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2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Travel to Michigan

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GAME BLOG: Michigan

Game Notes | Gameday Central | Michigan Scouting Report | Coach Franklin Wednesday

Press Conference Roundup | Coach Hand Q&A | Player Q&A Video

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, Penn State (4-1, 1-1) returns to action under the lights against Michigan (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday. Kick is slated for 7 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN2.

10418083.jpegThe Lions have posted four-straight on-field victories against the Wolverines, including a thrilling 43-40 four overtime win last season in Happy Valley. Michigan holds a 10-7 edge in the all-time series between the two schools, which both rank in the top 12 of all-time winning percentage in NCAA history.

Through five games, the Penn State defense has been tremendous. The Nittany Lions rank among the top-25 nationally in six defensive categories, including the top 10 in rushing, scoring and total defense. Additionally, Penn State is leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 14.6 points per game. The unit has allowed 300 yards of total offense in just one game this season.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is ranked second in the conference with 295.4 passing yards, 22.6 completions and 302.2 yards of total offense per game. The wide receiver duo of DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lews is only the only set of teammates to rank among the top-25 nationally in receiving yards per game at 100.4 and 99.0, respectively.

Michigan enters Saturday's game looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The Wolverines suffered a narrow 26-24 setback to Rutgers last week. The Wolverines average 354.0 yards per game and remain the Big Ten's only offensive unit to convert all 15 of its red zone chances into points (12 TDs and 3 FGs). Michigan leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in fewest penalties per game at 3.33.

Saturday's game will feature two of the nation's premier college football programs. In addition to ranking among the top 12 in winning percentage, Penn State and Michigan are two of the winningest programs in NCAA history. The two teams are also among the most ranked programs in AP poll history, with the duo combining for 1,378 weeks in the national rankings.

Get primed for the 18th meeting between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines. Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week six matchup against Michigan.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10418072.jpeg1. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions are 15-11 in games contested after a bye week. The Lions took full advantage of maximizing last week's practice days. In addition resting the bodies of the primary contributors, head coach James Franklin and the coaching staff stressed film review and corrections as a mode of self-scouting the Nittany Lions as the season nears the mid-way point. Penn State lifted weights and practiced three times before taking a few days off at the latter stages of the week. The Lions returned to practice on Sunday refreshed and focused on the practice week at hand.

2. A big point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions leading up to the sixth game on the schedule is consistency. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg talked to the media earlier this week about the importance of each player on both sides of the ball doing his job on each play. From the pre-snap reads to the play itself, the Nittany Lions are seeking more consistency from each member of the depth chart. With consistency across the starting lineup comes a higher level of execution, which is what the Lions are focused on this week at Michigan.

3. Senior linebacker Mike Hull has been among the most productive defensive players in the Big Ten thus far in 2014. Leading the conference in tackling at 10.6 hits per game, Hull has been a disciplined and effective player throughout Penn State's first five games. The Pittsburgh native has a nose for the football and is a fundamentally sound player when it comes to tackling and putting himself in the proper position to make tackles. The quarterback of the defense, Hull has made 53 tackles in 2014, including 32 solo hits.

What to Watch For - Michigan
10418131.jpeg1. Without the services of starting running back Derrick Green (collarbone), quarterback Devin Gardner and sophomore running back De'Veon Smith become the focal points of the Michigan running game. Gardner is a dynamic player with good size (6-4, 216) and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his passes in 2014, to go along with 131 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

2. The Michigan defense has been stout during the first six games of 2014. The Wolverines are ranked 19th in the nation in total defense, allowing 315.5 yards per game. That figure includes 100.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. Michigan has allowed just three rushing touchdowns this season and is holding its opponents to 2.93 yards per rush. Linebackers Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan lead the Wolverine defense with 48 and 46 tackles, respectively.

3. Junior Dennis Norfleet is ranked second in Michigan history in kickoff return yards at 1,977. He is one of just three players in Michigan history with more than 2,000 total return yards. Norfleet is averaging 23.6 yards per return on kickoffs this season. Norfleet also handles the punt return duties for Michigan.

