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Fiesta Bowl Media Day Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fiesta Bowl Defensive Media Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notables
- Haley on how he'll remember Allen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiesta Bowl Offensive Media Roundup

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Transcripts: Rahne, Players I Photo Gallery: Press ConferencesPractice

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Penn State football held its first full Fiesta Bowl practice on location this afternoon outside of a usual Sunday walk through. Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and several Nittany Lions from the offensive side of the ball kicked off the morning with a press conference event at the media hotel, marking the first media opportunity since Penn State touched down in Phoenix.

Now settled in, the focus this week is all about being present, staying in the moment and making the most of a final opportunity for the entire 2017 Nittany Lions to be together. 

"One thing that I've been preaching to them is just to be present," Rahne said. "I think that in a bowl game atmosphere, you have to be where you are. That's what's going to make this experience great for everyone. This is all about being present in the moment and really focusing on what you're doing."

With activities packing the schedule and more down time than usual, enjoying every aspect of the trip, while also balancing responsibilities, is key for the Nittany Lions.

"When you're out at the different bowl events like when we go to TopGolf later on or the Brazilian steakhouse tonight, being able to enjoy that, and enjoy that with your teammates," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "A lot of these seniors will be moving on and you won't get this time back with them so being able to enjoy that, enjoy hanging out at the hotel in the PlayStation suit where guys are arguing over Madden, but when you get into meetings and you get into practice, it's being focused there, getting the most out of every single meeting and every single practice." 

While making the most of each event is key, the end goal is something Penn State is keenly aware of as the days tick closer to game day.

"Ending the season on a sour note is not anything that we want to do so we just have to make sure that everyone is making sure we're putting our best foot forward and really investing in this game plan and investing in this game so we can go out there and give ourselves the opportunity to win and perform at our best level," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. "It's going to mean a lot."

The stinging and perhaps familiar feeling of a bitter loss at the end of a successful season is something the Nittany Lions aren't overlooking, spending time this week reflecting on how a Fiesta Bowl win would be rightful and fitting end to the year, as well as a complete way to send out an impactful senior class. 

"To be where we're at now with an opportunity to win the Fiesta Bowl and send these (seniors) out on a high note, having been the guys that came here when the sanctions just came out, to last year winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl - and that not working out for us," McSorley said. "No one in their right mind would have thought that would have been happening when they were coming here and now to be able to go out, on a high note, winning the Fiesta Bowl, is something that would complete those guys' legacy."

Looking at Washington
The Nittany Lions are well aware of the challenge the Huskies bring defensively, ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing defense led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and second team All-American defensive lineman Vita Vea. 

"I mean, their defensive front and those linemen, they're big guys," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "It's obviously going to be a challenge for us up front. They're definitely going to try to focus in and stop the run." 

For consensus All-American running back Saquon Barkley, even with the challenge, Penn State will continue to approach every game the same, pouring over film and fine tuning the game plan this week. Barkley also spent time dissecting each of his runs from the regular season, looking for good things to try again in addition to areas to improve. 

"It's a fun challenge," Barkley said. "The same way you approach that is the same way you approach every other game, especially in the Big Ten. I think in the Big Ten, we're well known for rush defense. Going against Ohio State and Michigan and Michigan State and those teams week in and week out, I think they helped us prepare for this moment." 

Drawing on those Big Ten experience has been particularly helpful as Penn State prepares for Saturday.

"When you kind of look at some of the teams that we've faced and try to compare and see what might be similar, kind of one thing that jumps out to me would be Michigan with how they'll play some man-coverage and be aggressive on the outside and try to let the guys inside and use their abilities, beat one-on-one blocks and things like that," McSorley said. "I think Michigan with their scheme and then Ohio State with kind of their speed and ability in the back end, mixed with kind of their size and athleticism up front."

The Nittany Lions see just as much of a challenge in Washington secondary too, with both Gesicki and Hamilton noting both the corner backs and safeties are among the biggest Penn State has seen to date. 

"They're one of the bigger units that we've seen all season, really athletic guys as well," Hamilton said. "They play great technique, they really didn't allow many explosive plays on them throughout the whole season - through the air at least. They're a really sound unit, they've been playing together for a really long time, they've got a lot of playmakers back there."

On the year, Washington has held its opponents without a pass longer than 40 yards or a rush of more than 35 yards. Having allowed just one scrimmage play of 40 or more yards this year, the mark stands for the fewest in FBS. 

