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Rose Bowl Defensive Media Wrap-Up

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Transcripts: Pry I Cabinda I Bell I Schwan I Allen I Reid  
Photo Gallery: Practice, Media & Lawry's Beef Bowl
Rose Bowl Media Central

CARSON, Calif. - For the first time since arriving in California, Penn State football hit the practice field at the StubHub Center this afternoon. Following practice, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and five Nittany Lions met with members of the media for the defensive media availability opportunity. 

With less than five days remaining until Penn State and USC meet in "The Granddaddy of Them Al," Pry and Nittany Lions Evan Schwan, Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda, John Reid and Marcus Allen all met with members of the media with questions ranging from a broad variety of Rose Bowl topics.

Improvement Up Front
Pry had high praise for his Nittany Lions up front, specifically giving credit to a group of redshirt freshmen who have improved steadily as the season progressed, gaining more confidence with each opportunity.

"Robert Windsor, Kevin Givens, Shareef Miller, you're talking about a bunch of redshirt freshmen, Ryan Buchholz, that as the year went on, they got more comfortable at their position, and we got more comfortable doing more with them," Pry said. 

For Pry, having the ability to see young guys gain their footing and make adjustments, has played into Penn State's evident shifts in momentum from the first half to the second half of a variety of games this season. On the year, Penn State's second half offense ranks second in the FBS (22.92) with the Nittany Lions outscoring opponents 298-105 in the second half this season.

"I think part of it is we do have some young guys out there, some inexperienced players, and sometimes seeing the plays at live speed, getting used to the game speed against a different style of offense, I think there is some of that, an inexperience factor," Pry said.

For Pry, that growing maturity throughout the season has translated into a more experienced Nittany Lion unit up front - one that now possess the ability to execute at a higher level.

Nittany Lions on Coach Pry
As Pry's first season as Penn State's defensive coordinator is nearly wrapped up, every single Nittany Lion available talked not only about his positive demeanor on the field, but also his father-like intangibles that have made his transition move along with ease.

"There's challenges with all these young guys, and you're here to help them succeed and grow and mature and understand and realize things," Pry said. "That's awesome. Football's a great tool to do that, a great vehicle for those guys to mature. I've said it. I believe 100% the more maturity we put on that field, the better off we are."

Cabinda's Announcement
Prior to practice, Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda announced he'll be staying in Happy Valley for another season, deciding to opt out of an early departure to the NFL.


"I just felt like it's the right thing for me to do and I thought it was in the best interests for me," Cabinda said. "Obviously make sure I have my degree, as well and I get to play for Penn State for a whole 'nother year. Not a lot more to say than that. I love playing here and I love this place to death."

A Few Notes on USC and the Rose Bowl

- Jason Cabinda on how the Trojans have compared to other teams this season.

"I think from a talent aspect, they are up there with the best of them. They have got really good receivers, big receivers. I don't think we've played receivers as big as USC has, big possession receivers who can make big catches."

- Brent Pry on USC quarterback Sam Darnold.

"He doesn't hold the ball. He's smart enough that he's not going to be careless with it. I think they're asking him to do the right things. He's got a quick release. Again, I liken him to our guy."

- Evan Schwan on returning to the Rose Bowl to compete this time, rather than attending with his family as a fan.

"Actually when I was home for break for Christmas, my mom was pulling out a bunch of pictures, saying hey, this is us at the Rose Bowl kind of thing, so 16 years later, to be able to play in such a prestigious game, "The Granddaddy of Them All," it's such an honor. I'm honored to be with my team out here and play one last game."

- Brandon Bell on defending a dynamic Trojan offense.

"A ton of athletes that they get the ball to in space. Those guys make plays, athletic, O-line. The running back is one of the best running being backs we might see this year. Just fast guys that they get the ball to him."

- John Reid on Adoree Jackson and what he brings to the Trojan team. 

"We know on offense and even special teams, the work he does there. He's an explosive guy, real athletic. I remember in his previous years, he played a little more receiver than he did this year, so you have to respect that as a defense and things like that. We know he's going to be pretty much everywhere, if they play him on offense. So we have to kind of prepare for that."

Penn State Football Takes on Disneyland

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Rose Bowl Media Central

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Penn State Football was treated to an afternoon of fun and excitement at Disneyland and the park's ESPN Zone Monday.

While most of the team headed straight to the park, Penn State head coach James Franklin and a few Nittany Lions participated in the official Rose Bowl game welcome ceremony, with a press conference and media availability hosted right inside the park.

First up, Penn State kicked off the event in California Adventure's Cars Land, introduced with USC head coach Clay Helton and a few student-athletes, with a brief question and answer session in front of a packed crowd.

Franklin introduced the attending Nittany Lions before the group was off to the Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters ride, where both Penn State and USC rode the attraction following a few opening remarks from the likes of the president of the Tournament of Roses and Disneyland Resort vice president, Patrick Finnegan. 

Next up, both teams took time for their first media appearance since arriving to Los Angeles, seated in chairs below the afternoon California sun, taking questions from a strong showing from the media contingent.

"Our guys are really excited to experience all of this and obviously Disney is a huge part of that," head coach James Franklin said. "It's a great experience for our players to be a part of the Rose Bowl, we're extremely honored and proud and it's great for Disney to open their doors and allow us to have this experience."

