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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State's annual senior day came and went this year, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin opted for a different approach when asked about his first class.
By a simple season count, sure - it's Franklin's first class, as the fourth-year head coach prepares to lead the Nittany Lions to their second consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearance.
When asked during a Wednesday post practice session earlier this season though, Franklin replied it's actually not his first class, noting instead, it's auspiciously blended with previously committed recruits as well as a few from the previous institution and even some signed in the mad recruiting scramble after he arrived on location in Happy Valley.
He made no shortage of comments on how impactful the class has grown to be, but either way, a deeper look at the 2017 senior class reveals something truly remarkable.
What's revealed is a group of young men who were all presented with a unique challenge, one familiar to those before them, and by the end of their journey, one forever unknown to those who will come after them.
To put it simply, these seniors arrived in Happy Valley in perhaps some of the most uncertain conditions, committed to the promise of potential. Through ambiguity, they carried on, ushering in an era that some might even go so far as to call a rebirth.
Their stories are all unique. While some surround surging success, others are spotted with adversity.
By now though, they are the stories most Nittany Lion fans know by heart.
The common theme among them all? The will to win, and heart to never give up along the way.
It was between Penn State and Ohio State during Mike Gesicki's recruiting process. Ultimately opting for the Nittany Lions, he did so to the tune of a collection of Ohio State fans reaching out telling him to have fun losing to the Buckeyes for the next four years.
"When we beat them my junior year and ended up going on to win the Big Ten Championship, that was kind of something that I held close to me just because I remember everybody saying that we weren't going to be able to do it," Gesicki said. "Everybody doubted us. Nobody even thought that was a possibility. For us to be able to achieve what we were able to achieve in these past four years is really special to me."
For DaeSean Hamilton, Grant Haley and Jason Cabinda, there was of course, the same excitement surrounding their Penn State decisions but questions still lingered as they signed on without even so much as the promise of a postseason bowl game.
"I think coming to Penn State now, it's easy," Gesicki said. "I think now, if you don't go to Penn State it's like what are you doing, why would you not want to go to Penn State. We had 111,000 people at a game this year in a stadium that's supposed to hold only 107,000. There's so many reasons why to pick Penn State now, dating back to just four years ago when my class was picking Penn State, there were so many reasons why not to pick Penn State but we understood what potential we could have coming here together as a class and we were able to do it."
As with most things in life, the seemingly overnight success didn't happen overnight.
"Guys had been through multiple head coaches so you could see a difference between player personalities and the way people were toward the coaching staff," Haley said. "I don't think anything was different for me, but for them you could tell. There was something in their mind that was kind of holding them back a little bit and really becoming that Penn State brotherhood from freshman to senior class where everyone is so closely connected."
Penn State went 14-12 in the first two years of their Nittany Lion careers, with scholarship reductions and injuries opening opportunities for members of the now-senior class to be thrust into major roles.
They rose to the challenge.
"When we first got here we had seven or eight guys play our freshman year and played a good role - started some games and stuff like that and played really big roles on special teams," Cabinda said. "It started there."
Cabinda didn't start the first four games of the season his true freshman season, but can remember clearly to the day when he got the call. The Friday before Penn State's home outing against Northwestern, Sept. 27, 2014.
"Friday comes around and the redshirt lift is at 6 a.m., so boom - I go and I do the redshirt lift," Cabinda said. "I get out of class and coach [Brent] Pry calls me around 9:45 a.m. and says hey, you're starting tomorrow. Meanwhile I just did heavy squat, heavy deadlift and my legs are shredded apart. [Dwight Galt] calls me as soon as I get out of class and he says hey, we need you in the building, we need to regen you. He throws me in the ice tub and I think was sitting in there for like 20-30 minutes trying to get my legs back."
He can even remember the day Marcus Allen got the call up too.
"I still remember when Marcus [Allen] got his first start against Ohio State in a white out," Cabinda said. "He was freaking out before that game. I will never forget the anticipation for him that week before when [Ryan] Keiser went down. Everybody just had his back, supporting him, saying you got this, you're ready for this moment and all those kinds of things. Without your teammates, I don't know if you can go out there and perform."
Undoubtedly, it's the bond between teammates that kept the foundation solid, as a once young group continued to grow from those who came before them.
For Gesicki, it was Jesse James.
"It's the older guys who are there for you," Gesicki said. "When I was a freshman here, Jesse James was a huge role model for me and a guy who I looked up to. You kind of see it go full circle when I'm the old guy and a guy like Danny Dalton comes up here his freshman year and he hits that freshman wall and then he tries to talk to you about it and you've been there before, you've been on the other side of that conversation."
For Cabinda, it was Mike Hull.
"I think to me, a guy who really affected me, affected my mindset, the way I look at the game and the way I prepare, that's Mike Hull," Cabinda said. "There's no doubt about it. Seeing that guy work, seeing the way he played, he left it out on the field day in and day out."
Ask any senior and names like Michael Mauti, Allen Robinson and Anthony Zettel will all come up, often followed by the stories of how they helped shape the mindset and work ethic of a soon-to-become senior class who would continue to carry on an already proud tradition of grit and tenacity in the face of adversity.
