths in all phases of the game, Franklin noted that it all comes down to fundamentals. 

"It's going to come down to blocking, tackling, protecting the football, not giving up big plays on defense, trying to create a few of them on offense, momentum-type plays," Franklin said. "And that's typically the case is playing good, sound football, not doing the things that are going to beat you."

For Franklin, it's those things that could beat you, that happen to creep up during bowl season, with the gap in between the regular season and gameday causing conditions for potential errors.

"I know our players and coaches have tremendous respect for Washington for what we've seen and what we've game planned," Franklin said. "At the end of the day it's going to come down to the team that plays the hardest and plays the smartest and finds a way to finish."

Fiesta Bowl Media Day Highlights

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Transcripts: Franklin - Select players I Photo galleries: Fiesta Bowl media day - Senior carry-off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Gameday is drawing closer as Penn State took to the field one last time for practice this afternoon. Prior to the practice, nearly the entire team as well as all Nittany Lion coaches participated in the Fiesta Bowl media day event.

Spanning an entire hotel ballroom, the team was divided up based on academic majors, with a few Nittany Lions taking spots around the room at podiums.

Penn State head coach James Franklin kicked off the event, taking to the podium to field questions from a variety of reports. Upon receiving a question about who media members might want to get to know a little better, Franklin noted that's actually part of what's so special about college football.

"You've got so many kids from so many different backgrounds and perspectives," Franklin said. "To me, probably the most valuable guys in our program are the guys that you don't know anything about. The guys that make the program run, the guys that allow us to practice the way we want to practice, the guys that sacrifice so much with their name not being in the newspaper, with them not scoring touchdowns. But we talk all the time about every single person in our program has a significant role that impacts this team."

Much like the ballroom on Fiesta Bowl media day, Franklin once again shared how the Nittany Lions go about planning the locker room setup.

"I think most of you guys know how we do the locker room," Franklin said. "It's different than most locker rooms where most people sit by position. We also break our entire locker room up racially. So the whole locker room is broke up like that so guys are forced to get to know each other on a very, very deep level."

Whether it's the locker room configuration or merely the conditions created by the staff surrounding the team, it's obvious the Nittany Lions are a close bunch.

"These are guys here, I mean best friends between DaeSean [Hamilton] and Mike [Gesicki], Jason [Cabinda], Saeed [Blacknall, me and Saquon [Barkley], the list goes on and on," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "Just our chemistry and continuity off the field, I think, really helps us on the field. We're that much more comfortable with each other on the field. We know where guys are going to be at and how they're going to run a route or go through the mesh or whatever it might be. Just our chemistry off the field it helps us huge on the field."

Among the 100-some stories, it's of course impossible to capture all of the special bonds this team shares. For now though, check in with a few of those special relationships from media day.

Off The Field with Grant Haley
When most Nittany Lion fans hear his name, images of his historic blocked field goal returned for a touchdown last year against Ohio State might be top of mind. His on-field accomplishments go on and on as the All-Big Ten honorable mention selection is a crucial component of the Penn State secondary. 

What fans might not know about the senior advertising and public relations major, is that he has a passion for writing too. On his bucket list, is writing a book, something he's already making serious progress toward completing.

It started from scribbles here and there, as Haley jotted down ideas before eventually deciding to put his book concept in writing.

"As of now, I'd say I probably have 70-75 pages done," Haley said. "I don't know if I'll finish it anytime soon but it is something that's on my bucket list to finish a book so we'll see how it goes."

While not too many people know about the book, among those who do, are Haley's roommates, including Koa Farmer, who happened to be a little disappointed he did not get cast as a character.

"I asked him if I was in the book and he said no, it's not that kind of book," Farmer said with a laugh.

The Leader of the Special Teams Unit
It's often from coaches and teammates that Nittany Lion Nick Scott is referenced as the leader of the special teams unit. A veteran on the field and a team captain this year, there's no doubting his presence and leadership on the field. 

If you ask him though, having a positive attitude is where it all begins.

"I try to be the most positive player that I can, the most positive person. That's who I am off the field as well," Scott said. "I like to make guys laugh, I like to be goofy, it's my personality. However I can influence people in a positive way, whether it's acting a fool in the locker room or giving them words of encouragement in the locker room, that's what I do."