Already settled into the area, Penn State is able to get right into the format of a typical game week practice schedule. With a few USC bonus practices already completed back home in Happy Valley, it will be business as usual when the Nittany Lions return to the practice field come tomorrow afternoon. 

First though, Penn State is taking advantage of a little down time, enjoying the Disney parks and spending time with teammates.

"I've never been to Disneyland," Nittany Lion Garrett Sickels said. "I'm an east coast guy, I've been to Disney World, so we're looking forward to having a good day and then tomorrow getting after practice and getting ready for the game."

For Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, his first trip to California has already kicked off with a fun and relaxing start.

"This is a chance for us to unwind and enjoy being in California," Godwin said. "I think that it will be good for our team to unwind, kick back and have some fun."

Godwin, Sickels, Koa Farmer and Brian Gaia also hit the Radiator Springs Racers ride in the park just before members of the Trojans team. 

Then it was off to the ESPN Zone, where the entire team enjoyed an hour of games and food before given the opportunity to head back into the park for the rest of the evening.

Tomorrow, Penn State will hit the practice field, traveling just outside Los Angeles to the StubHub Center for the first official Rose Bowl practice out in California. 

Penn State will cap tomorrow with a feast at the Lawry's Beef Bowl later in the evening.

Koa Farmer: At Home at the Rose Bowl

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, a trip home to the Rose Bowl game this year, marks a return trip to his hometown, which happens to be rooted just a few minutes from the historic Rose Bowl. 

Flashing back a few months though, it didn't seem fathomable that the Nittany Lions would be destined for Pasadena, California. 

"After that Michigan loss we came back, we looked at the tape and we saw the mistakes and we just kind of saw that we weren't playing together in all three phases - offense, defense and special teams, the chemistry was not clicking," Farmer said.

Farmer and the Nittany Lions got to work though, reshaping their mentality and revitalizing their approach, refusing to back down from a challenging Big Ten Conference slate. 

"Eventually by the next game, all three phases were clicking and we got a win," Farmer said. "I think it's very important that all three phases have to connect and have chemistry together to win the game." 9495877.jpeg  

Among an evident shift in mentality and a spark in team chemistry, the Nittany Lions were back on track. For Farmer though, it also meant changing positions following Penn State's 34-27 win against Temple.

At dinner one evening, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry mentioned that he needed to speak to Farmer about something.

"I said to him, yeah, but I already know what you're going to talk to me about," Farmer said, recalling his conversation with Pry. "I was all for it though, whatever I can help my team do to win."

Having already played linebacker, the transition came with ease for Farmer, as he settled in to a position that Penn State head coach James Franklin had already eyed him at.

"We think his best position long-term is at outside linebacker," Franklin said during the week leading up to the Michigan game, publicly announcing that Farmer would be making the move from safety. 

For Farmer, it all came down to a sampling of qualities that are uniquely shared in both positions, qualities that he sees blended between both safeties and linebackers. 9485540.jpeg  

Joining the linebacker unit at a time when the group was as injury riddled as it had been all season, Farmer knew he could lean on experienced veterans to help guide the way. 

"We just listened to the older guys who have more experience than us," Farmer said. "Myself, Brandon Smith, Cam Brown and Manny Bowen, we just kind of looked to Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda and Nyeem [Wartman-White] for experienced advice, or things we couldn't see on the field and that's what helped all of us as a group grow as a unit." 

Embracing every sense of the "next man up mentality," Farmer and the rest of the newly fashioned linebacker group grew stronger each day, helping the Nittany Lions string together win after win.

Following the loss at Michigan, Farmer stepped up for his first career tackle for loss in the win against Minnesota. The following week, he logged his first career sack, forcing a fumble on the same play.

In total, since making the move, Farmer has registered 4.5 tackles for loss with a sack in two of the last five games of the season, often rotating in to give the unit the right spark at just the right time.

Perhaps no sack was bigger than his most recent one though, which came in a crucial situation early in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.

"I was praying for a big play," Farmer said. "For the amount of times we were blitzing, I just kept thinking, I have to get through, I have to get one of them."

A surreal moment moment, recounted Farmer, noting the Bart Houston sack on one of the biggest stages, is a memory he'll have forever.

Making perhaps his biggest statement of the season, Farmer and the Nittany Lions completed an incredible comeback, topping Wisconsin 38-31 to win the Big Ten Championship. Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 10.08.38 AM.png

The very next day, the Nittany Lions found out they would be headed to Pasadena, California for "The Granddaddy of Them All."

It was a special moment for Farmer, who instantly realized that a lifelong dream of his was about to come true. The Southern California native was returning home to his Rose Bowl roots.

Farmer grew up exactly 13 minutes away from the Rose Bowl stadium, located just outside Los Angeles in Pasadena. 

"Growing up, my parents used to jog around the Rose Bowl stadium together, we would go to breakfast at the Rose Bowl restaurant," Farmer said.

Living so close to such a historic event, for Farmer, the iconic Rose Bowl is something that engulfs the entire community year in and year out.

"You can kind of hear the stadium noise from my house," Farmer said. "The community is always involved."

With the lifelong dream to one day play a collegiate football game inside the storied venue, it wasn't always an easy path for Farmer to make it across the country to Penn State - and then back again.