The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions will play their second of three primetime games on Saturday in Michigan. Following the game, Penn State will have played in two road night games for the first time since 2008 (Wisconsin and Ohio State). The 2014 season marks the seventh time since 2000 that the Lions will play multiple night games in the season. It is the 15th-straight season that Penn State has played in at least one night game. Penn State owns a 40-26 on-field record in night games. That includes a 20-10 mark in road games under the lights. This week is just the third night game in Michigan Stadium history, but the first Big Ten night game. This game marks the fourth night game between Penn State and Michigan since 2000. Kick is slated for 7:02 p.m. on ESPN2.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Michigan Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Herb Hand

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10417665.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State running game coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Michigan on Saturday Take a look at a Q&A with Hand during the bye week.

Q: What do you think the bye week did for the offensive line and how much progress have you seen from the group since the start of camp?
"When you watch guys on a daily basis, sometimes it is good to go back and turn on the film from the first day of practice and see the progress the guys have made, not only individually, but collectively. Even going back to the beginning of the season. What we were able to do during the bye week as coaches was a lot of self-scout. We took time to get into what we were able to accomplish during the first five games. And then look at what we needed to get better at...We were able to do that during the bye week. And then go back in from a practice standpoint and really hone in on, again, those fundamentals and techniques that each guy has to execute for us to be successful collectively as a unit, which is obviously going to help us an offense and help us be the best team we can. During that open, those opportunities for self scout were very valuable for us."

Q: How would you assess the play and development of the offensive line?
"We're not there yet, obviously. We've gotten a lot better. Sometimes it's hard to see, but we have gotten better. We don't temper our expectations and our standards. We have a standard that we want to play at as a unit because we know the standards that are here at Penn State. We are working hard to achieve those. We are being very demanding to the guys to be attention to detail players. Is there a process that goes along with it? Yes. At this point in the season, there are no more rookies. Guys have played in games. There are no more rookies. No one cares about that stuff, to be honest with you. I've told the guys from the get go that nobody cares we had to replace four guys. Nobody cares that we have inexperience or some of the guys were playing defense (last year). No one cares if you are banged up or bruised up. What they want to see is results. That's what we are striving for and that's what we are working hard for. I can tell you this that the work ethic of this group is tremendous. But hard work doesn't guarantee you success. There are a lot of other factors that go into it. But without hard work, you have no shot. These guys work. When is that going to come to fruition for us? Hopefully sooner rather than later, but it is a process and the guys are working extremely hard to paly up to standards they have set for themselves."

Q: What have you seen from the communication across the group?
"We always talk in terms of wanting our guys to play with one set of eyes. When you think about it, from tackle to tackle, you have five guys in there. Statistically, that is almost half of the offense from a numbers standpoint. We want all five of those guys to play with one set of eyes and what we call one heartbeat, as well, so that we are all on the same page. We have got to be able to talk across the board, echo calls, make sure everybody is on the same page. Even if we are wrong, if we are all wrong together, we have a chance to be right. But if the right side and the left side are not working in coordination together, we have no shot. It starts with our center. Angelo (Mangiro) has done a great job with identifying fronts and the communication progression on every single play...There is a process that goes along with communication (across the line). And each week that has improved. We hope that we will continue to improve that as we go through the season. And we hope that it will be a big part of the improvement that people see on Saturday."

Q: How have some of the younger guys behind your starters progressed as the season has gone on?
"Those guys are doing good. We have several freshmen who are in our two deep and travel squad. James (Franklin) has kind of talked to you guys about green lighting, yellow lighting and red lighting younger guys. We have a few freshmen who are yellow lighted guys right now that are taking reps in practice and developing. They are getting closer to being guys that we could use if we needed to. We don't necessarily want to use those guys unless we have to. The other guys, we basically have about eight guys who have taken the majority of the reps for us. Wendy Laurent, Derek Dowrey and Albert Hall are kind of our three main backup players. They have to be able to play multiple positions, which they do. Dowrey has repped at both guard positions. Wendy has repped at all three inside positions. Albret has repped at basically every position but center. When you are preparing for a game, you are getting eight guys ready. Those guys have to be multiple. And those guys are developing nicely. We'll see how that works out for us this weekend if we need to work some of those guys in. They are certainly ready, repping and preparing like the starters."