"I think coming in with this class, when we came in we had goals of changing his program around and it took a year to two years to really get to that point but I think deep in our hearts we really knew that we could change this program around," Haley said.
Following a 24-17 loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer bowl, there were still plenty of questions remaining as the 2016 season rolled around.
"Going into the going into the third year of our season with the coaching staff, is was like kind of a question mark there," Haley said. "Like what are we going to do, how are we going to turn this around and get Penn State back to where we want it to be and obviously last year, even the first four games, it was tough. We were 2-2 and a lot of people were down on us."
By Oct. 22, 2016, momentum shifted, as the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 2 Ohio State at home in a thrilling 24-21 comeback win for the ages.
"Playing Ohio State last year, it was a special moment," Haley said. "I think for me, it was just all shock. There's a culture change because everything just came and fell into place. Almost two years earlier, the struggles that we had, barely making it into bowl games, 7-6 records."
Surely, the Ohio State victory takes a rightful place in history, but for a few of the seniors though, there were moments prior to the stunning win where the feeling of something special sparked.
"The game that everybody forgets about is the Minnesota game in which we're losing at halftime, we haven't really got anything going yet and we put together a second half come back and we ended up pulling that one out in overtime," Gesicki said. "Without that game, it doesn't matter if two weeks later we beat Ohio State, because without winning that game, there's not the excitement that comes along with being Big Ten champs because we wouldn't have made it there."
Through the 2017 regular season, including conference championship games, Penn State is 21-5, which is tied for the eighth-best record in FBS during a two-year stretch from 2016-17. Among just five losses across two seasons, the last three have been by a total of seven points.
More than any win total, championship or record set in the record book could every showcase though, is the lasting legacy the group of seniors will leave behind.
On Wednesday, Penn State welcomed 21 Nittany Lions in a 2018 signing class ranked the highest in program history since rankings began in 2000. On Saturday, Penn State will pack its bags and hit the road, with an intriguing matchup against No. 11 Washington in the 47th annual Playstation Fiesta Bowl on the horizon.
With one final thing left to do, for these seniors, perhaps all that really remains is passing the torch.
"You look at what we came in here saying we wanted to and then being able to do that, it's a huge accomplishment in itself," Cabinda said. "To us, the most important thing is being able to pass along that torch, making sure it's something these guys can pass along and make sure they remember the values, our roots and what got us here to begin with, so we can continue the success and bring the longevity back to Penn State that we all know."
There's still work to be done though, leaving no time to look back and no time to reflect.
That moment though, will come.
"Obviously when the guys leave here, after our bowl game and our last game together, we'll sit back and we'll talk about it and cherish it for a little bit. I think I'll really sit back and think about it when there's really nothing else that I have to do and I just relive my college days and what we were able to do here," Hamilton said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State signing day came early this year, with new NCAA rules allowing prospective student-athletes to make things official earlier than the typical February date.
Come Wednesday, excitement and anticipation filled the Lasch Football Building as months and months of hard work resulted in one of the most intriguing signing classes, tabbed the highest rated since rankings began nearly 20 years ago.
"I want to thank our staff for all the hard work they've put in in developing these relationships," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "That's coaches as well as our recruiting staff, as well as our administrative staff. I want to thank our players. I also want to thank the families and high school prospects out there that believed in us, and want to come and help us continue to build."
The Lasch Building opened bright and early, with Franklin arriving well before sunrise. Staff members, coaches, families and supporters soon streamed in, as festivities began in the "war room" right around 7 a.m. As the sun peeked through, Penn State first signee of the morning became officially official as linebacker Nick Tarburton kicked off the day with a 7:33 a.m. signing.
"It was a race for his mom to be number one in the boat today, just like Nick, ultra-competitive," defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. "It was important to get him here first."
Penn State saw its first of three five-star recruits sign on the dotted line, as wide receiver Justin Shorter made his signing day announcement official surrounded by his family at 7:37 a.m.
In the first six announcements alone, Penn State saw commitments in the top-ranked individuals from four different states, including Shorter (New Jersey), tight end Pat Freiermuth (Massachusetts) and running back Ricky Slade (Virginia).
The Nittany Lions only added to the list later in the day, with perhaps the grand finale coming in the official signing of five-star athlete Micah Parsons, making him the third consecutive prospect ranked No. 1 in the state of Pennsylvania to become a Nittany Lion.
A simple glance at the class through part one of the early signing day period includes 21 signees, 10 on offense, nine on defense one kicker and one athlete. Among six new Nittany Lions hailing from the state of Pennsylvania, what is perhaps more profound is that the members of the class span 12 different states and into a different country, reaching as far as Florida and Texas.
For assistant head coach, defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, the diving into states like Texas and Florida was anything but an easy task, noting that as Penn State's win total continues to increase, the yes on Penn State also continue to multiply, making the Nittany Lions a game changer, with a total of four 2018 early signees coming from either state.
"It was tough, obviously, we hadn't dove into, especially, Texas and then Florida," Smith said. "They are heavily recruited areas and we made some inroads there. We feel like this is just the beginning to tapping into both those states. We are happy with the three guys we got. Obviously, to go down into Houston, which is a hotbed, and also Tampa and Dallas, we just hope to get one or two more each year if we can."
Franklin announced that six Nittany Lions will join Penn State next semester, naming Parsons among the group.
"Excited about the fact, obviously, about the class overall, but I'm also excited we've got six guys that should be here in a couple of weeks," Franklin said. "They'll be here mid-semester, Trent Gordon, Isaiah Humphries, Zack Kuntz, Jesse Luketa, Micah Parsons, and Nick Tarburton will all be here in a couple of weeks. I think as you guys have seen, we've played freshmen, and whether that's guys that graduated early and came in December or come in the summer, they're going to have an opportunity to compete."
That group includes one tight end, one athlete, one safety, one corner back and two linebackers.
Also from the group, Franklin noted that Penn State fans can expect to see Parsons at middle linebacker this spring, with the option for things to change depending on how he progresses.
"We're going to play Micah Parsons at mike linebacker this spring and see how that goes," Franklin said. "We know he can move back to defensive end. But we're going to have him here for spring ball and see if he can do that. Right now, we don't have a defensive end committed in the class."
Speaking of Parsons
From committed to decommitted to committed again, even Franklin noted that the story of Parsons' recruiting process will likely end up somewhere in his memoirs from when he's retired. Building the relationship early though, Pry recalled one of the first times he caught Parsons live.
"Coach Spencer and I watched him play live for the first time when he was in 10th grade and when we walked away, our jaws dropped at the performance," Pry said.
Since the day he arrived on campus though, a focus on securing talent in the state of Pennsylvania has consistently been at the forefront of Franklin's approach. When looking at Parsons, Franklin pointed to true sophomore running back Miles Sanders, a once top-ranked incoming Nittany Lion from Pennsylvania, as a sort of turning point for those who would come after him.
"I think Miles [Sanders] got this thing started," Franklin said. "Very appreciative of Miles and his mom for kind of getting it going. Miles made it cool to stay home and play at Penn State."
Penn State also saw Nazareth, Pennsylvania wide receiver Jahan Dotson opt to return home to Happy Valley in his commitment.
"Recruiting, in-state kid we were trying to connect with," Franklin said. "Kind of ups and downs, twists and turns in this recruiting process, but at the end of the day things worked out the way they were supposed to work out. We were able to keep an in-state, local player home, which I think is a win-win for everybody. Him having an opportunity to get a world-class education and play big-time football and do it in front of everybody he loves."
Dotson joins a trio of wide receivers in this year's signing class poised with potential, something that has wide receivers coach Josh Gattis extremely pleased.
"When you look at our receiving core, we signed three very talented receivers [Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, Justin Shorter]" Gattis said. "All three are a little bit different; they bring a different skill set to the room which we are really excited about."
Gattis also referenced what he and the staff are deeming the best tight end duo in the country, with Freiermuth joining Camp Hill native Zack Kuntz.
"[Zack] Kuntz, I think is very similar to a lot of ways to [Mike] Gesicki," Franklin said. "High school wide receiver, probably a little further along as a tight end than what Mike was. But both big bodied guys that can really run. Kuntz at 6-7, 215 pounds or so came to camp and ran in the 4.6s for us, which is really impressive. Obviously, with [Pat] Freiermuth, you've kind of got the complete opposite. You're talking 6-5-, 215-pound road grader, tough guy with really soft hands."
While its just a small snapshot of all the early signees have to offer for the Nittany Lions, Franklin also noted that the work isn't over, with a second opportunity coming up in February proving just important as today's announcements.
"I think we'll have some more action in the next day or so, and then I think we could have some more action, guys that we're still involved with for the second signing day that we knew they were going to wait until the second signing day," Franklin said. "So there are still some moving parts out there."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returned to spotlight Friday morning as the Nittany Lions hosted a media day session ahead of the upcoming Fiesta Bowl matchup.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for head coach James Franklin, the staff and the team. While the Nittany Lions are focused on closing out the semester academically, the staff is busy on the road recruiting as well as adjusting to a few coaching staff adjustments.
"A lot of moving parts with graduations and grades," Franklin said. "A lot of moving parts with recruiting and the ups and downs of that and also from a staff perspective. I like where we're at. I'm glad to be back in town, see my family, have a practice here a little bit later on today and can get back to some form of normalcy or whatever you would call that, in college football."
New to their roles but not to Penn State, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and special teams coordinator Phil Galiano joined defensive coordinator Brent Pry for their first media sessions as coordinators.
For Rahne, it's an exciting opportunity, one he's been working toward for a long time and one Franklin noted, he'd also be interviewing for a long time too.
"It's funny, because I tell our guys and I tell our coaches, I'm not a big believer in resumes," Franklin said. "I'm not a big believer in interviews. I get it, especially with people you don't know, but the reality is, Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State. Ricky was the offensive graduate assistant and Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant on our staff at Kansas State so he has been preparing and interviewing for this responsibility for a long time."
For Galiano, it's an exciting opportunity as well, having mentioned turning other full time opportunities down opting to stay at Penn State in his former role as a defensive consultant.
"It was in a time where last season I was looking to try to find a place and had a couple of full time job opportunities that I wound up turning down, choosing to come here to Penn State because this is where I wanted to be and where I would like to be for a very long time," Galiano said. "I knew one year I might just have to go and prove myself and try to do the best job I could and hopefully get rewarded for it. I appreciate Coach for seeing the job I did and rewarding me for it."
Winning in the
The push to the end of the semester can range from stressful to relatively stress free depending on the individual with managing practices, lifts and early bowl preparations.
"I only had one final but still it was pretty tough dealing with football and studying and trying to manage other things can get pretty hard," senior corner back Christian Campbell said.
Come Saturday, a total of 15 new Penn State football graduates will earn their degrees with 17 total graduates brining Penn State's total to 23 Nittany Lions with 26 degrees ahead of the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
Going out on Top
Certainly for Franklin, the goal every week is to go 1-0, and that mentality is no different as the Fiesta Bowl draws closer. Looking to send out a special senior class with a win as well as generate some momentum ahead of 2018, Franklin made note that there's no doubt in the importance of taking advantage of the extra time together.
"I think it's important that you end the season on a positive note so everybody feels good and there's good mojo and obviously I do think it has an impact of going into the following season based on all of the things I just mentioned - the extra practices, the last time people have seen you, how they view you, they start talking about your returning players, the previous season and the bowl game and how it ended," Franklin said.
Contending with Pettis
Penn State's punt coverage team will be tested against the nation's leader in punt returns (20.4 avg) in Washington's Dante Pettis. Having returned four punts for touchdowns this season to break an NCAA record for career punt return touchdowns (9), he's a focus for second team All-Big Ten true sophomore punter Blake Gillikin.
When asked about true sophomore running back Miles Sanders and his development, Franklin noted that he has seen improvement in a variety of areas from ball security and protect to more physical changes in overall strength.
"I look at it a little bit like when I was in Green Bay, we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers," Franklin said. "Aaron was able to come in there and sit behind Brett for a couple years, learn and take it all in. How many times do you see in that league, a guy get drafted in the first round and they are forced to play, and sometimes they are not ready."
Fiesta Bowl Excitement
For most if not all of the Nittany Lions, hearing the Sunday selection of Penn State and Washington matched up the Fiesta Bowl only brought excitement.
"I was just excited," Oruwariye said. "I was kind of thinking about Arizona, what we're going to do out there. I was quick to find the hotel we're going to stay in, which is really nice. I'm just excited for another big game, a New Year's Six bowl and just more time with this family."
Perhaps nobody has been more impacted by Rahne than tight end Mike Gesicki, who has spoken throughout the season about the level of confidence he's gained from Rahne.
"I am really happy for coach Rahne, he honestly deserves this more than anybody," Gesicki said. "He puts so much time into the preparation and everything that goes into our game plan each and every week. He is one of the smartest coaches on our staff and I think he is going to do a great job for us. I think he has had a huge impact on me and the player that I have become and I am really excited. When he first got the job, I called him and I said, "Hey man, congrats." I am obviously disappointed that he is not going to be coaching the tight ends anymore, but I told him, "if you are not going to be able to coach me, I still want 10 touches in the bowl game if you are out there calling plays. I want the ball a little bit.' I am excited for him."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Bowl selection Sunday is complete as No. 9 Penn State has officially accepted its invitation to the Fiesta Bowl, set to meet No. 11 Washington December 30 in the 47th Fiesta Bowl.
Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin made rounds this evening on a pair of teleconferences to talk with local and national media members following the announcement.
Earlier this weekend, Franklin announced a variety of staffing changes, led by the promotion of Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. With the position locked up, Franklin noted Rahne will be calling plays at the Fiesta Bowl.
"Ricky is a rising star in the profession. We've been together now for a long time, I know Ricky very well personally, I know Ricky's family very well. I know him professionally, I know how smart he is, I know how passionate he is about this game," Franklin said.
For Franklin, so much of his decision to promote from within came down to relationships, noting that Rahne had recruited every single one of Penn State's quarterbacks on the roster, who will have the luxury of a familiar offensive system and coach moving forward.
"I know he's excited, I know we're excited. It's different and what's great about Ricky is, he's very comfortable in his skin and although we're going to keep the offense the same, I want him to take it and run with it and I know he will," Franklin said.
Franklin also added tight ends coach Tyler Bowen and moved defensive consultant Phil Galiano to special teams coordinator, as well as Josh Gattis to passing game coordinator and Matt Limegrover to run game coordinator. Franklin also added that graduate assistant Mark Dupuis would handle coaching the running backs until Penn State is able to finalize its 10th assistant coach per NCAA rules.
With so many additions and moves, Franklin noted it's huge the Nittany Lions will have some time to get adjusted as a staff, spending crucial time feeling out different situations as they arise.
One situation of course, and one Franklin mentioned he and his staff discussed today, is where Rahne will call plays from.
"For our players, they are used to having the offensive coordinator on the sideline but at the end of the day, it's what's the best thing for Ricky to call the offense, is it the booth or the sideline, we're working through some of those things right now," Franklin said.
History and West Coast Experience
As one of Penn State's most frequent bowl destinations, there's no shortage of historic outings spanning generations of Fiesta Bowl appearances. Perhaps most notably, during the 1986 season, when the Nittany Lions defeated Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl to clinch its second national championship. With a 6-0 record in Fiesta Bowl outings and experience on the west coach in last year's trip to the Rose Bowl, not much of that matters for Franklin, who's keeping focused on the present.
"I think last years' experience will help, but once again, it's truly about the teams that go on the field in 2017 and making sure that we're prepared and that we execute," Franklin said.
Looking at Washington
Washington enters the matchup ranked first in the FBS standings in rushing defense, marking an opponent with a top-ranked statistic Penn State has already seen twice this season.
While Franklin noted he hadn't yet had a chance to take a look at the Huskies on film, there's no doubting the challenge.
"It's a challenge," Franklin said. "I think those challenges also present opportunities to get better and really test yourself and see how good you are. It's going to be a tremendous challenge. It's funny because I read an article about Washington's defense I thought was really good a couple of weeks ago that I forwarded to all of our coaches about how they play nickel and how they've had different guys playing at nickel position."
Fiesta Bowl Extras
- Penn State and Washington last met in the 1983 Aloha Bowl, one of only two meetings between the two teams, with the other dating back to a 1921 trip to Seattle.
- The Nittany Lions are 6-0 in Fiesta Bowl appearances, most recently defeating Texas to cap the 1996 season.
Fiesta Bowl Appearances
Dec. 25, 1977 - vs. Arizona State (Penn State 42, Arizona State 30)
Dec. 26, 1980 - vs. Ohio State (Penn State 31, Ohio State 19)
Jan. 1, 1982 - vs. USC (Penn State 26, USC 10)
Jan. 2, 1987 - vs. Miami (Penn State 14, Miami 10)
Jan. 1, 1992 - vs. Tennessee (Penn State 42, Tennessee 17)
Jan. 1, 1997 - vs. Texas (Penn State 38, Texas 15)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following yesterday's first release of this year's Big Ten postseason honors, the conference announced this morning its offense All-Big Ten selections. A total of six Nittany Lions earned a spot on at least one of the three teams or honorable mention distinction.
Across both days of Big Ten awards releases, 17 different Nittany Lions have earned All-Big Ten honors, with Barkley named a First Team All-Big Ten return specialist yesterday. The Big Ten will cap off its awards release tomorrow naming individual award recipients.
Check in on a few highlights from this year's offensive honorees.
Saquon Barkley - First
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
Barkley was recently selected as a finalist for his fourth national award this year, named one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. His impact though, is difficult to sum up in a few tidy sentences, considering a lengthy list of eye-popping performances this year. A centerpiece of the Penn State offense with do-it-all contributions this year, Barkley has successfully rewritten the record books, dazzling fans with hurdles, leaps, touchdown grabs and even a touchdown pass.
- Barkley entered the year coming off a 2016 season that included 402 receiving yards on 28 catches. To date, Barkley is third on the team with 47 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 85-yard scoring grab against Pittsburgh, good for the longest by a Nittany Lion in Beaver Stadium history.
- In the same game he ran back the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Indiana, Barkley also threw his first touchdown pass to become the first Big Ten player and sixth FBS player since 1996 with a kickoff return for a touchdown and a passing touchdown in the same game.
- Among eight career records this year, Barkley most recently broke a nearly 50-year-old record for career rushing touchdowns set by Lydell Mitchell (38, 1969-71). He already joined Enis as the only pair of Penn State running backs to record 3,000 or more rushing years in a three-year stretch, having eclipsed the mark in week eight.
Trace McSorley - Second
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
In his second season as the Nittany Lion starting quarterback, McSorley has only continued to establish himself as a fearless leader for the Penn State offense. With a touchdown pass in 27 consecutive games, his streak is tied for the second-longest active stretch in FBS, alongside Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.
It's often that Penn State head coach James Franklin gets asked where he has seen the most improvement from McSorley from last year to this year. There isn't one thing for Franklin though.
"He's gaining a lot of confidence," Franklin said. "The players have a lot of confidence in him. So do the coaches. It's not like I can pinpoint and say, "this one thing." He didn't really have any glaring weaknesses on the front end. That's kind of who he is. He's a winner. He's athletic. He's smart. He's savvy. He's tough. He throws it probably a lot better than people give him credit for."- As Franklin has noted throughout the year, the Nittany Lion offense is at its best when McSorley is involved in the run game. With 11 rushing touchdowns in addition to 26 passing touchdowns this year, he's just the second player in Big Ten history to record at least 10 rushing touchdowns and 25 passing touchdowns in a single season in addition to Ohio State's JT Barrett.
- McSorley registered his 11th rushing touchdown in the regular season finale against Maryland to match the Penn State record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, originally set by Michael Robinson in 2005.
- Also effective through the air, McSorley became the first Nittany Lion with two 3,000-yard passing seasons with 3,228 yards this year. Just this year alone, McSorley has thrown for at least 200 yards in 10 games, which is tied for third in program history.
Mike Gesicki - First Team
All-Big Ten (Coaches), Second Team All-Big Ten (Media)
Opting to return for his senior season, Gesicki ascended to the top of the Nittany Lion tight end charts during the regular season, often bringing fans to their feet with a few of his signature one-handed grabs. Often creating matchup issues for opponents throughout the year, Gesicki's All-Big Ten honor is the second of his career.
- One of three finalists for the Mackey Award, Gesicki set the career record for both receiving yards by a tight end and career receptions by a tight end this year.
- Gesicki opened the year with at least two touchdown grabs in back-to-back games, with his final catch in the win against Pittsburgh sending him past Andrew Quarless for the tight ends career receptions record.
- In his final regular season home games as a Nittany Lion, seven of his 12 catches went for either a first down or a touchdown. His last catch of course, coming by way of a 17-yard touchdown grab from McSorley.
DaeSean Hamilton -
Second Team All-Big Ten (Coaches), Third Team All-Big Ten (Media)
Known by his teammates and coaches not only for his performance on the field, but his work ethic too, Hamilton has been one of McSorley's most consistent and reliable targets throughout the year.
- Ranked third all-time on Penn State's receiving yardage list with 2,732 career yards, Hamilton earns his third career All-Big Ten honor.
- Leading the team with 747 receiving yards on the year, Hamilton has made 48 catches for the Nittany Lions this year, ranked second on the team with seven touchdown grabs.
- Hamilton was instrumental in the win against Indiana, making nine receptions for 122 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, making him the first Nittany Lion with three or more touchdowns since Allen Robinson in 2012.
- More than his first multi-touchdown effort against the Hoosiers though, he etched his name at the top of the Penn State record book, with his eighth catch of the game moving him past Bobby Engram (179, 2005-08) for first place on the Penn State career receptions all-time list.
Ryan Bates - Third Team
All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
Although sidelined for the final four regular season games of the season, Bates made eight starts at left tackle for the Nittany Lions as a top contributor along the offensive line returning after a 2016 season starting every game. In 520 snaps taken, Bates charted 10 knockdowns, allowing just three sacks to earn his first career All-Big Ten selection.
- At Iowa, he helped the Nittany Lions to a season-high 579 yards of total offense, allowing Barkley to break free for a career-high 211 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards for a school-record 358 all-purpose yards.
- On the year, Bates has paved the way for a Penn State offense that ranks in the top 10 in both scoring and total offense.
All Big Ten Honorable Mention
(Complete list including defense and special teams selections)
- WR Juwan Johnson (coaches and media)
- S Troy Apke (media)
- CB Christian Campbell (coaches and media)
- DT Parker Cothren (media)
- CB Grant Haley (coaches and media)
- DT Curtis Cothran (coaches)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the wake of a second consecutive 10-win season it's hardly surprising that Penn State football is all over this year's All-Big Ten selections. The conference announced this morning its defensive and special teams selections, with a total of 12 Nittany Lions earning a spot on one of three All-Big Ten teams or honorable mention distinction across both releases.
In just the first day of All-Big Ten awards, the Big Ten will hold offensive selections for Wednesday and individual awards winners for Thursday.
Check in on all the highlights from this year's Nittany Lion defensive and special teams honorees.
Marcus Allen - First
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches), Second Team All-Big Ten (Media)
In early November, safeties coach Tim Banks called Allen one of the best he has ever coached at the position. With size, speed and physicality, Allen has been not only a force on the field but a leader on the team as one of this year's team captains.
"I've had guys his size who maybe weren't quite as athletic or guys that are a little smaller that may be a little bit faster, but when you start talking about overall combo guy, I don't know if I've had a combo guy with that type of skillset with that type of size," Banks said.
Ranked second on the team with 65 tackles, Allen added 4.0 tackles for loss and one sack in addition to grabbing his first career interception in Penn State's 56-0 shutout against Georgia State.
- A finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, Allen collects his highest All-Big Ten honors this year, named to last year's third team by the coaches and an honorable mention selection the media following more honorable mention honors in 2015.
- Allen highlighted the Pittsburgh win with 12 tackles, adding a fourth-quarter safety marking the first Penn State safety since 2010. With the first team All-Big Ten selection, he becomes the sixth safety since Penn State joined the Big Ten to earn first team accolades.
- With at least five tackles in eight games this season, Allen is the sixth Nittany Lion in program history with 300-plus career tackles and just one stop shy of matching Brian Gelzheiser (1991-94) for fifth place on the Penn State all-time career tackles list.