"It's hard to get recruited, especially in Southern California because of the competition, there are so many players," Farmer said.

Initially receiving interest from Vanderbilt among others, just a few weeks later, Farmer was then receiving interest from Penn State, following Franklin's move to Happy Valley.

"One week I saw black and gold and one week I saw blue and white," Farmer said, recalling a pair of home visits from some familiar faces.

When Farmer and his family arrived at Penn State for their official visit though, Farmer felt like all the pieces of the puzzle were coming together for the Nittany Lions, a perfect scenario which ended up securing the decision for Famer. 

Just a year later though, the Rose Bowl was back on Farmer's mind.

"My mom texted coach Franklin a picture of the Rose Bowl because she was working out at the Rose Bowl one day," Farmer said. "My mom said to him, I believe that you can take us here. She texted him the same exact message again probably two years later and he said yeah, we're going, I love it." 

Farmer's Rose Bowl roots now extend deeper than just family and his connection with the Nittany Lion coaching staff. 

"A couple of my teammates come home with me every year and we always go to the Rose Bowl stadium because they are so fascinated with it, but it's normal for me, I've seen it thousands of times," Farmer said.

Every time he makes the trip with his Nittany Lions teammates, he takes a picture. Most recently it was Farmer, Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, Amani Oruwariye and Jason Cabinda who all gathered for a picture during his first season.

Together, they made a promise to get back to the Rose Bowl and in just a few short days, nearly all of them will see that promise come to fruition. 

With his teammates around him, Farmer is ready to take on the Rose Bowl, revealing bits and pieces of his family and childhood experiences along the way.

"I feel like when I come to Penn State its kind of like going to a different world for me, but when I see my teammates come home with me its showing them my culture, the kind of things I do with my family and where I came from," Farmer said. "For my whole team to come back and see where I came from it's really cool, it's going to be a really fun trip."    

Rose Bowl Game Travel Day

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a busy day for the Penn State Football team, as the Nittany Lions packed up and shipped out to Pasadena, California for the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. 

With student-athletes and staff back in town from a holiday break, the Nittany Lions packed up the buses around 11 a.m. before departing to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, only to be greeted in style by a luxurious plane headed directly to California. 
From wheels up to wheels down, the Nittany Lions flew in style, with the comfort of some top-notch accommodations leading the way.

Upon arrival, the official travel party was greeted by a police escort before heading to the team hotel for another warm welcome to the tune of the Penn State fight song. 

Check out the full recap of the Penn State travel day below. 

Checking in on the Penn State Football Christmas List

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Happy Holidays Penn State fans. While some of you may have already checked off every items of your Christmas list, we caught up with a few of our Nittany Lions to see what's on their holiday list this year. 

The Penn State football staff and travel party is off to Pasadena, California in just two short days! We'll see you all in sunny California. 

Happy Holidays from all of us at!

Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. USC - 2009

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl appearance less than two weeks away, it's only fitting to take a look back at the three times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena, California for the "Granddaddy of Them All." 

We've spanned several decades in parts one and two, rewinding to Penn State's first bowl game following the 1922 season before arriving at one of the most memorable seasons in Nittany Lion football history - the undefeated 1994 squad.

In Penn State's most recent Rose Bowl appearance, the 2008 Nittany Lions met USC on New Year's Day, 2009 on the heels of an 11-win season that featured the program's third Big Ten title.

The fabric of the 2008 team consisted of another explosive offense, guided by first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark. The Nittany Lions closed out the regular season averaging more than 40 points per game, with nine 30-point scoring performances along the way. 

Penn State rolled through its non-conference slate, out-scoring opponents 211-40, rising from a pre-season No. 22 ranking and rising to No. 6 after opening the Big Ten Conference slate with a 38-24 win over Illinois. Penn State knocked off its next three conference opponents with ease, winning at Purdue (20-6), at Wisconsin (48-7) and against Michigan (46-17) on Homecoming to stretch its winning streak to nine games, including the 2007 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas A&M.


Penn State put its winning streak on the line the next week, though, heading to No. 9 Ohio State for a primetime showdown in Columbus. The No. 3 Nittany Lions pulled off a stunning fourth-quarter comeback, scoring 10 points in the final frame, as senior safety Mark Rubin's forced fumble set up the game-winning touchdown to help boost Penn State to a hard-fought 13-6 victory.

In the next game, the Nittany Lions saw a 23-14 fourth quarter lead become a heart-breaking night loss at Iowa, as the Hawkeyes stormed back and converted a 31-yard field goal with :01 remaining to claim a 24-23 win. 

The Nittany Lions quickly rebounded from their first loss, topping Indiana 34-7 before heading into the regular season finale focused on the opportunity to beat Michigan State and capture the Big Ten Championship. 

Leading just 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, Penn State's offense got into its rhythm, rolling to a 49-18 victory, totaling 557 yards along the way, including 419 through the air.

Clark was sensational for the Nittany Lions in the Spartan victory, as the first team All-Big Ten quarterback threw for a career-high 341 yards and four touchdowns. Penn State averaged 8.4 yards per play in the win, as Clark hit Derrick Williams for a 32-yard touchdown pass and Deon Butler for a 70-yard touchdown grab, finishing with 21.3 yards per completion.