Q: You are cooking for the group next week. Are you looking forward to that and what do you have planned for the meal?
"We are either going to do it on Monday or Wednesday, probably leaning more towards Wednesday. I'm going to fire up my smoker and throw down some pork shoulders and brisket. We are going to do a nice little barbecue deal with some fixin's - coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob - kind of a meat and potatoes type of meal. Nothing real fancy, but it's going to be made with a lot of love and it is going to be delicious. I'm looking forward to cooking for these guys."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Michigan Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin provided an update to the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex. The Nittany Lions return to action at Michigan on Saturday (7 p.m. on ESPN2) following a bye week.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Opponent Previews - Michigan

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10415273.jpegMichigan | Michigan Stadium | 8 p.m. | ESPN2

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to take on Michigan in the first ever Big Ten night game at the "Big House". Get to know the Wolverines in this week's scouting report.

Brady Hoke, who is in his fourth year leading the Wolverines, is 75-67 overall and 28-17 at Michigan. The Wolverines went 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten in 2013. They lost 31-14 to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Wolverines returned 46 lettermen and 16 starters from 2013.

The Wolverines enter this Saturday with a 2-4 mark and currently have a three-game losing streak. Michigan dropped a 26-24 contest to Rutgers last Saturday. The Wolverines compiled 336 yards of total offense, including 178 yards through the air. Quarterback Devin Gardner completed 13-of-22 passes for 178 yards and an interception. Gardner also rushed for 40 yards and two touchdowns on 10 attempts. Derrick Green gained 74 yards on 12 carries, but suffered a collarbone injury. De'Veon Smith added 31 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Receiver Devin Funchess caught five passes for 71 yards. Kicker Matt Wile converted a 39-yard field goal.

The Michigan defense allowed 476 yards, including 402 passing yards against the Scarlet Knights. Linebacker Joe Bolden recorded a team-high 10 tackles, including nine solo. Fellow linebacker Jake Ryan made eight stops, two for loss, and broke up a pass. Linemen Willie Henry and Taco Charlton each had two tackles for loss and a sack.

The Wolverine offense ranks 14th in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 22.3 points per game. They average 354 yards per game to rank 12th in the conference in total yards. The Wolverines rank 7th and 12th in the conference, respectively, in rushing and passing offense.

Gardner has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 911 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. The senior has also run for 131 yards and three scores. Sophomore Shane Morris has also seen time at quarterback. Morris has completed 36 percent of his throws for 128 yards and three interceptions.

With Green's injury, Smith will take over the top running back spot. Smith, 5-foot-11, has rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging six yards per carry. Junior Justice Hayes, 5-foot-10, has 101 yards on 19 carries this season. Hayes also has five catches for 47 yards.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Funchess leads the receiving corps. The converted tight end leads the team with 29 catches for 392 yards and three scores. Funchess is eighth in the conference in receiving yards per game. Sophomore Jehu Chesson has 13 catches for 151 yards, while Amara Darboh has 11 receptions for 148 yards and a score. Tight end Jake Butt has 96 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

The offensive line includes two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

The Michigan defense has allowed 22.8 points per game and 315.5 yards per game, ranking 10th and sixth in the conference, respectively. The Wolverines have given up just over 100 yards rushing and 215 yards passing per game.

Senior defensive end Frank Clark leads the line with 20 tackles, 15 solo, 6.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. Fellow end Brennan Beyer has made 16 stops, including two sacks, while Charlton has 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Henry, a tackle, has 17 tackles, with 4.5 for loss and two sacks.

The Wolverines have a strong linebacker group, led by Bolden and Ryan. The junior, Bolden, leads the defense with 48 tackles, 23 solo. He also has two tackles for loss and a sack. Ryan has recorded 46 stops, 26 solo, six for loss, a sack, and two pass breakups.