Amani Oruwariye -
Second Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
If there's one thing Penn State head coach James Franklin has seen in Oruwariye from last year to this year, it's confidence. Oruwariye picked right up where he left off last year, opening the first game of the season with his second career interception. Soaking in all of the leadership attributes around him this year, he's poised to be among the leaders in a group of returning corner backs following his first career All-Big Ten honors.
- With four takeaways on the year, Oruwariye is ranked third in the conference and 19th in FBS in total interceptions.
- Oruwariye combined for back-to-back interceptions against Indiana and on the road at Northwestern, making him the second Penn State defensive back with interceptions in consecutive outings alongside Grant Haley.
- He ranks third on the team with eight pass breakups, also tied for second with 12 passes defended, which is third in the conference and 30th in the FBS standings.
Jason Cabinda - Second Team
All-Big Ten (Coaches), Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Media)
One of the many strong heartbeats of the 2017 team, Cabinda's impact at middle linebacker is uncontested. Leading the team with 84 tackles on the year, he's also third on the team with 5.0 tackles for loss.
Coming off his career-high 14 tackle performance against Indiana, defensive coordinator Brent Pry was just as pleased with his physical approach and knack for coming up with the clutch play in the big moment.
"He's just kind of a do it all, very physical, has a prowess out there on the field, great leader, Pry said. "I think he embodies Linebacker U, I really do."
- With three double-digit tackle performances on the year, Cabinda climbed the Penn State career tackles chart, moving to eighth all-time with 282 career stops.
- Cabinda is also tied for second on the squad with two forced fumbles, registering one in the win against Michigan and one most recently at Maryland, where he forced a sack-fumble on third-and-long in the first quarter.
- Too many of his key plays don't always make it clearly articulated on the stat sheet though, like his leaping stop at Iowa to keep the Hawkeyes from converting on fourth-and-one in the first quarter or when he halted Rutgers for a 2-yard loss on a fake punt attempt to put the game out of reach for the Scarlet Knights.
Shareef Miller - Third Team
All-Big Ten (Media), Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Coaches)
Stepping into a few openings along the defensive line left vacant by departures to the NFL, Miller has emerged as a key piece of a defensive line that was a once worrisome area to the coaching staff in training camp. Whether or not Miller could execute at the level the staff thought he could was quickly confirmed when he caught Iowa's Akrum Wadley in the end zone for his first career safety.
- Miller is tied for first on the team with 4.0 sacks on the year, with at least a half of a sack in four games this season, highlighting the year with 2.0 sacks in the win against Pittsburgh.
- He's also leading the team with 10.0 tackles for loss, with at least a half of a tackle for loss in all but four games this year.
- Miller wore injured teammate Torrence Brown's No. 19 jersey in a pair of games this year, beginning with the Pittsburgh game.
A few other members of the Nittany Lion secondary garnered honorable mention distinction from either the conference coaches or media members as well as defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran.
Honorable Mention -
- Christian Campbell (coaches and media)
- Parker Cothren (media)
- Grant Haley (coaches and media)
- Curtis Cothran (coaches)
Saquon Barkley - First
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
Penn State fans caught their first glimpse of Barkley back deep to return a kickoff against Akron. With three kickoffs for 53 yards at Iowa, it didn't take long before opponents started avoiding kicking to Barkley on kickoffs at all costs, after he returned his first of two kickoffs for a touchdown the very next week against Indiana.
"Saquon can hurt you as a returner," Franklin said. "The game has evolved and the game has changed and you have to take advantage of your playmakers in a variety of different ways and Saquon makes it easy to do that because you have some running backs that are really good runners, but are not good out of the back field when it comes to receiving the football, or whatever it may be. He's got so many tools in his toolbox, and every week for us, it's how do we take advantage of him to give the defense and our opponents issues."
- Barkley returned the first Penn State kickoff return for a touchdown since 2011 when ran back the opening kickoff 98 yards against Indiana.
- He silenced a boisterous Ohio Stadium on the road, again returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, this time 97 yards. His two kickoff returns for a pair of touchdowns ranks first in the Big Ten and fourth in FBS.
On the year, Barkley is averaging 28.4 yards per return, which is good for tops
in the conference and 10th in the FBS standings.
Blake Gillikin - Second
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches and Media)
It was after the win against Indiana when Franklin shared one of the biggest differences in the program in year four compared to year one or two comes down to drive start, field position and punting. Among a host of key special teams contributors, perhaps someone who has made the largest impact, is Gillikin.
Gillikin's 43.2 punting average ranks second in the Big Ten standings, coming
off a true freshman season in which he broke Penn State's freshman season
punting average with 42.8 yards per punt in 2016.
- On the year, Gillikin has pinned 25 punts inside the 20, with a total of 24 career punts downed inside an opponent's 10-yard line, with 17 so far in 2017.
- Gillikin set a career-high mark placing three punts inside the 10-yard line against Pittsburgh. He matched the career-high mark at Iowa with three punts inside the Iowa 10-yard line, before doing it once more on the road at Northwestern and against Rutgers.
DeAndre Thompkins - Second
Team All-Big Ten (Coaches), Third Team All-Big Ten (Media)
Thompkins burst on to the scene as a potent punt returner for the Nittany Lions in the season opener, returning a first-quarter punt 61 yards for a touchdown, marking the first time a Nittany Lion returned a punt return for a touchdown since 2008.
- Much like Barkley, it didn't take long for opponents to opt to avoid punting to the speedy returner, who ranks 13th among active FBS punt returners in punt return average.
- Thompkins 14.5 punt return average ranks first in Big Ten and third in the FBS standings, while his punt return for a touchdown this year remains second in the conference and 10th in FBS.
- Among season highlights, he returned three punts for 33 yards at Northwestern, including a 32-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
PARK, Pa. - Packed into the visiting media room Saturday night, Penn State head
coach James Franklin wasted no time on could of or should of scenarios
surrounding the outcome of Penn State's 2017 season.
Instead, Franklin opted for his customary focus on the positives - and why not, considering the Nittany Lions had only moments ago closed out the regular season with a dominant 66-3 win on the road at Maryland.
In front of sprawling crowd clad in more shades of blue and white than any of the colors on the Maryland flag, the Nittany Lions racked up the most points in a Big Ten game ever, securing back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time since 2008 and 2009.
Surely that alone is cause for celebration, but for Franklin, what's most inspiring is what's yet to come.
"I think we're trending in the right direction now, Franklin said. "I think whenever you can play well at the end of the season and feel like you're trending in the right direction, it's positive."
The tale of Penn State's consecutive 10-win seasons is hardly a facsimile. Among good times and bad times, for some, it's a stunning achievement considering the tumultuous times. For others, what happened Saturday in College Park didn't come quite quick enough, as Franklin pointed out postgame.
Either way, from the moment Franklin arrived in Happy Valley, there was always belief.
"Obviously not at the time, but yeah, I felt like this was a possibility, Franklin said. "How long it was going to take us to get back to this situation, I'm not sure. For us looking back at it and having perspective, I'm very pleased with where we're at."
Among an abundance of storylines embedded in the uncontested success across the last two seasons, it's impossible to leave out someone like Saquon Barkley. Barkley of course, prefers to assign credit elsewhere when looking back on how far the Nittany Lions have come.
"That's big, you have to give credit to coach Franklin and the coaching staff," Barkley said. "Getting two 10 win seasons, you also have to give credit to your teammates and the guys in the locker room, we worked for it. We worked for it and we pushed, two 10-win seasons is big and I think people fail to realize how big that is."
When asked to compare the two seasons though, among the obviously differences, Barkley pointed to maturity.
"The difference from last year to this year is you see a lot of players growing and maturing in different aspects of their game," Barkley said. "That's the different, you see guys growing and maturing."
As Barkley started list off those Nittany Lions who come to mind, among the few he mentioned was backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Stevens was on display early, taking a handoff from quarterback Trace McSorley on a sweep to race into the end zone for a 21-yard run in the first quarter.
McSorley of course, set the foundation for the dominant win, completing 22 of 33 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns before Stevens stepped in.
It was Stevens who tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tom Pancoast for his first career touchdown grab. Seemingly fearless, Stevens rushed for 113 yards on 12 attempts, barreling into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter.
"I played different positions growing up so it was never a thing where I was afraid of contact or anything but at the same time, it's been a while since I've felt a little sore before too though," Stevens said postgame.
Penn State backup QB Tommy Stevens had 113 rushing yards and 3 TD, becoming 2nd QB in Penn State history with 100+ rushing yards and 3 rushing TD in the same game.-- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2017
He joined Eugene "Shorty" Miller: 250 rushing yards + 5 rushing TD in a 1913 game against Carnegie Tech
Perhaps there no one more excited for Stevens' big day than Barkley.
"Tommy Stevens is awesome," Barkley said. "He's a quarterback, but he runs like he's a running back. He's a big body and he's capable of making you miss with speed, power. He can do it all. He can catch the ball. I'm never surprised when Tommy Stevens makes a play, every time he gets on the field you kind of expect him to make that play because he has that impact on the game."
For Stevens, growing up playing a variety of positions all play into his anything to help the team approach. He even recalled once playing running back too, which the 6-foot-5-inch Nittany Lion also noted he clearly grew out of, drawing laughs from a deep contingent of media members gathered around him postgame.
Stevens isn't bothered by the way his game week preparation shakes out though.
"It's not super difficult for me to process," Stevens said. "I wouldn't say that I have too much of a different week than Trace does, we're in the same meetings, we learn the same stuff and ultimately I'm preparing the same way he's preparing. These plays are just a part of the game plan, it's not just me that can be inserted into these packages, we can do the same stuff with any of the different players."
Between the quarterback combo of McSorley and Stevens, it's perhaps just one piece of the differences Barkley was happy to point out, but also one piece that Franklin is excited to see develop.
"We've got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley and we've got a damn good quarterback in our backup quarterback Tommy Stevens," Franklin said. "You have to be careful, sometimes when you get into a two quarterback system, it can mess up the flow but I think we've handled it pretty well this year."
S. Barkley, T. Stevens
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