In possession of their third Big Ten title under Coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions clinched an berth in the Bowl Championship Series, earning a spot in the 95th Rose Bowl game. 

Winners in their last three bowl game appearances, the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions were paired up with the No. 5 Trojans, who entered the match-up seeking their third consecutive Rose Bowl victory.


Clark ran for a nine-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to tie the score, 7-7, but the  Nittany Lions may have played their worst half of the season against the Trojans. Penn State committed nine penalties for 72 yards against USC, including 62 yard in the first half alone. Uncharacteristic turnovers and penalties took their toll as the Trojans entered the locker room leading 31-7 at the half.

Despite a scoreless third quarter, the Nittany Lions did not go down without a fight, as All-American Williams grabbed a two-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to bring Penn State within, 31-14. Jordan Norwood added a nine-yard touchdown catch in the final frame following a Nittany Lion field goal, but the 17-point fourth quarter was not enough to overcome USC's lead. Penn State fell in a 38-24 decision in front of a crowd of 93,293 in the Rose Bowl. 

Penn State finished with 410 yards, marking the most by a USC opponent all season. The Nittany Lions were also the first team to tally more than 20 points against USC's top-ranked scoring defense, which was allowing a mere 7.8 points per game entering the contest. 

Clark finished with 273 passing yards to re-write Penn State bowl game record, setting another school bowl mark with 290 yards of total offense. He went 21-for-36 with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Trojans.

In less than two weeks, Penn State and USC will meet again in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. On January 2, 2017 the Trojans will become Penn State's most common bowl opponent, as the teams prepare to square off in "The Granddaddy of Them All," for the third time and in postseason play for the fourth time in their storied, rich histories.

VIDEO: Rose Bowl Game Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The holiday season has arrived and here at we'd like to wish all of our Nittany Lion fans Happy Holidays.

The Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual is drawing closer each day and the Penn State Football team is excited to greet fans for a post-New Year's Day celebration for the 103rd Rose Bowl Game.

The Nittany Lion football student-athletes and staff are taking some time to be with family and friends, having practiced Monday and Tuesday before heading into the break. The staff and team will reconnect in Happy Valley just after the Christmas holiday before the travel party boards the plane Monday to travel to Pasadena, California.

Happy Holidays to all of our Nittany Lion fans, we can't wait to see you all next week!

Blake Gillikin: An Immediate Impact

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a little more than a year ago, Penn State true freshman punter Blake Gillikin was busy leading his high school football team to its first state championship since 1978. 

In December 2015, Gillikin helped guide Westminster high school to comeback victory against Blessed Trinity in overtime in the Georgia High School Association's Class AAA championship game at the Georgia Dome.

Staring in nearly every kicking role in the state championship game, Gillikin converted on three field goals, including a 53-yarder, logged three punts of at least 58 yards with two sailing for 62 and 65 yards and placed six kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. 

Gillikin had already been committed to Penn State for five months prior to winning the state championship.

Penn State wasn't the automatic choice for Gillikin though, who hadn't even really considered Happy Valley until the Nittany Lion staff reached out to him.

"I always watched Penn State on TV, there's fantastic tradition," Gillikin said. "The jerseys, they are iconic, whenever you turn on the TV you see that blue stripe on the white helmet and it just reminds you of something bigger."

With his sights on something bigger, it was the entire university that drew the attention of the promising prospect, who ranked as high as second nationally in the South Region.

"Living in SEC country, I didn't really want to stay down south at all, so it was pretty much the perfect fit for me," Gillikin said.

Tradition and academic reputation weren't the only pieces of Penn State that sold Gillikin on his decision, as the electric Nittany Lion coaching staff was also a part of the process. 

"It's definitely the energy that they bring every single day," Gillikin said. "Whether it's recruiting, on the field, off the field, especially coach Huff and coach Franklin who I interact with the most."

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of Gillikin's decision to attend Penn State though, meant separating from his very first teammate, twin brother Tyler for the first time.

For Blake and Tyler though, it's actually something the two of them wanted. While Blake chose Penn State, Tyler was headed to Northwestern to join the Wildcats as a long snapper.

"It's been hard being away from him because we've always kind of been attached at the hip," Gillikin said with a smile. 

Come Oct. 7, 2017 though, Blake and Tyler will meet for the first time ever on opposite teams, when the Nittany Lions travel to Northwestern for a Big Ten matchup at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. 

"I'm really looking forward to that," Gillikin said, especially since we've always had that connection on the court and on the field every since we were growing up."

"My parents being student-athletes in college kind of pushed me to try to figure out how I could be the same way and I guess kicking is just the path that is the clearest for me"
Blake Gillikin

It was a final trip to a Nittany Lion satellite camp in Atlanta that clinched the final decision for Gillikin.

"Having my mom being supportive at that point was a big deal to me, because my dad had really been the only one to visit," Gillikin said."

Drawing from parents Taryn and Walt, the student-athlete lifestyle is something Blake had always planned on, and their support in his decision meant everything.

"My parents being student-athletes in college kind of pushed me to try to figure out how I could be the same way and I guess kicking is just the path that is the clearest for me," Gillikin said.