Sophomore cornerback Jourdan Lewis leads the secondary with 22 tackles and an interception. Junior Blake Countess has made 13 tackles, 10 solo, and two pass breakups. Safety Jarrod Wilson has 16 tackles this year.

Kicker Matt Wile has converted on 5-of-9 attempts, with a long of 42. Punter Will Hagerup averages 45 yards per punt, placing seven inside the 20-yard line. Dennis Norfleet is a talented return man, averaging 23.6 yards per kick return. He also handles the punt return duties. Norfleet ranks second in program history in career kick return yards with 1,977.

Michigan leads the all-time series against Penn State, 10-7. On the field, Penn State has won the last four meetings against the Wolverines, including last year's thrilling 43-40 win in four overtimes in Beaver Stadium.

What Brady Hoke is saying about Penn State:

"We have our work cut out for us. Defensively, they are first in the conference in rushing yards allowed. Christian Hackenberg is one of the great quarterbacks in the country. They have two receivers that seem to catch everything."

"I think [Hackenberg's] accuracy with the football is impressive. He can make all the throws. When a throw requires touch, he has nice touch. When a throw requires some zip, he can power it in there. I think his progression, when he's gone through it, is very accurate and very successful."

"I think their front is very good. They do a nice job. When they need to bring pressure, they've been able to do that and be successful. They get off blocks and have good integrity with their gaps."

Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by Student Writer Paul Marboe.

VIDEO: Michigan Week Player Q&As - C.J. Olaniyan & DaeSean Hamilton

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton leading up to the Michigan game.

Week Six Press Conference Roundup - Michigan Week

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10413814.jpegJames Franklin Transcript - Oct. 7

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, Penn State returns to action on Saturday with a primetime game against Michigan (7 p.m. on ESPN2).

Head coach James Franklin previewed the matchup against the Wolverines on Tuesday afternoon inside the Beaver Stadium Media Room.

On the heels of a productive bye week, Franklin is pleased with how the team got back to work on Sunday during the first practice of Michigan week. The Nittany Lions practiced three times last week before the players had a few days off to recharge.

"It seems like forever since we've been out there and played, and I know we're excited to get back going," said Franklin. "Guys were able to spend extra time academically, which is really important. Extra hours and study hall, it came at a really good time in terms of some exams and things like that. They were also able to get home and see their friends and family and go to high school football games and things like that, which is important."

Moving into Michigan preparations, Franklin highlighted Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner. Without the services of leading rusher Derrick Green (clavicle), Gardner will be a focal point for the Michigan offense on Saturday night.

"The fact that he's a veteran guy and has played a lot of games, I think that shows up," Franklin said. "I think the fact that he's 6 4, 220 pounds and probably one of the more athletic guys; in terms of being able to pull the ball do you know and take off. You saw him do that a couple times the other night and was able to get to the edge of the defense and really make some positive plays for them. And that's challenging, because on defense, there's so many things that you're trying to stop, and now you have to deal with a quarterback, as well."

Two Nittany Lions along the defensive line will play in front of friends and family on Saturday. C.J. Olaniyan (Warren) and Anthony Zettel (West Branch) are Michigan natives, and neither has played a game in Michigan. Olaniyan noted on Tuesday that disciplined gap control is critical when preparing for a quarterback like Gardner. Franklin echoed what Olaniyan talked about.

"Especially with them losing their tailback, it probably shifts even more emphasis to that," said Franklin. "And it's a challenge, because every offense and every defense and every special teams has strengths, it has weaknesses, and you can't take it all away and that's what you've got to decide. You've got to decide, what are you going to take away from the defense, what's important to you and what are you going to give up."

This will mark Penn State's first visit to Michigan Stadium since the 2009 season.

"We are excited about the opportunity," Franklin said. "This will be my first time going to Michigan. Looking forward to that and experiencing that and that's something we're keeping mental notes as a coaching staff because a lot of our coaches haven't been to a lot of these locations before."

Saturday's game will be the 18th game between Penn State and Michigan. It will be the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium history.

