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Spring Ball Top Performers: Specialists

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The spring ball top performers series has returned, with a position-by-position snapshot of who's standing out and exceeding expectations for the Nittany Lions.

With each passing practice, hear from a different assistant coach for a closer look as Penn State heads toward its annual Blue-White spring game. Up first, Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano checks in for a look at the specialists.

As early as Penn State head coach James Franklin's first spring ball press conference, he named identifying a field goal kicker and kickoff specialist as a top priority given the graduation of senior Tyler Davis.

Among the Nittany Lions with an opportunity to compete for the job this spring, Franklin named sophomore Carson Landis, who Galiano said is doing a bit of everything for the Nittany Lions right now.

"Carson Landis is a guy who is very valuable for us right now, doing really all three," Galiano said. "He's doing field goal, kickoffs and punts and working extremely hard for us. He's coming to work every day. He's working extra and we're asking a lot of him right now. We're asking him to be a field goal guy, to also be a kickoff guy and then to also be our backup punter."

The specialists are of course led by a consistent veteran in Blake Gillikin, who has only continued to build on yet another strong season as the leader of the group.

"Obviously Blake Gillikin is a phenomenal player and it's really been all winter in the winter conditioning and now that he has been here punting for us, and really doing a heck of a job," Galiano said.

Among an excellent battle for the snappers, Galiano also noted Kyle Vasey has continued to stand out for the Nittany Lions since starting all 13 games at long snapper last year.

"Kyle's been a very solid player for us the past couple of years," Galiano said. "He's really working extremely hard, was one of the leaders during winter condition and so far this spring snapping the ball for us and doing a good job."

Spring Practice Update

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football hosted its first weekly media availably of the spring season Wednesday evening at Holuba Hall.

The Nittany Lions are well underway in the spring season, all leading up to the annual Blue White spring game set for Saturday, April 21st inside Beaver Stadium.

Check in with Penn State head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions for a closer look at the earliest update from the spring season.

The Buzz of Camp
Last year it was Juwan Johnson who was impressing during spring ball and this year, Franklin noted it's wide receiver KJ Hamler who has commanded the buzz from his coaches and teammates. 

"He's just so quick and so fast," Franklin said. "Usually you get a guy that's really fast or really quick and he's both. He's still not as efficient with his movement as he needs to be but he's an exciting prospect."

Also developing well for the Nittany Lions is wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer, who is also splitting time on the baseball roster.

"Mac Hippenhammer is one of the more natural football players that we have, even last year when he was redshirting on scout team and special teams, you'd watch him do things and it just came natural to him," Franklin said. "I think the baseball experience has been good for him, his confidence is built with that. He did really good academically. That was part of the requirement, we said if you're going to play baseball then you have to do really well academically because that's a lot on your plate and he did." 

Stevens is Staying
During the offseason quarterback Tommy Stevens did take time to check out other programs considering a possible transfer. As Stevens revealed Wednesday though, he's staying right in Happy Valley. 

"I love Penn State," Stevens said. "I love the relationships I have here and I love playing football with my best friends."

During the decision making process Stevens noted his parents were very supportive throughout the process, keeping an open mind the entire way. Stevens made the decision recently and told his teammates today that he'd be staying at Penn State.

"I wanted them to hear it first," Stevens said. "Of course, I live with guys on the team and I wanted them to hear it first so I told them hey, this is what I'm going to do."

Farmer Taking on a Leadership Role
Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer obviously knows the ins and outs of the safety position alongside Sam linebacker, but this year he'd like to continue adding to his skillset. Interchangeable is the word Farmer used, noting he's working on learning Mike and Will linebacker positions to ensure he's ready for any situation where he might be needed. 

With key defensive departures, Farmer is also embracing more of a leadership role.

"We had Jason [Cabinda], we had Marcus [Allen], we had Grant [Haley]," Farmer said. "They were probably the leaders of our defense last year and those guys are done and it's my time this year. Being more of a leader, being more vocal, getting the energy up in practice. I can't keep it to myself in practice."

New Leader in the Room
It's been a new transition for DeAndre Thompkins and the rest of the Nittany Lion wide receivers adjusting to a new position coach. At this point in the season, there's nothing but love in the room for the new leader of the wide receivers. 

"Coach [Corley], he's cool," Thompkins said. "He's laid back, he's one of those guys who understands the game of football and he has a special way of teaching it to his players." 

For Thompkins, Corley is of course well respected, but it's also respect that's a big thing for the Nittany Lion wide receivers coach.

"He's of those guys where he can crack a joke but he can also get on you if he needs to," Thompkins said.

Penn State Hosts Successful Pro Day

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Pro Day Results

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football hosted its annual Pro Day today, welcoming NFL Scouts and a total of 21 Nittany Lions for drills, testing and workouts. The morning started in the Lasch building weight room before moving over to Holuba Hall for the rest of the afternoon.