Gillikin's parents both swam competitively in college, his mother on the team at Kansas and his father a member of the team at the University of North Carolina. 

"Family is a really big part of my life, I only have two grandparents and two parents, I have one uncle and that's about it," Gillikin said. "I have a small family but I love them so much, they've been a huge part of my life so far." 


In the summer of 2016, Gillikin was headed to Penn State for preseason camp, where he would immediately enter in to a tough competition for a starting role on the roster.

"Coming in, coach Huff told me off the bat that it was a competition, no one had won the job before they got here and coming in, Danny Pasquariello and Chris Gulla are great punters and I was just looking forward to coming out to camp and showing what I could do," Gillikin said.

A competitor at heart, Gillikin welcomed the challenge and got right work, making the most of his Nittany Lion debut and working toward his ultimate goal to earn the starting job in the season opener against Kent State.

Come September 3rd, it was Gillikin who had emerged with the starting job, gliding through the tunnel at Beaver Stadium on to the field prior to his very first opportunity as a Nittany Lion.

"It was the first drive," Gillikin said with a laugh. "I was praying that we were going to get a first down and it didn't happen so I was standing there shaking on the sideline, if I'm going to be honest. It was pretty nerve wracking. I had played in the state championship game, a big game, high stakes, but this was Kent State, obviously the first game of the season at home and I shouldn't have been that nervous, but I was trying prove myself." 

Gillikin didn't exactly think he hit it that well, but when he looked up and saw his first collegiate boot spiraling high through the air, he thought it might turn out okay. 

The 49-yard punt sailed to the Kent State 18-yard line only to be waived off for fair catch, greeted by the deafening roar of a cheering crowd in the stands at Beaver Stadium. 

"Building off of that, I don't think I had the best game of my life, but I think starting out well kind of set the standard for me for the rest of the year, especially knowing what I could do on that first punt when I was literally shaking standing on the field, it kind of gave me more confidence as the season went on," Gillikin said.

In his collegiate debut, Gillikin averaged 47.0 yards per punt, which placed him fourth among freshmen in Penn State history and first among true freshman.

Just one piece of Penn State's significantly improved special teams unit, it didn't take long for Gillikin to build consistency, as he has continued flipping field position for the Nittany Lions on each impressive occasion. Just the third true freshman punter in program history since 1946, Gillikin is averaging 42.1 yards per punt, good for third in the conference standings.

He followed his Kent State debut with a career-long 69-yard punt at Pitt, which ranks second all-time among the longest punts by a Nittany Lion freshman - just one of 10 punts he has booted this year measuring at least 50 yards.

When asked about the key to his calm demeanor, Gillikin is quick to direct all credit for his seemingly seasoned confidence to long snapper Tyler Yazujian. 

"Yaz has been a key component in my confidence because just knowing the ball is always going to be there - we had that one mishap against Ohio State, but I wouldn't really blame that on him because the conditions were pretty tough," Gillikin said.

For Gillikin, the steadiness from the veteran fifth-year senior has made all the difference in not just his performance on the field, but in the entire transition from high school to the collegiate game.

"He was my roommate in camp, he is my roommate on every road trip, every home game, he has just helped calm me down when I've been high or low, like every true freshman is," Gillikin said.

The road hasn't been perfect, but Gillikin has handled the ups and downs of his true freshman season without panic, dazzling fans with his spot-on placement and eye-opening hang time, with just a few challenging situations along the way. 

First there was Ohio State, where an errant snap sent Gillikin scrambling to the end zone with the Buckeyes barreling toward him before falling on the ball for the safety.

"There were a lot of things going through my mind as you could imagine," Gillikin said. "Thankfully the guy who was running behind me didn't get there before I did but I was praying that I wasn't about to get smacked when I fell on the ball," Gillikin said.

For special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff, Gillikin's decision making resulted in a pivotal play for the Nittany Lions, who engineered one of the most impressive comebacks of the season, knocking off the Buckeyes in front of a Penn State White Out crowd of more than 107,000.

"if you think back on it, Ohio State missed an extra point," Huff said. "So then we give up the safety, but the safety only counts as one point at that time. The hidden yardage or the hidden parts of the game, a lot of people don't see that. Now if you give up a touchdown, that's five points, that's totally different."

For Huff, Gillikin's unique ability to be still in the moment, is exactly what the Nittany Lions have been searching for in the process of re-energizing the special teams culture. 

"What happens is, you take a bad play and you don't let it become a catastrophe," Huff said.


With a season-high seven punts, Gillikin placed three inside the 20 against the Buckeyes as well as one inside the 10. On the year, Gillikin is sending nearly 40 percent of his punts inside the 20-yardline with 21 on the year.

Gillkin found himself in a similar situation just a few weeks later, as a mishandled snap in the first quarter at Indiana sent him chasing the ball once again. 

"There were two things that were going to happen," Gillikin said. "I thought I'm either going to pick it up and get this punt off, or I'm about to get clobbered."

So Gillikin picked up the ball, and staring down a pair of Indiana defensive linemen darting full speed ahead, he took a few steps under the immense pressure and got the punt off. Officially ruled a 22-yard punt, Gillikin forced the Hoosiers to the 40 yard line for one of 18 fair catches this season.

By the time the Big Ten Championship arrived, Gillikin was just as fresh as ever, on the heels of another consistent performance which featured two punts downed inside the Michigan State 20-yard line and one at the Spartan 2-yard line in Penn State's Big Ten East Division clinching victory.

"The Big Ten Championship was probably the calmest I've been all year just because there weren't any conditions, which was a big factor but it was really the confidence that I could keep doing what I've been doing in practice and in games," Gillikin said.

With the Rose Bowl Game drawing closer each day, there's not even a hint of anxiety in the mind of the True Freshman All-American, who also garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades not more than a month a half ago.

"I can't do any of that without the other guys on the punt team, if I can't get the ball off without Yaz or the guys protecting me, none of that ever happens, so with team success comes individual recognition," Gillikin said. 

Rather, he can be found preparing like he always does, with his teammates by his side.

"I couldn't be successful without the other two guys Danny Pasquariello and Gulla," Gillikin said. "they kind of took me under their wing this summer and this season. I had a few bad games but they were always there supporting me, especially Yaz, he has been a steady rock to me all season."

Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. Oregon - 1995

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl appearance less than two weeks away, this is the second look back at the three previous times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena for the "Granddaddy of Them All."

In part one, we went back to Penn State's first bowl game appearance following the 1922 season, where Penn State and USC met in the current Rose Bowl Stadium for the first time in their storied histories.

Part two of Penn State's Rose Bowl rewind flashes forward to 1994, the Nittany Lions' first undefeated season as a member of the Big Ten Conference in only their second year in the league. In becoming the first Big Ten team ever to post a 12-0 record, the Nittany Lions were the first league team since Ohio State in 1968 to register an unblemished slate.

Signature to the 1994 team that defeated Oregon in the 1995 Rose Bowl Game, though, was one of the most potent and explosive offenses in NCAA, Big Ten and program history.

1995 Game Aerial1.jpg

Penn State captured its first of four Big Ten titles during a remarkable 1994 season, setting a plethora of school and Big Ten records along the way. Five Nittany Lions earned first-team All-America honors: running back Ki-Jana Carter, tight end Kyle Brady, wide receiver Bobby Engram, guard Jeff Hartings and quarterback Kerry Collins, who earned the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Engram also won the inaugural Biletnikoff Award, presented the nation's top wide receiver. The five Nittany Lion All-Americans marked the most since six were selected from the 1978 squad. 

The list of team and individual honors, awards, records and accomplishments could go on and on though, as summarizing such a successful season would be no simple task.

To be exact, a total of 14 program records were set by the 1994 team, while 19 were set by individually by the Nittany Lions. Averaging a record 48.1 points per game, Penn State led the nation in total offense at 520.2 yards per game and scoring offense with a 47.8 ppg average that ranked as the fourth-highest in NCAA history at the time. Penn State's 1994 squad remains the highest scoring in the last 100 years of the Big Ten Conference (all games) and at 48.1 ppg in conference games, the highest scoring ever in Big Ten games only.

The Nittany Lions racked up eight convincing wins to start the season, opening the year with a dominant 56-3 win at Minnesota and a 38-14 showing against USC before taking down No. 5 Michigan on the road, 31-24, to move to No. 1 in the rankings, followed by a 63-14 trouncing of Ohio State on Homecoming. The Nittany Lions inexplicably fell to No. 2 following the smashing of the Buckeyes, after No. 3 Nebraska beat No. 2 Colorado and the Huskers moved into the top spot in the AP poll. 

The Nittany Lions' fifth undefeated season under Coach Joe Paterno was not without a couple of "close" calls. The week after the win over No. 21 Ohio State, Penn State comfortably led Indiana, 35-14, late in the game and the vast majority of the starters were on the sidelines as the Hoosiers scored twice, including a "Hail Mary" pass on the final play of the game to make the final score, 35-29. The day after the win at Indiana, the Coaches poll also dropped Penn State to No. 2 despite its 8-0 record and an offense that had scored at least 55 points in half its games thus far.

Penn State's ninth win came by way of one of the most memorable comebacks in program history, as the Nittany Lions rallied from behind by more than 20 points to clinch its first Big Ten Championship.

The deciding conference outing placed Penn State's prolific offense against an Illinois defense that entered the matchup ranked fourth nationally in total defense, allowing its opponents a mere 11.3 points per game. The Illini capitalized on two early Penn State turnovers to score two touchdowns and grab a 14-0 lead. Illinois added another touchdown to go up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Nittany Lions came storming back in the second quarter, moving the ball 99 yards in 11 plays, culminating in their first touchdown. Penn State followed with another touchdown to close the gap to 21-14, but Illinois answered to send the Nittany Lions into the locker room trailing, 28-14, at the half.

Penn State came out of the intermission with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, but the Illini answered yet again, this time only with a field goal to pull ahead 31-21. Following a missed field goal attempt, the Nittany Lion defense held off Illinois as Penn State responded with a 17-yard pass from Collins to Engram on fourth-and-1 to give way to an eventual five-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28 Illini with less than eight minutes to play. 