Press Conference Notes
- Franklin on the Michigan offense:
"Offensively, Doug Nussmeier, who I've known for awhile, is his first year at Michigan, had been the offensive coordinator at Alabama the last couple years. They are a multiple pro offense. Obviously the quarterback, No. 98 Devin Gardner, big, strong physical guy, was really impressed with his presence at Big Ten media days. He's an impressive guy, 6-4, 216 pounds, is completing 62 percent of his passes, and is very, very athletic in terms of making plays with his feet."

- Franklin on the Michigan defense:
"Greg Mattison is one of the more veteran coaches out there in terms of experience and success, not only in college but also in the NFL. They are a 4-3 team. They will play quarters and they play a lot of quarter one and a lot of man coverage. In a lot of ways they remind me of when I used to be in the ACC and you play Florida State and they load the box to take the run away by numbers, and they press you on the outside to take what I call gimmie throws away and really make it difficult on you."

- Franklin on the Michigan special teams:

On special teams, Dan Ferrigno, is also their tight ends coach. The guys that jump out is No. 23 again, Dennis Norfleet, their kick return guy. Right now, he's the second all time leading returner in Michigan history, and has a chance to be the leader before the end of the season."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Monday Notebook: Nittany Lions Kick Off Michigan Week

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9335768.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions kicked off Michigan week preparations on Sunday afternoon when the team reconvened at the Lasch Football Complex following the bye week.

The players received Thursday, Friday and Saturday off from football activities during the bye. During that span, the coaching staff hit the road for recruiting trips. The group returned to a normal Sunday schedule with meetings and practice. As is the case every game week, Monday is the team's off day. Practice for Michigan will resume on Tuesday afternoon.

The Lions and Wolverines will meet for the 18th time on Saturday night when the two squads collide in Michigan Stadium. Penn State will be making its first trip to Ann Arbor since 2009. As members of the East Division, the two teams will now meet annually. The Nittany Lions hosted the Wolverines in a thrilling 4OT game last season. Penn State has won four-straight games on the field against Michigan dating back to a 46-17 victory in 2008.

Penn State and Michigan are among the storied progams in all of college football. The two schools rank among the top-12 in winning percentage and total victories in NCAA history. Both teams are also among the most ranked teams in NCAA history, according to the AP poll. Penn State and Michigan have been ranked nearly 1,400 weeks during the history of the AP poll.

The Nittany Lions collide with the Wolverines inside Michigan Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m. on ESPN2).

Lions in the Stat Rankings
Several Nittany Lions remain among the leaders in national and conference statistical categories. Here is a weekly breakdown of Penn State players in the stat rankings:

QB Christian Hackenberg - Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game at 295.4. He ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards at 1,477.

WR DaeSean Hamilton - Hamilton is 17th nationally (first in the Big Ten) in receptions per game (7.2). He ranks 18th in the nation and second in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 100.4.

WR Geno Lewis - Lewis ranks 20th in the nation in receiving yards per game and second in the Big Ten at 99.0. He is third in the Big Ten with 5.8 receptions per game.

DT Anthony Zettel - Zettel ranks second in the Big Ten 1.4 tackles for loss per game.

LB Mike Hull - Hull leads the Big Ten in solo tackles per game at 6.4 and total tackles at 10.6 per contest.

K Sam Ficken - Ficken is seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten in field goals made per game at 2.00.

Early Look at the Wolverines
The Wolverines enter the week looking to snap a three-game losing streak following a 26-24 setback at Rutgers on Saturday night. Michigan opened the 2014 season with a 2-1 mark with wins over Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio). Michigan dropped its final non-conference game to Utah (26-10). The Wolverines are 0-2 to start Big Ten play following losses to Minnesota (30-14) and Rutgers.

Running back Derrick Green leads the team in rushing with 471 yards and three touchdowns. Talented wide out Devin Funchess is the top receiving threat for the Michigan offense. Funchess has made a team-high 29 receptions for 392 yards and three touchdowns.

Devin Gardner and Shane Morris have split time at quarterback, with Gardner starting five of the six games. Gardner has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 911 yards (5 TD, 7 INT). Michigan leads the nation in red zone offense at 100 percent to start the season.