We caught up with a few Nittany Lions who returned to campus to check in on their Pro Day performance as well as look back at their trip to Indianapolis, Indiana for the NFL Combine.

Steve Smith Sr. called Penn State All-American running back Saquon Barkley a "create-a-player" on Madden following his NFL Combine performance. Although Barkley did not participate in the full set of testing, drills or workouts today, being back in Happy Valley was still a highlight, especially as media members packed the inside of Holuba Hall.

"To be able to see Pro Day and how much bigger it got since my freshman year, you truly, truly have to give credit to coach Franklin and those guys on the field," Barkley said. 

While it's bittersweet for the Nittany Lion to be back at Penn State but no longer suiting up in the Blue and White, there's still plenty look forward to. 

"It's been fun. I have a lot of things that came my way, I was able to announce that I signed with Nike, which was a dream of mine. I was able to do a little video shoot with Nike also," Barkley said. "It's everything I've dreamed of and I'm just blessed I've had to opportunity to be in the position I am today.

Tight end Mike Gesicki placed first in his position with four different NFL Combine performances, capping a successful showing in Indianapolis.

"The combine is obviously something I've been dreaming about ever since I was little kid, I've been watching it on TV," Gesicki said.

Safety Troy Apke turned all kinds of heads at the NFL Combine running a 4.34 40-yard dash before registering a 41-inch vertical jump.

Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton did not bench or run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, instead opting to train specifically for the 40 at Pro Day. This afternoon Hamilton clocked in at an official 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, a time he was pleased with.

"I feel like I did pretty good, I obviously got my adrenaline running for both of those events that I did today so really just let all my training take over and just rely on all the things I've been working for the past two and a half months and getting out here and able to perform those two events and do well at them I felt pretty good," Hamilton said. 

Linebacker Jason Cabinda was also limited at the NFL Combine, noting that it was all the more crucial for him to be able to come out with a strong Pro Day performance. 

"I think the broad jump really shows how explosive you can be and stuff and obviously not being able to run the 40 today, I knew I needed to really put up numbers in the broad jump so jumping 10-9, I felt good about that, I PR'd, so that was really good," Cabinda said.

For a majority of the Nittany Lions with the NFL Combine and Pro Day now checked off, it's all about waiting until the NFL Draft. In the meantime, most will spend time working out, awaiting any calls from teams for private workouts and prepping for the next step.

Perhaps one of the most pressing questions of the day though all came down to who has better hands, Barkley or Gesicki. We'll let the two of them break it down.

We also caught up with Barkley's agent, Kim Miale, of Roc Nation Sports for a closer look at what it's been like working with the Nittany Lion and the most unique request she's received so far. 

Penn State Underway in Spring Ball

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a productive winter conditioning period, Penn State football is ready to put the pads on again. The Nittany Lions return to the field Monday to officially kick off the spring season. 

As he does every year, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with member of the media to preview the 14-practice spring session, which culminates in the annual Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions will host Blue-White weekend Saturday, April 21 with action beginning at 3 p.m.

Check out a few storylines from this afternoon's session with Franklin.

Critical Questions
Among a few critical areas of spring ball development, Franklin noted that a top priority is developing a two deep at middle linebacker as well as a two-and-a-half to three deep at defensive tackle. With obvious departures in Jason Cabinda, Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran. 

"I think [Robert] Windsor and Kevin [Givens] we're excited about what they were able to bring to the table," Franklin said. "Really kind of the guys after them, it's excitement based on potential. But they haven't played enough. You know, when you graduate three D-tackles and you had two D-tackles coming back, you're typically only going to play about five, maybe six guys at that position in the game." 

While it's still too early to make any final determinations, based on potential Franklin noted he was pleased with Nittany Lions like Antonio Shelton, Ellison Jordan, Fred Hansard and Damion Barber.

"Still too early for me to say at this point," Franklin said. "Promising excitement based on potential but I haven't really seen enough to know."

On the special teams side of things, Penn State will have a major gap to fill when it comes to replacing the consistency of kicker Tyler Davis. Franklin made specific note of walk on kicker Carson Landis in terms of the opportunity he has this spring.

"He's going to get a bunch of reps in this camp," Franklin said. "He's got a strong leg. I think the biggest thing for a high school player trying to transition into the Big Ten and football at this level is the consistency aspect. He shows flashes of being really good." 

Making Moves
Franklin highlighted Penn State's positional changes, but when asked about sophomore Lamont Wade's move from cornerback to safety, it mostly came down to filling needs at safety, with the cornerback position shaping out to be both deep and experienced headed into 2018. 

"We feel really good about the depth we have and are creating at the corner position," Franklin said. "We have a little bit more question marks at safety, and Lamont is a football player and although he's not the longest guy in terms of height, he's put together. He'll hit you and we just felt like it probably played to a little bit more of his strengths."

Replacing Barkley
It goes without saying that finding a way to replace the production of Saquon Barkley is certainly something the Nittany Lions will have to address this spring. For Franklin, it's obvious that replacing his production won't be falling on one individual. 

"We need to replace Saquon Barkley with the running backs that we have," Franklin said. "And when I talk about "replacing Saquon," I talk about his production, but replace it with the group of running backs that we have -but also with the growth of the offensive line and the development of our tight ends, and still be a team that's difficult to stop because of the firepower that we have at wide receiver and the mobility we have at the quarterback position."

First things first though, Franklin noted that the running backs are going to surprise some people in terms of what they're able to do.

Speaking of the Offensive Line
For Franklin, there's the clear benefit of a potent running back group, but there's also the benefit of the offensive line reaching perhaps its best point to date. With Penn State seeing a scholarship two deep, he noted the offensive line has grown bigger, stronger and more experienced with increasing depth.

Among the Nittany Lions he's pleased with, Franklin noted Alex Gellerstedt has gone from someone who came in with about a year of experience at offensive line and has only taken positive steps.

"He's big. He's strong," Franklin said. "Even just getting into stance now, he never looked comfortable his whole freshman year in his stance and now he's comfortable and he's athletic."

That bodes well for the Nittany Lions, who return a majority of starters along the offensive line including Connor McGovern at center.

Max Out Session Highlights Winter Conditioning

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - What does a piranha in small pool have in common with a trained killer? That would be just two of the top performing Nittany Lions for Penn State assistant athletics director for performance enhancement, Dwight Galt.

With just two workout sessions remaining, Galt met with members of the media following an open max out session in the Lasch Building weight room for a winter conditioning update.

"We've always had great winters but I think this one kind of takes the place of the best one we've had so far," Galt said. "It's our fifth one here so it's been really good. They are a motivated group right now."

For Galt the key to the standout winter has been in consistency, with the Nittany Lions putting forth maximum effort and determination in every session. 

As Galt noted, unlike some programs, Penn State balances an aggressive strength power program in conjunction with a very aggressive movement program. Of the 30 workouts the Nittany Lions have already completed that means 15 have been strength and 15 have been running workouts.

"The running workouts obviously take a lot out of you in Holuba," Galt said. "They've done a great job bouncing back every day and getting a hard lift in and getting hard run in."

Check out a few more takeaways from Galt's media session. 

Top Performers
When asked who's sticking out in winter conditioning, the trained killer was Nittany Lion wide receiver with the piranha in the small pool being safety Lamont Wade.

As Galt noted, former Nittany Lion wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton left his legacy with Johnson.

"He has done a great job. He's one of our top, top guys," Galt said.

Galt also named offensive lineman Will Fries, tight end Danny Dalton and safety John Petrishen in his top at the moment.

"One guy that has been really good but has just been dinged his entire career is John Petrishen," Galt said. "John Petrishen has really paid his dues. He has had a number of situations, knocking on wood, and he has been healthy and he's doing a great job."

Mid-Year Enrollees
Making the move from high school senior to Nittany Lion freshman in just a few weeks' time is no easy transition. With six mid-year enrollees joining the roster at the start of the spring semester, Galt is pleased with the progress the group has made so far.

"We came in here and we tested them out thoroughly," Galt said. "After we did that we just started cranking and they joined right in with the group right away. They've definitely all earned respect. It's really a great group of guys." 

One of the Guys
Among the mid-year enrollees is five star Nittany Lion Micah Parsons. As Galt was quick to point out though, when Parsons arrived it was as if the stars were gone, as he quickly earned the respect of his teammates though a humble approach to his work ethic. 

"He can run, he can jump, he's strong, he's powerful," Galt said. "He has all of the ingredients that we would expect from him that we saw on his film. I think the thing that everybody is really pleased with is that Micah just has a great attitude. He's really one of the guys."

Sanders Steps Up
For Galt, the biggest area of improvement he has seen from Nittany Lion running back Miles Sanders is in his leadership. Among a truly deep group of running backs in the program, Galt noted the staff is just as secure in what he can do on the field as they are in what he can do off the field too. 

"The running back culture has always been one of our best positions culture-wise," Galt said. "They work hard they do what they are supposed to do. They care. They're good leaders." 

VIDEO: 2018 THON Pep Rally Dance

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

Nittany Lions Host THON Explorers

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

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

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

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

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

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


THON Features: Teammates Unite For The Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shuman's thoughts on the matter?

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

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

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

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

Seniors Cap Careers on Top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McSorley would hardly take credit postgame though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: Fiesta Bowl Postgame (Players)

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

Postgame Press Conference

Offense: Gesicki, Bates

Defense: Haley, Cothran

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