From there, it's the number 96 that floods the minds of the passionate Nittany Lion fans. On the next drive, Collins led the Nittany Lions 96 yards down the drizzly field, going 7-for-7 for 60 yards before the Nittany Lions scored the game winner on a two-yard run by Brian Milne with 57 seconds on the clock. Kim Herring's end zone interception sealed the win and with one of the most memorable comebacks in program history and two more regular season conference wins over Northwestern and Michigan State, Penn State was headed to its first Rose Bowl in 72 years.

Penn State's 38-20 Rose Bowl victory against Pac-10 Champion Oregon mirrored the impressive nature of the historical regular season. With the Nittany Lions making their first appearance since 1923, the Ducks, who had won the Pac-10, were making their first appearance in the "The Granddaddy of Them All" since 1958. 

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Penn State raced to an early lead with an 83-yard touchdown run by Carter on the Nittany Lions' first play from scrimmage. Although Penn State entered the locker room leading Oregon 14-7 at the half, a costly Nittany Lion turnover allowed the Ducks to convert a deficit into a 14-14 tie near the end of the third quarter. On the kickoff, it was Ambrose Fletcher who re-energized the Penn State offense, racing 72 yards on the kickoff return, which stands as the longest in program bowl history. Carter followed with a 17-yard run to put Penn State back on top, 21-14. 

The Nittany Lions capitalized on an Oregon interception, as Carter scored from three yards out for his third touchdown of the game. Penn State never looked back, cruising to the win with Carter finishing with 156 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns to earn Co-Most Valuable Player honors with Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil. Carter's 83-yard run also marked the longest in a Penn State bowl game and the third longest in Rose Bowl history at the time. Having already scored on 80-yard runs two other times earlier in the season, Carter still remains the only Nittany Lion in program history to produce three 80-yard touchdown runs in a single season. Carter was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2014.

In the 1995 NFL Draft, Carter, Brady and Collins were among the first nine selections, at the time standing as just the third time a single school has had three top 10 choices since the draft began in 1970. Carter was the first overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, Collins was the No. 5 pick (Carolina) and Brady was No. 9 (New York Jets). 

The 1994 season was before the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, so the nation's No. 1 (Nebraska) and No. 2 (Penn State) teams did not have an opportunity to meet in the post-season to decide the national champion. Although the Nittany Lions finished No. 2 in the AP and Coaches' polls following the 1995 Rose Bowl, they were No. 1 in the final New York Times computer rankings and Sagarin rankings.

The incredible, undefeated 1994 season is one that is cemented in the history and legacy of Penn State Football forever.

Josh McPhearson: The Ultimate Teammate

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By Arielle Sargent, 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State wide receiver Josh McPhearson might not be one to light up the stat sheet Saturday', but what those who don't know him might miss, is that he is the type of teammate who can certainly light up a locker room.

Fresh off of Penn State's first Big Ten Championship since 2008, in the culmination of a resilient season defined by hard work and perseverance, McPhearson could be found all smiles on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium with a colorful bunch of confetti draped around his neck.

"I watched the Big Ten Championship game last year and I watched the confetti come down on the field and I thought man, I want to do that, I hope the confetti comes down this time," McPhearson said. "So we were on the stand, holding up the ball and I heard a pop, pop. I started looking around and the confetti fell to the ground, so I went in and did a few snow angels in it and I put it around my neck." 

Confetti and all, McPhearson was living in the moment, as he recalled. A moment he seemingly couldn't quite imagine growing up and one he'll never forget. 

Growing up in Columbia, Maryland, Josh McPhearson is one of eight children. With six brothers and one sister, life on team McPhearson is anything but ordinary.

"I'm like the middle child," McPhearson said. "I have four older brothers, two younger brothers and one younger sister."


Along with a half dozen siblings, the McPhearson's are truly a shining example of an extraordinary athletic family. On a normal day, when asked about his family, it takes Josh nearly three full minutes to list off each of his siblings, pausing for just a moment in between to cover their athletic success.

Josh's oldest brother Gerrick Jr. played football at Maryland and was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. His second oldest brother Derrick, played football at Illinois and his third oldest brother Emmanuel, played football at New Mexico.

Right above Josh in age is Jeremiah, who played football at Indiana (Pa). Younger brother Matthew, was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2013. Four years younger, is Zechariah, a freshman on the Nittany Lion football team with Josh. Then there's his youngest sister Kimberly, who has also committed to play soccer at Bowling Green.

McPhearson's father, Gerrick Sr. also played football at Boston College before playing in the NFL with the New England Patriots. That's not where McPhearson says all the athletic traits hail from though.

 "It all started with my mom, she's really the athlete of the family," McPhearson said.  "It's more her genes than my dad's."

In a household of nearly 10, there was always some sort of competition to be had, with plenty of epic holiday football games in the back yard.

"I remember Christmas some years, we would get dressed up as different NFL teams and play with my younger brothers in the back yard when it was snowing," McPhearson said. "It was really competitive. We had a basketball hoop outside of the house too, so really just anything sports related. It was really competitive for us and it was really awesome." 

Always the energetic one in the family, McPhearson gives credits his older brothers for helping to bring him out of his shell, pushing and shaping him into the person and teammate that he is today.

"I saw the way they worked, and their work ethic was something that inspired me," McPhearson said. "I learned how to work and push myself through them. A lot of what I do now is because they are a motivation in my life."

The path to Penn State was anything but easy for McPhearson, who had grown up familiar with head coach James Franklin, dating back to the younger Gerrick's days as a football student-athlete at Maryland.

"There were practices at Maryland in the spring and during camp, and my family would actually go to the practices and go on the field," McPhearson said. "I was probably six or seven and I would run around the field, and I used to see coach Franklin doing his laps. He used to do laps around the field." 

It would be several years before the McPhearson family would once again reunite with some familiar faces from the Maryland staff though. 

McPhearson's journey began at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Union, Virginia, where he played alongside the likes of future teammates Christian Hackenberg and Trevor Williams. Taking a different path, he attended two junior colleges, playing football for one season at Globe Institute of Technology in New York, New York before spending another season at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York on Long Island.

"From Globe I knew that coach Franklin was at Penn State, so I sent him my highlights and things and it actually worked out in my favor," McPhearson said. 

Upon meeting with coach Franklin during his visit to Happy Valley, it was a feeling of relief that encompassed McPhearson, knowing he hadn't seen the Nittany Lion head coach in a while and that his dream to play at Penn State might soon become a reality.

For McPhearson, it was the pride and tradition of the Penn State program that fueled his daily dream to continue working toward his goal to one day put on the Blue and White. 

"When I look at Penn State I just see a lot of tradition and I see a lot of history and I saw that this program was building and I wanted to be a part of something that was building," McPhearson said.

His hard work paid off, as McPhearson joined the team in the spring of 2015.

From the time he arrived to the time the confetti fell in Indianapolis, it's been widely expressed and noted among teammates and coaches, that team chemistry is at an all-time high.

Following an early season loss to Pittsburgh, it was tight end Mike Gesicki who first spoke to the heart of the team, even in defeat.

"We have more heart in my three years, more than we've ever had," Gesicki said. "We're not going to give up, we're not going to quit."

Months later, with a Big Ten championship secured and Rose Bowl Game a mere few weeks away, McPhearson also noted that the chemistry on the team is right where it needs to be.

"The chemistry on the team has really grown a lot," McPhearson said. "From when I got here in 2015 to this season and last season, the chemistry is two different things. It's clicking now and I knew it was going to come at some point. The guys are really bonding with each other and every guy is playing their role the right way."

Part of being on a team means that everyone has a role and for McPhearson, he has found that role, one that he says, all comes down to lifting his teammates up - creating chemistry, when it's needed the most.

"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up"
Josh McPhearson

Of the four core values that Franklin instills in his Nittany Lions, having a positive attitude is the one McPhearson says he holds closest and embraces the most.

"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up," McPhearson said. "I think my role to bring the team's chemistry up is to pick others up."

Just one of those Nittany Lions he has picked up along the way, comes among McPhearson's close knit group at the wide receiver unit in sophomore Irvin Charles. 

"He had a pretty big year this year," McPhearson said. "He had a play that really transitioned our season against Minnesota. He's one of those guys who I really try to spend a lot of time with to try to push him to be the best because he has so much potential."

Outside of Charles, it's not easy for McPhearson to list off his best friends, because as he'll tell you with a smile, he's friends with the whole team.  

One best friend he will list though, is his brother Zech, a true freshman cornerback for the Nittany Lions this year. 

"When Zech was going through the recruiting process I just told him to do what you want to do," McPhearson said. "I didn't really want to put any pressure on him to come here but I was also kind of nudging him to come here because I've never really played with him before."

Four years older than his younger brother, Josh never got a chance to play football with Zech prior to Penn State. 


"Growing up, we used to play basketball and my dad was the coach and my brothers were on the team and he was always the water boy," McPhearson recalled. "Having an opportunity to play with him is really nice. He is a really funny kid and has a lot of potential."

Whether its Charles or Zech, McPhearson can always be found lifting up his entire team in the locker room though, a place where motivation not only lives, but thrives.

"Going into the second half, guys talk in the locker room and I always try to go around and pick guys head's up and let them know that we have things to do and it's really good for guys to take that in and know that your words really mean something to them, it means a lot," McPhearson said.

For McPhearson, his ability to pick others up around him all goes back to where it first began, with his parents, Kim and Gerrick.

"When I was going through this process to get to Penn State, it was really long and gritty and it was such a grind," McPhearson said. "My mom and dad were really there for me for all the things that I went through, and they really encouraged me to keep going and keep pushing."

Inspired by his family, McPhearson's weaved hard work in with his energetic personality, while remaining focused on seeing every situation in the most positive light possible.

All part of what makes him such a great teammate.

"You never really know what somebody is going through in their life," McPhearson said. "Playing football is one aspect of it, but another aspect of it is to really pick someone up and encourage them when you're playing the game."

McPhearson and the rest of the Nittany Lions will hit the road come next Monday, heading to Pasadena, California for the 103rd Rose Bowl Game. 

"In 1,000 years I could never imagine that I would be at Penn State playing in the Rose Bowl and winning a Big Ten Championship," McPhearson said. 

A chance for another opportunity forged by the hard work of McPhearson and his teammates.

"This team worked so hard and I worked so hard myself," McPhearson said. "The feeling of being in the Rose Bowl and winning a championship, I can't even put it into words. There are a lot of guys on the team really embracing their roles and I'm just happy to be one of them."


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