The linebacker duo of Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan leads the Michigan defense. Bolden has 48 stops, while Ryan has 46 hits.

Saturday marks Michigan's first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Hamilton Thriving in Role for Nittany Lions

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10267703.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - DaeSean Hamilton has a knack for making just about everything look easy.

A gifted athlete on the field of play and a polite, personable guy off the field, Hamilton always walks with a sense of confidence.

A breakout player during the first five games of 2014, the redshirt freshman leads the Big Ten in receptions with 36, is averaging more than 100 yards receiving per contest and has been instrumental in Penn State's 4-1 start.

But his road to the starting lineup has been anything but easy.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, Hamilton hails from a military family and has lived all over the world. His parents, Johnie and Madgeline Hamilton, both served more than 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Hamilton's childhood included living in Japan, Hawaii, Greece and Illinois before the family settled at its current residence in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"I was young so I don't remember a ton of it, but it was a good experience being able to see the world," Hamilton said.

The life lessons Hamilton learned through his parents are things he carries with him to this day.

"It molded me into the person I am today because I learned a lot about always having good judgment and staying out of trouble," Hamilton said. "I always have them in the back of my mind. You ask yourself, 'would you be doing the same things in front of them if I was away from them?' The discipline and them raising me helped me be a better man today."

10395530.jpegHad it not been for his gifted athleticism and talent on the football field, Hamilton may have considered following the footsteps of his parents with a career in the military.

But with offers from Virginia Tech, Maryland, West Virginia, Miami, Duke, Michigan State and Penn State, among others, Hamilton knew he wanted to continue his football career at the collegiate level.

As a high school senior in 2012, Hamilton wasn't leaning in one direction when it came to picking a school until he visited Penn State in December of that year.

"I fell in love with all of the coaches and all of the teammates I would be playing with," Hamilton said. "I fell in love with the recruiting class I would be coming in with. And I became really good friends with them."

Hamilton arrived on campus in July of 2013 excited to begin his college career. But things did not get off to the start he had hoped for.

Hamilton had surgery to repair a wrist injury he had suffered mid-way through his senior season at Mountain View High School. When the injury happened on a routine play, Hamilton continued on as if the injury was a sprain. He played through the pain and finished the season before preparing for the start of his Penn State career.

Following a medical evaluation in Happy Valley when he got on campus in July, it was determined that Hamilton's left wrist had been broken since October and had not healed properly. Without surgery to repair the injury, Hamilton could have been left without feeling in his left hand and movement in his fingers.

"That first year was rough," Hamilton said. "I came in during the summer, and I had to have surgery about a month after I enrolled here. Just watching the guys play the sport that they love was rough. I focused on academics. I came to Penn State to get a great education and play football, so it was tough not being able to play."

Rather than begin training camp with the rest of his recruiting class, Hamilton was forced to spend all of 2013 building the strength back into his wrist. Hamilton had a choice to make if he was going to use the recovery period as an opportunity to get better or not.

"That's when my parents played a big part in helping me stay on track," Hamilton said. "Seeing games in Beaver Stadium and being a part of campus was a good experience."

With words and messages of encouragement from his parents on a weekly basis, Hamilton powered through the fall on a mission to make the most of the opportunity he had. He was active in position meetings and worked out with the strength and conditioning staff on the turf adjacent to the practice field for countless hours during the season.

The work ethic stood out to his peers during the process.

10395533.jpeg"He approached each workout like a practice," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. "His attitude during that process and now is a reflection of how well he has played."

Hamilton was not going to take no for an answer. He knew what type of player he could become, and he set out to maximize the opportunity, albeit without having a chance to be on the practice field.

"I just wanted to make myself better," Hamilton said. "When I saw all of the other guys on the field working hard, I didn't want to fall behind."

Often pushing sleds and conditioning during practice time, Hamilton worked tirelessly to get better.

"If I gave anything less than my best effort during those workouts, it would have just been rougher on me," Hamilton said.