Notables
-Barkley on his conversation with Stanford running back Bryce Love regarding advice on attacking Washington. 
"It wasn't really advice because me and him, our offensive styles are completely different. Even when you watch the game you can't really watch how they attack them because the personnel is different. We have completely different personnel. I just asked him how he attacked the defense. What was his mindset? Was it more speed? Was it more power? And if you watch the game, he uses a lot more speed and he had a really good game, had success against that defense." 

- McSorley on how he'll remember Saquon Barkley 20 years from now.
"In 20 years if someone asks me, the first thing that will come to mind is the type of player he is and the once in a generation talent he is, but the more you kind of sit back and think about it, he's an extremely high-character guy." 

McSorleyonBarkley.jpg

"It's been a pleasure to get to know him and be in the backfield with him over the last couple of years and I think that's something I'll be able to kind of cherish throughout the rest of my life. One, the tremendous player that he is, but then to be able to know him as a person, how he carries himself and being able to tell my kids one day, you're watching the highlights of Saquon Barkley at Penn State and them amazed by him - but you don't know he was one of the best guys I've ever been around in my life." 

-Gesicki on getting back to familiarity with newly hired tight ends coach Tyler Bowen.
"T-bow [Tyler Bowen] was here when I was a freshman, he was a graduate assistant, so I have a relationship with him already and then obviously him coming out here, he just brings a different perspective and I think it's good for me. In my four years here he's my third tight ends coach so I think I've been able to pick different pieces from each of the coaches and develop my game because they're kind of critiquing me in different ways to help me get better."

Two Minutes with A.Q.
Former Penn State letterman and current starting center for the Arizona Cardinals, A.Q. Shipley stopped by practice to speak with the team. From what he sees in Barkley to his message to a few of the Nittany Lions, a snapshot of what he had to say. 

VIDEO: My Best Holiday Gift

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Happy Holidays Penn State fans. With the holiday season in full swing, we caught up with a few Nittany Lions to travel back in time to remember the best holiday gift they ever received.  

Now on location in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, the Nittany Lions will have a Sunday walk thru today before taking time to spend the evening together. 

Happy Holidays from all of us at GoPSUSports.com!

Fiesta Bowl Travel Day

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PHOENIX - The Penn State football flight touched down shortly after 5 p.m. at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. With a relatively quick flight, the Nittany Lions flew in style, treated to special seating pods allowing the team to stretch out for the duration of the flight.

Upon arrival, Penn State received a festive greeting, with live music fans lined up on the tarmac to greet the team, staff and families exiting the plane.

Moments after leaving the plane, Penn State head coach James Franklin, wide receiver Juwan Johnson and corner back Christian Campbell took time to meet with members of the media for quick press conference just off the side of the tarmac. [Press conference transcript HERE]

"I know our coaches and our fans and our players and letterman couldn't be more excited about this opportunity," Franklin said. "Penn State's got a tremendous history with this bowl game and we're looking forward to playing an exciting game come Saturday. I have a lot respect for the University of Washington and a lot of respect for coach Petersen and what he's been able to do over his career. I think it has the chance to be a fantastic bowl game."

 For Franklin, he's pleased with how the Nittany Lions finished out the week at home, wrapping up finals and Washington preparations with an added advantage being able to arrive on location a few days early to allow for an entire week of routine-like game week practice in the Valley of the Sun.

VIDEO: Departure Day Fiesta Bowl Preview

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's travel day for the Nittany Lions as Penn State football prepares to be wheels up for Arizona. The Nittany Lions will depart Pennsylvania in the morning, set to touchdown in Phoenix by late afternoon. Ahead of the departure, check in with Penn State head coach James Franklin for a look at what's happening with the Nittany Lions and an early look at what to expect in the Fiesta Bowl matchup against Washington.

Happy Holidays and we'll see you all in sunny Arizona!


Penn State Seniors on Passing the Torch

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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." 

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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. 

Looking Closer at Penn State Signing Day

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Signing Day Central I Penn State Early Signing Day Announcement

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."

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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."

Early Enrollees
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."

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More Pennsylvania Domination
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."

Recapping Fiesta Bowl Media Day

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RELATED LINKS: Transcripts - Coach Franklin I Coordinators I Student-Athletes I Video - Full Press Conference I Photo Gallery

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 Classroom
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.
 

Sanders Developing
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."

Rahne's Impact
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." 

Fiesta Bowl Q&A

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RELATED LINKS: Fiesta Bowl conference call transcript featuring James Franklin and Chris Petersen

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. 

Adjustment Period
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.

All-Time 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)

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