Although admittedly put on the spot, when asked about who he has become closest with, he turned to classmates Johnathan Thomas and DeAndre Thompkins.

When Thompkins first met Scott, he remembers someone with dreads, but for both Thomas and Thompkins, they remember the comedy too.

"He was just really goofy," Thompkins said. "He was just one of those guys that as soon as I met him, we connected on another level because we had the same mindset with stuff. We had the same jokes, sense of humor and right off the bat we connected in that way."

Per team tradition, when selecting his "ultimate teammate," Thomas selects Scott. 

"He's reliable," Thomas said. "He holds everybody to a higher standard, whether it's in the locker room, on the field or during workouts. He's accountable and just a great teammate. He brings the juice and brings the energy."

Balancing when to be loose and when to be focused, Scott has no trouble finding the line.

"He's one of those guys when we're in the locker room, we're joking, we're having fun, we're laughing, as soon as he flips that switch, everybody else flips that switch with him and that's the things he carries with him on the field with him as a special teams leader and one of the guys the freshmen look up to," Thompkins said.

Sanders Learning from Johnson
For true sophomore Miles Sanders, having patience in his development from last year to this year has been a humbling experience. Working his way on to the field in his true freshman year last season proved anything but easy, as he navigated challenges along the way. 

"Last year, my freshman year, I put the ball on the ground a couple of times, this year one time and you can't let that affect you because someone is always watching you," Sanders said. "So it's about always keeping good body language."

During the offseason, Sanders opted to work on the mental side of his game, then altering his body language too. Preparing to be ready whenever his number was called, Sanders looked toward someone like wide receiver Juwan Johnson. 

Working with Johnson throughout the offseason, Sanders took note as the wide receiver who had two receptions in 2016, grew into one of McSorley's key targets with 48 catches for 635 yards and of course, his first career touchdown, a game-winner in the final seconds of a tense road victory at Iowa. 

Just as much as Sanders sees in Johnson though, he sees the same in perhaps his newest post-practice catching partner.

"Miles is special," Johnson said. "The big thing about him is he had to be patient and that's the one thing about him, you have to maximize your opportunity so whenever you get the ball, I just told him you have to maximize it because you never know when you're going to be back in the game or what have you."

Sanders has continued to grow, having opened the season with three carries for 44 yards and a touchdown against Georgia State before rushing for a then-career high six times for 25 yards against Michigan. He closed out the regular season with 42 yards on seven carries at Maryland, also grabbing a 3-yard pass.

While Johnson still has yet to decide who might join him on the field post-practice, he noted that Sanders is a good suggestion.

"Anyone is welcome who wants to work hard," Johnson said. "DaeSean [Hamilton] and Mike [Gesicki] were a huge impact on me in catching the ball and just being there for me and the talks after practice. Anybody who wants to work hard and have a good conversation after practice is somebody that I would like to have in the group." 

A Conversation with Sandy Barbour
Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour met with media members following the Fiesta Bowl media day session to discuss a variety of topics both within the department as well as across the greater collegiate athletics landscape. Listen in.

 

Jersey Swap and Senior Carry-Off
As is tradition, Penn State swapped all kinds of jerseys on the practice field this afternoon before closing out the final full Fiesta Bowl practice with a unique ceremony. Each senior on the team is able to select which group of teammates will carry him off the practice field while the entire team watches and cheers along. 

Fiesta Bowl Defensive Media Roundup

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Transcripts: Pry, players I Photo galleries: Defensive press conferences I Practice I Kickball with HopeKids I Penn State football at TopGolf

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's another day closer to the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, as Penn State opened the morning with defensive press conferences before heading to practice. 

Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Brent Pry joined linebacker Jason Cabinda, corner back Grant Haley, safety Marcus Allen and defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran. 

Pry noted he woke up this morning thinking about Washington running back Myles Gaskin. Entering Saturday's matchup with nine rushing touchdowns across the last three games, his 19 rushing scores ranks third in the NCAA.

"He's just a very dynamic back," Pry said. "We've seen backs similar to that model but I don't know that we've seen one as good at it, just the cuts and the explosiveness, the balance, sees the hole, can catch the ball out of the backfield. Super impressed with him." 

For Cothran, Gaskin's elusive ability to make people miss, makes him all the more difficult to defend.

"That's one of his main strengths, is being able to be elusive and making jump cuts and certain things, being able to make people miss and bounce things outside," Cothran said. "Maybe not into the gap that the play might have been built for but kind of making something on the run. He's really good at that so that's definitely why we're harping on gap accountability so much because it's definitely necessary to win this game for sure." 

Outside of Gaskin, the Huskies are led by a veteran quarterback in Jake Browning, who's currently third in FBS with a .688 completion percentage. 

"They have a mature guy at quarterback," Cabinda said. "They kind of give him the green light to make a ton of audibles at the line of scrimmage. He's a very smart quarterback. I can tell he has a very high football IQ. He's good at identifying the defense, and what they're in. I think having a ton of disguise and hides is going to be crucial to our success."

As both Haley and Cothran, limiting Browning's ability to extend plays will prove key as the defense will ultimately focus in on caging him the pass rush, something Penn State has spent time working on in practice.

"It's a challenge for us and it's a challenge for the d-line," Haley said. "We're excited to go against a quarterback that's good in all aspects of the game."

Looking at Pettis
Penn State is also keyed in wide receiver Dante Pettis, who earned first team All-Pac-12 honors at two positions (wide receiver and return specialist), also a special teams threat ranked tops in the nation in punt returns (20.4) and punt return touchdowns.

"I just think his vision, his balance, his vision and his explosiveness, it's the same thing that we see after the catch," Pry said. "Take away the route running and all those things, when he catches the football, which they do a nice job of getting the ball to their skill player who can do something with it, he's just one of those guys who is dangerous with the ball."

A Blessing and a Dream Come True
Much like the seniors from yesterday, the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of so much hard work and the dedication from a group of seniors who were once not even counting on the promise of a postseason bowl game.

"When I first got here, they said we wouldn't be in a bowl game until my senior year and we've been blessed with coach Franklin coming in and bring a lot of these good recruits, a lot of my good friends who I have made throughout the years," Cothren said.

More than the bowl games though, the growth experience and the legacy they'll leave behind is certainly something the seniors are reflecting upon this week.

"I think coming in as freshmen, we kind of all got together and we kind of talked about with coach Franklin, what we want our legacy to be here," Haley said. "Over the last four years, I've seen guys and players grow as men on and off the field and it's been an amazing experience. Just thinking about the last four years, playing from the Pinstripe Bowl to playing in the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, it's been a dream come true."

Notables
- Haley on how he'll remember Allen.

"The thing with Marcus is, he is just a guy who - he has been the same person he is ever since he walked in the door. I don't think anybody is going to change who he is and I love that about him. He's going to have that high energy, high character. He's a great person and a great football player and I'm excited for him." 

- Cothran on how much the Rose Bowl loss has stuck with him in terms of concluding his senior career on a high note.

"It's been gnawing away at me. It's never the way you want to be able to leave out and obviously seeing how hurt those seniors were last year, the way that that ended. Me being a senior this year, I mean, I definitely want to go out on a positive note. This is something I've definitely been looking forward to for a long time."

- Pry's early thoughts on who will step up to fill in the gap of a departing Cabinda.

"I think that that's one of the challenges this spring. We're fortunate we've signed three guys at the position that will come in early as well as the guys currently in the unit. Cam Brown is a candidate, has played a lot of football now to this point. Of course Ellis Brooks, a young man that we redshirted that we're really excited about. Jan Johnson is another guy very similar to Brandon Smith - a guy that walked on and really caught our attention, physical guy that gets the game, that's smart."

Kickball with HopeKids Arizona
Following practice, the entire team joined more than 100 children from HopeKids Arizona for kickball and autographs as part of the Fiesta Bowl Charities initiative. 

"We came out here and made these kids' day giving back to the Arizona community," wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said. "You see the kids having a blast with smiles on their face and it's just the little things that we all take for granted sometimes. It kind of reminds us and brings us back to earth because we're always so busy worrying about a game and things like that."

@GOPSUSPORTS

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