Hamilton's hard work during the recovery period set the tone for a big offseason. He went right to work building a rapport with Hackenberg and the rest of the receivers.

"The offseason was a huge time for me," Hamilton said. "The other guys had a season under their belts and were seasoned vets. I hadn't played in a single college football game. I would text Hack all the time and ask him if he wanted to put some extra work in with me. I would sometimes go out during the mornings and put in work by myself. I knew that I had to have a great offseason in the weight room and on the field to be able to make an impact as a significant player on the team."

Following a strong training camp, Hamilton was eager to start the season in Ireland. Having not played in a college game, the redshirt freshman went into the season-opener against UCF with an open mind.

"From the beginning of the season, I just wanted be a person to make an impact," Hamilton said. "I ended up playing well in Ireland. The game has slowed down for me. My confidence has grown, and I think that's a big part of my success right now."

Hamilton busted onto the scene with a tremendous opening game in Dublin. He tallied a completion on the first Penn State play from scrimmage and has not looked back since. Hamilton had 11 catches for 165 yards in his debut and now leads the team with 502 yards.

It was a long journey to the starting lineup, but Hamilton is grateful for everything he has accomplished.

"I'm thankful for my parents and all of the opportunities I have been given," Hamilton said. "I am glad I can maximize the opportunity I have."

Hamilton takes pride in the process of becoming a better player. He wants to perfect his craft. Ask any one of the players in the Penn State secondary who practice against Hamilton and they will all talk about his ability to make things difficult for a defender, namely disguising the routes that he runs.

"Football is a game about tendencies," Hamilton said. "You can't do the same thing on every route. I don't want to be predictable. I disguise things as best I can. I don't run the same route the same way every time."

10395537.jpegOff the field, Hamilton is a laid back guy with confident personality. A communications major, Hamilton has aspirations of finding his way onto the set of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown when his playing days are over. If he joins the ranks of the on-air talent, you won't have any trouble recognizing the Virginia native on TV.

Hamilton's hairstyle stands out among the other guys in the locker room.

When he arrived in Happy Valley, Hamilton couldn't find a steady barber that suited him. His solution was to let his hair grow.

"It got kind of wild and crazy, so I just let it go and have fun with it," Hamilton said.

It's been more than a year since he had a haircut. Despite fellow teammate Bill Belton's reputation as the team's unofficial barber, Hamilton is quite comfortable with how things look.

"I don't want him touching my hair," Hamilton joked.

On the field, the work is far from done for Hamilton. While he is relishing the opportunity to be a key figure for the Nittany Lions, Hamilton has an eye on the future.

"The next step for me is being consistent," Hamilton said. "I don't want to have a good first half of the season and then come out flat in the second half. I never want to be satisfied. I always want to work harder and harder every day to become a better player."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Spend Off Day Volunteering at United Way Day of Caring

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dayofcaring_1.jpgPhoto Gallery - Day of Caring

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Approximately 50 members of the Nittany Lion football team used the off day on Thursday as an opportunity to give back to the community by participating in the United Way Day of Caring event in State College.

The volunteers helped with the upkeep of Centre Furnace Mansion on East College Avenue. Groups participated in the volunteer effort in three shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It's great to give back to the community," freshman Johnathan Thomas said. "It's great to be out here with our teammates to help build some team chemistry and we get to help the community while doing it."

The work around Centre Furnace Mansion focused on landscaping and upkeep of the property. The student-athletes helped spread mulch, rake leaves and perform yard work in the garden around the historic site.

"This is a really great opportunity to give back to the community and the people who support us every weekend," freshman Charlie Shuman said. "When we get an opportunity on an off day to give back to the community and help them out, it's awesome."

Core value No. 1 for Penn State Football is to compete in everything you do. That is evident on the practice field every day. It was also evident at the Day of Caring festivities.

"Compete in everything you do. That's how we operate," Shuman said. "We are out here competing to see who can pull the most weeds, dump the most mulch, and we are having fun with it."

The Nittany Lions take the responsibility of giving back to the community very seriously. The nearly 50 players at the Centre Furnace Mansion jumped at the opportunity to spend time with one another while giving back to the community.

"We always have fun, and we have a special bond as a group," Shuman said. "No matter what we are doing, it is another opportunity to bond."

In addition to the football team, members of the baseball, women's and men's basketball squads participated in various activities around State College as part of the Day of Caring.

The Nittany Lions return to action on the field at Michigan on Oct. 11.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Bye Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Sean Spencer

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10394418.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Michigan on Oct. 11. Take a look at a Q&A with Spencer during the bye week.

Q: How do you feel like your unit has played thus far in 2014?
"I think we started out of the gates pretty fast, especially one guy in particular, Anthony Zettel. The group is doing a good job. I wouldn't say great, but we are doing a good job. They know the level of expectation has risen every week. We want them to continue to get better. I think areas of improvement would be consistency in our pad level and gap control. Sometimes we try to make plays, but sometimes we get out of our gap when we are trying to make the plays. We have to continue doing things within the framework of the defense and those things will happen."

Q: How do you break down which techniques are better for different guys?
"When you are around the guys and practice with them and take them through different things you see that skill set. Like Austin Johnson is a power to finesse guy - power first and then finesse. He's got a unique skill set in the fact that he can play like a guy who is 280 pounds, but he is 315 pounds. Just never limiting those guys to, alright, this is the way we do it or this is the way you have to do it. Deion (Barnes) is a different type of pass rusher than C.J. (Olaniyan). So what I try to do is maximize Deion's ability through the framework of the defense by letting him do things that he is good at. And then let C.J. do things he is good at...You learn that every player has a different skill set. In order to maximize that, you have to allow him to do things that are beneficial to his skill set."

Q: Can you talk about how your nickname 'Chaos' fits you and the position you coach?
"Coach Galt kind of gave me that nickname. It was always part of my D-Line catchphrase. Playing with organized chaos. I always kind of used that word. If you get a chance to meet me, I'm kind of hyper (laughter). I'm running around all the time. When we were at Vanderbilt, Coach Galt said one day for the guys to follow Coach Chaos running around on the field. From then on, the guys called me that. For the position, you have to have that. I always talk to the guys about matching my intensity every day. I'm not going to come onto the field without great energy. The guys kind of feed off of that. That's not a position where you can chill and hang out. Those guys gotta go all the time. When they see their coach, they feed off of that."

Q: What can you say about C.J. Olaniyan and his strengths as a player and as a captain?
"An unbelievably mature individual. One thing, C.J. is a father. He has a little daughter. When you have that situation that automatically makes you gain maturity. He's a guy that I bounce things off of when I want to talk to the group. I'll go to him and talk to him about leadership and where some things are that he can help me with. When you start giving a guy a leadership role and you start talking to him and including him in the process, he takes it to heart and is able to project it onto the field. It is a pleasure to coach the guy. He is very intelligent. He takes unbelievable notes. He asks great questions. He is very detailed in his analyzing of each opponent."

Q: Anthony Zettel's personality kind of matches yours. What is it about the way he plays the game that makes it so similar?
"He goes hard from the beginning of the game to the end of the game. He's got unbelievable work ethic. He loves football. He loves what he does. He plays hard. He's a real disciplined guy. I let him be himself much like Coach Franklin lets me be myself. And I think that helps me, and that helps Anthony...He's so intense. He's going to come with great energy. It's a pleasure to coach a guy like that."

Q: You had a chance to scrimmage with some of your younger guys this week. Did any of those guys pop out to you?
"I think Antoine White has a bright future here. He has unbelievable twitch. He gets off the football. He can be a really good pass rusher. He's going to be a guy you are talking about for years to come here. We are really excited about him. Also, Torrence Brown is another guy that we had recruited when we were at Vanderbilt...He is a pleasant surprise. He's very dynamic. He was a small school state basketball player of the year in Alabama, so he is a great athlete. He has a vertical better than 34 or 35 inches. He's going to give you that dynamic pass rusher that you need. And then Curtis Cothran as a guy I'm very excited bout. As the future goes on, I think I've got some guys who can do some things and make some noise in this conference."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony