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Monday Notebook: Quick Look at Penn State Comeback History

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By Arielle Sargent, 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  Penn State's victory Saturday has certainly earned its place among historic wins in program history. Rallying back from behind by 14 points, the Nittany Lions completed their largest fourth-quarter comeback since at least 1967, taking down then-No. 2 Ohio State.

On the way to a No. 24 ranking in the Associated Press Poll, Penn State earned its positioning in the Top 25 poll for the first time since week 15 of the 2011 season.

Penn State upended Ohio State's Urban Meyer for the first time in the month of October throughout his entire tenure with the Buckeyes.

On the year, Penn State has now come back from double figure deficits in two of its last three games, outscoring the Golden Gophers 20-10 in the second half to force overtime before clinching the win.


The 14-point comeback is the largest in a Big Ten game and at home since the Nittany Lions rebounded from a three-touchdown deficit against Northwestern November 6, 2010 at home in Beaver Stadium.


Further back a little bit, Penn State rallied back from a 37-17 third-quarter deficit to defeat Michigan State, 38-37, on the road in East Lansing Nov. 27, 1993. The Nittany Lions scored three touchdowns in a span of five minutes to engineer the close victory. Penn State scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, sacking Spartan quarterback Jim Miller three times in the final frame.


Against The Undefeated
Holding Ohio State scoreless in two quarters for the first time since the Michigan State game last year, Penn State put an end to Ohio State's perfect 6-0 record at the time of kickoff. Penn State has halted unbeaten opponents in each of the last three games, beating Minnesota and Maryland before the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions have played seven teams on the year that entered the matchup without a loss on the season.


Tackles For Loss
Penn State notched a season-high 11.0 tackles for loss in the win against Ohio State, marking the most for the Nittany Lions since taking down Maryland last year (11.0). The Nittany Lions have totaled at least 9.0 tackles for loss in all but one game this season, with double figure TFLs in each of the last two games. Last week, it was Garrett Sickels, who led the team with 3.5 tackles for a loss of 15 yards. Entering the week, Penn State is ranked fourth in the FBS 
standings and second in the conference with 9.0 tackles for loss per game on the year.


A Quick Look at Purdue
Guided by interim head coach Gerad Parker, the Boilermakers are 3-4 on the year and 1-3 in Big Ten play.  Parker will lead Purdue on to the field at Ross-Ade for the first time as head coach of the squad, since being elevated to the position Oct. 16, 2016. The Boilermakers have lost their last two consecutive conference outings, most recently falling to then-No. 8 Nebraska on the road in Lincoln. Purdue led the Cornhuskers at the half, 14-10, before Nebraska rallied back with 17 unanswered points in the second half to claim the win.


Penn State holds a 13-3 advantage in the all-time series against the Boilermakers, having won each of the last seven games dating back to 2005. The Nittany Lions will also make their first trip to West Lafayette since claiming a 34-9 win on the road in 2012.    

Moments & Takeaways From the Ohio State Victory

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9518826.jpegBy Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football's thrilling 24-21 win against No. 2 Ohio State in front of the Penn State White Out crowd of more than 107,000 was nothing short of spectacular Saturday night. 

A quick scan of the stat sheet doesn't reflect all the usual numbers and figures of a historic performance though, as the Nittany Lions gritted out their first win against a Top 2 team at home since toppling No. 2 Nebraska, 27-23, in 1982. 

Inside of the stat sheet, here's a look at the five impact moments and the collection of Nittany Lions who helped engineer the comeback win against the Buckeyes.

Key Chunk Plays
As Head Coach James Franklin mentions nearly every week, maintaining an advantage in explosive plays is key to success in any game. Penn State posted 10 plays of 20 or more yards against Ohio State, limiting the Buckeyes to six in the victory, including just two in the first half. 

Penn State ended the first half with a critical scoring drive to arrive within 12-7 moving the ball 74 yards on seven plays in just over a minute. Trace McSorley found Chris Godwin on third-and-8 for 19 yards before connecting with DaeSean Hamilton with less than 30 seconds to play in the half to position Penn State on the 20-yard line. McSorley then hit Godwin again, this time for 20-yards in the end zone and his third touchdown catch of the season. 

Sparking the fourth quarter comeback, Penn State moved the ball 90 yards in less than 1:30 on five plays, highlighted by Barkley's 37-yard dash before Saeed Blacknall's 35-yard grab put McSorley in position for the 2-yard touchdown rush. 

Perhaps no chunk play was bigger than Grant Haley's 60-yard touchdown return off of the Ohio State blocked field goal attempt though, as he scooped the ball and hauled into the end zone for the winning touchdown. 

"Knowing Grant, I was assuming he wasn't going to get caught," McSorley said. "The kicker was getting on him. I told him if you would have gotten caught by the kicker I would have never let you live that down."

More from Haley, who returned Penn State's first touchdown off a blocked field goal since at least 1960, below.

Allen's Blocked Field Goal 

Penn State blocked its first field goal since the quadruple overtime victory against then-No. 18 Michigan in 2013, as Marcus Allen leapt into the air to block Tyler Durbin's 47-yard kick attempt late in the fourth quarter.

Allen said postgame that his first career blocked field goal attempt came on the second try, as he jumped high and over in the first quarter before receiving an adjustment from special teams coordinator Charles Huff.

"I said 'where am I supposed to be to block the kick,' and he said, 'if they are on the right hash, they are going to try to kick it onto the defense's left guard because it's on the uprising,'" Allen said. "I went with the adjustment Coach Huff gave me and I blocked it." 

Brown Blocks First Career Punt
True freshman linebacker Cam Brown blocked his first career punt to mark the first blocked punt for a Nittany Lion since Von Walker did so against Michigan last year. A six-foot-five linebacker, Brown reached his hand high to swat the Ohio State punt attempt as Troy Apke swooped in for the recovery. Penn State's field goal on the next drive lifted the Nittany Lions within four, 21-17 with less than 10 minutes to play. 

"Coach Huff told me to go get a punt earlier and block it and I was so close so I thought I had to go again, but he called off the block the second time and my instinct told me to go," Brown said. 

Hear more from Brown below. 
Cabinda and Bell Return to Lead Linebacker U
Returning to the lineup after missing the last few games due to injury, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell both made major statements in their return Saturday. 

Bell led the team with a career-high 18 tackles, while Cabinda finished second on the team with 13. The disruptive duo combined for 3.0 tackles for loss with one sack each. Bell sacked Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett once in the first quarter, while Cabinda brought Barrett down for a loss of 13 yards in a critical third-and-10 situation on Ohio State's final drive of the game. 

Hear more from Cabinda following his first game back.

Dangerous Defensive Line

Nittany Lion defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan were key components in Penn State's ability to control the line of scrimmage. Schwan combined with Sickels for a 9-yard sack in the third quarter before pairing up with defensive tackle Kevin Givens to follow Cabinda with Penn State's second consecutive sack in the final Buckeye scoring attempt, clinching the victory. 

In total, the Penn State defensive line combined for 7.0 of the Nittany Lions' 11.0 tackles for loss, which is the most the Buckeyes have surrendered since giving up 11.0 against Alabama on Jan. 1, 2015. The defensive line also accounted for 4.0 of Penn State's 6.0 sacks, led by an all-around career high effort from Sickels (9 tackles, 2.50 sacks and 3.5 TFL), who entered in the second half. Entering the game, the Buckeyes had yielded just five sacks on the season. The Nittany Lions had five sacks in the second half alone and six total.

VIDEO: Postgame Players - Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Nittany Lions Trace McSorley, Chris Godwin, Saquon Barkley, Brandon Bell, Jason Cabinda and Grant Haley recap the stunning Nittany Lion 24-21 victory against No. 2 Ohio State at home in Beaver Stadium. 

VIDEO: Postgame James Franklin - Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin recaps the thrilling Nittany Lion 24-21 victory against No. 2 Ohio State at home in Beaver Stadium. 

Beaver Stadium Extra - Penn State vs. Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Go behind the scenes with Penn State Athletics on football gameday for exclusive interviews and a closer look at team arrival, Nittany Lion honorary captains, special recognitions and more. 

Team Arrival in a Penn State White Out Crowd

Penn State football pulled up just after 5:30 p.m. greeted by a Penn State White Out crowd and Nittanyville campers before heading into Beaver Stadium. Follow the Nittany Lions as they make their way into the stadium. 

360-Degree Fireworks Debut at Beaver Stadium!
For the first time in program history, fireworks illuminated the sky above Beaver Stadium in a full 360-degree display for Penn State White Out fans in the stands.

Honorary Captain: Penn State Football Alumnus Michael Robinson
 Current NFL Network broadcaster and founder of the Excel to Excellence Foundation, Nittany Lion standout Michael Robinson is this evening's honorary captain. The 2005 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year guided the Nittany Lions to the 2005 Big Ten Championship and an overtime win in the 2006 Orange Bowl.
An eight-year NFL veteran, Robinson played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. A 2011 Pro Bowl selection, he helped Seattle to a Super Bowl championship in 2014.

Honda Sports Award Recognition with Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez 
Former Penn State women's soccer national champion Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez returned to Happy Valley to receive recognition for being selected as a finalist for the 2015-16 Collegiate Athlete of the Year Award. Rodriguez was one of three finalists selected by a voting of nearly 1,000 NCAA member schools for consideration for the Honda Cup, presented by the Board of Directors of the Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) program.
Rodriguez earned numerous awards during her final campaign in 2015-16, capping off her career with the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy, presented to the top collegiate soccer student-athlete nationally.

Undefeated 1986 National Championship Penn State Football Team Returns
Penn State's undefeated 1986 national championship team returned to Beaver Stadium for a special recognition. The 1986 season was capped by Penn State's dramatic 14-10 victory over No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

Hear from former Nittany Lion running back DJ. Dozier on what it means to be back in Happy Valley.

The 1986 team produced many Penn State household names, including team captains Shane Conlan, John Shaffer, Bob White and Steve Smith. The squad also produced four All-Americans, as linebacker Conlan, tackle Chris Conlin, Dozier and defensive tackle Tim Johnson all were honored. Conlan, who made two interceptions in the title win over Miami, was a two-time first-team All-American.

2016 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome back to our live, interactive coverage of the Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions are set to host second-ranked Ohio State under the lights in a Penn State White Out at Beaver Stadium! Follow along with us for live in-game updates and exclusive content.
Live Blog Penn State vs. No. 2 Ohio State

Gameday Central | Gameday Blog | Game Notes Press Conference Roundup Wednesday Practice Updates Coach Limegrover Q&A Monday Notebook Nittany Lions in the NFL

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Gameday has nearly arrived as Penn State remains home for its third consecutive outing, hosting No. 2 Ohio State under the lights at Beaver Stadium Saturday. 

Back from a restful bye week, the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-1) are recharged and ready for a Penn State White Out, squaring off against the Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) in a Big Ten East matchup set to broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m.

Entering the week with wins in all four home outings this season, the Nittany Lions outlasted Minnesota, 29-26 in overtime, before downing Maryland, 38-14, both at home prior to the bye week.

Surrounded by a crowd decked out in white attire, the fan-favorite Penn State White Out will also return for another year, set to create its historically unrivaled environment, as per tradition.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early to take advantage of concession discounts and other college football games on the stadium video boards. All gates (except Gate C) open at 6 p.m. with Gate C opening at 6:30 p.m.

In his fifth season at the helm of the Ohio State program, head coach Urban Meyer has guided the Buckeyes to a 6-0 mark on the year, including a perfect 3-0 record in Big Ten play. Ohio State is fresh off a 30-23 comeback win in overtime at then-No. 8 Wisconsin last week in its first of four consecutive night games.

Entering Saturday's matchup averaging 49.3 points per game, Ohio State is also limiting its opponents 12.8 points per game, having surrendered just one rushing touchdown to date, coming against the Badgers last week.

The Buckeyes head to Happy Valley having won each of their last 20 road games, a school record that stands as the longest stretch nationally.

In a series that dates back to 1912, Ohio State holds an 18-13 lead in the all-time series. In the last meeting in Happy Valley, Penn State used a second-half rally to force overtime, before falling short in double overtime, 31-24.

"This is a tremendous challenge that we're facing all together and we're going to need the stadium to be the most difficult environment in the history of college football come Saturday night," Franklin said.

What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Running back Saquon Barkley powered the Penn State rushing attack against Maryland, rushing for 202 of the Nittany Lions' 372 yards on the ground on a career-high 31 carries. Entering the week ranked fourth in Big Ten standings with 97.0 yards per carry, his nine touchdowns on the year is tops in the conference and 14th nationally. Last year, Barkley rushed for 194 yards on the road in Columbus in his first appearance against then-No. 1 Ohio State.

2. Meyer tabbed Penn State's deep group of wide receivers as by far one of the best groups his Buckeyes will face within the last two years. Each week a new Nittany Lion emerges from the talented group as 21 of Penn State's 49 long yardage plays have been through the air, with four resulting in a touchdown.

"We believe this is as good of a group of receivers that we've faced not just this year, but in a while," Meyer said earlier this week. 

3. Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley has also continued to develop as a threat not only in the air, but also on the ground as he ran for a career-high 81 rushing yards on 18 attempts against Maryland, which came on the heels of totaling 73 yards on the ground against Minnesota.

"We need Trace to continue to be a factor in the run game with scrambles, with design runs, with all those things," Franklin said earlier this week. "That needs to be a part of what we do and who we are from here on out."

What to Watch For - Ohio State
1. Ohio State is led by veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett, who recently became the Buckeyes' career leader in touchdown passes with 61. Barrett also presents a dual threat as a key component in Ohio State's run game. While leading the conference with a 159.3 passing efficiency, he is also averaging 72.3 rushing yards per game with a team-high six rushing touchdowns on the year.

"He can beat you with his experience and he can beat you with his accuracy and decision making and he can beat with you his legs," Franklin said. "Week-in and week-out and he's shown that he's able to do that and has been a problem for people for the last three years."

2. Boosted by Barrett, Ohio State's total ground game is tops in the conference as its rushing offense is averaging 300.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth nationally. Running back Mike Weber is averaging 102 yards on the ground per game, which is second in the Big Ten, while half back Curtis Samuel's 7.35 yards per carry is slotted second. Samuel also presents a threat in the Ohio State passing game as well, averaging a team-high 67.2 yards per game, with three touchdowns on the year. 

3. The Buckeyes are both talented and athletic as a defensive unit, having allowed just six touchdowns on the year, which is the fewest among FBS programs nationally. In the Wisconsin win, four defensive ends registered a sack against the Badgers, totaling a season-high mark. Safety Malik Hooker also leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the FBS standings with four interceptions on the season. Ohio State is also tops nationally in red zone defense (.625). 

Matt Limegrover Q&A - Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football and No. 2 Ohio State are set for a Big Ten East matchup Saturday at 8 p.m. in Beaver Stadium.

Nittany Lion offensive line coach Matt Limegrover spent time with the media Thursday ahead of the Penn State White Out. Check out updates from the Q&A below.

Can you talk about where the offensive line has made the most progress in the last few weeks?

Limegrover: "I think probably the biggest thing is that we were able to solidify a group of five guys. I think one of the biggest things with any offensive line is the chemistry and the cohesion and I think getting Connor McGovern settled in at right guard, obviously Brian Gaia at center, Ryan Bates has started every game at left guard and our two tackles. Unfortunately, Andrew Nelson getting hurt kind of disrupted that continuity. The communication was getting better, the understanding. There's so much that goes into as as far as getting a feel for how the other guys around you play the game and I felt like we were really getting into a good place with that." 

How do you make the decision between Brendan Mahon at right tackle or left tackle going into the week and what does that mean for the other guys who are competing to spell Andrew's [Nelson] position?

Limegrover: "The biggest thing is and I guess the nice luxury that I have is having a guy like Paris Palmer who has started in some games and started some big football games at Penn State. He feels really comfortable at left tackle. When Andrew [Nelson] went down Brendan Mahon didn't skip a beat and looked at me and said, hey I can move over, no problem. With Brendan playing the different positions, I love the kid because he loves the game of football and he understands it and he gets it. That transition was a lot smoother than one would expect, just because of Brendan's willingness to both play the position and the fact that he had played right tackle in the past and being able to get a guy who has a decent amount of experience in Paris Palmer in at left tackle."

Can you talk about the development of Will Fries and how far he has come since he has arrived?

Limegrover: "There is that chance. I think what's happening with Will is that he did a really good job of preparing himself and not just as far as weightlifting and conditioning, as a lot of guys do before getting here. He worked quite a bit after his senior year leading up to coming here with a gentleman who specializes in working with offensive and defensive linemen. I think that helped his transition quite a bit because Will was a guy who was going against college guys who would come back in the summer. I think that helped his initial development so that it wasn't as big of a shock to his system. Even with that being said, there's still a difference speed-wise and what your knowledge base needs to be. I think early on that kind of caught Will a little bit, but he has been able to get back and in practice, we've been able to give him some quality reps to help that process along. I feel a lot more comfortable with him than I was week one and there's still a long way to go but I think just him coming to work everyday, putting his time in and being an attentive student - he listens to every word the older guys have said, who have been through it and I think that's huge for him."

We've talked a lot over the last few years about training flexibility up front and the need to cross train some of these linemen. What's your philosophy on that and how do you balance the need to have a guy at one spot and then having him move around?

Limegrover: "I think it's kind of a two-part answer from the standpoint that I am also a believer in having flexibility. The very first thing I told the offensive linemen when I first met with them is that the best five are going to play. If that means that a guy who is playing guard is the next best on the team, then you have to find a way to make that work. There is an element of cross training, but I also believe that you can do it. 

Guys need to concentrate on a position and my thought is that what ends up happening is that you find that group of guys who are going to be your starters and eventually you can settle in on that. Then what you try and do is you try and find, if you have five more guys who are the very best at the position that they are playing, then you feel pretty good. Usually the way it happens in any program is that you may have two or three additional guys. You're lucky if you have seven guys or eight guys you feel really good about and those are the guys who you would like to start cross training and that's what you try and do to help build that quality depth so if somebody goes down you have the next man up mentality. I'm not against the idea of cross training but I think again, you don't want to do that at the expense of letting a guy get really comfortable and really feel good and be accomplished at the position you have him slotted at."

What have you seen on film from Ohio State as far as specifics on their front seven? Losing their starting defensive tackle for the season, is interior defense an area you think is a weakness?

Limegrover: "In all honestly, when you're the No. 2 team in the country, weakness is a relative term. I think they can trot out a lot of good football players. One of the biggest things is that if they lose a guy and the next one comes in, you just say, okay, I don't even know that they have lost a step.  They do a good job putting their personnel in spots. to succeed. They are a team where if you get into third-and-long, they are going to take some back up defensive ends who are really good pass rushers and they are going to move them inside and create a lot of movement and disruption in there on third downs. They've got some big space eaters there in first and second time. It kind of gives you a look at what pro teams are trying to do when they can mold their lineup in terms of getting their guys on the field that really fit the situation. If you're a team that is going to run the ball first and second down, you have those build dudes on the inside you have your defensive ends who can play the run and then all of the sudden you get to third down and you have four defensive ends in there trying to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. So from a front standpoint, I think that's the way you like having it and I think that provides a tremendous challenge for us."

"I don't know if there is a better linebacker in the country, from my opinion, than RaeKwon McMillan. I don't want to say I have had the pleasure, it has been kind of my personal nightmare, but this will be the third time I have seen Ohio State and watched them play. RaeKwon McMillan is one of those guys who really makes them go on defense and he was last year as well and even the year before. He is just a guy who goes and it all builds around him. It's a formidable challenge and I think they are just as good in everything they do and they do it differently but I think they are every bit as good as Michigan from a front seven standpoint."

Taking it back a few weeks here, with the Minnesota win where players were saying they wanted to win that game for you, what was that like for you?

Limegrover: "It was really a highlight for me, just personally, career-wise. As that game was going on, I had a chance to share my story with the team. So the guys had some perspective of where I was coming from and it wasn't anything bad, but it was just a matter of, I wanted to let them know, what had happened and how appreciative and grateful I feel about being at Penn State. A lot of the guys, I think it struck a cord with them and it was really an amazing thing and you're in that game and initially things weren't going as we had hoped, but there was that constant, steady climb. Guys were coming up to me and not even the offensive linemen, but it was secondary guys, it was wide receivers, saying hey coach, we're going to get this one for you, we're going to get this one. It really made me feel good. It was like, okay, this is something that's pretty special. Then obviously to win the game the way that we did, the guys gave me the game ball afterward. It was one of those things as far as a personal highlight for me, but in tern I felt great for the guys. I really loved to see the group of guys that we have fight back and fight through some adversity and continue to move forward and that's the message that I gave them. I thanked them and then I also told them how proud I was to be part of this staff and watching them never give up and continuing to fight. It was a pretty special day all the way around.

With Andrew Nelson going out like that, what is the emotional response from the o-line or the people who had to step in and take his place?

"You know what's interesting, I think that a lot of things that happen throughout a football game, when you take a step back and look at it from a detached standpoint, there is an emotional response to it. I'll be honest with you, in the middle of the game when that happened, there wasn't a single woe-is-me, there wasn't anyone looking around going oh darn or whatever you want to say. It was here's the mission - Brendan [Mahon], you go to right tackle, Paris, we talk about next man up and to their credit, those guys stayed in the game and continued to fight. Was it emotional after the game, Andrew Nelson, he's one of those guys who could have easily been one of our offensive captains if it wasn't for Brian [Gaia]. He is that type of guy and that type of mentor to the younger guys, that kind of solid voice in the offensive line room. So it hit the guys pretty hard after, but in the moment they just stayed right on point and continued to fire away and then after we sort of got through the grieving process as a group and then I don't want to say fortunately, that's a bad way to put it, but we had the off week so we worked through that as we started to get into Ohio State that reality had sunk in. Then as tough as that reality was, we realized we had to move forward and I think that off week was probably good mentality for the guys in my room." 

VIDEO: Practice Updates - Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ohio State week is well underway at practice for the Nittany Lions, as they prepare to host the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium Saturday under the lights in the annual Penn State White Out.
Head coach James Franklin and quarterback Trace McSorley took time after practice Wednesday to meet with members of the media for updates on the weekly practice prep. 

Check out the video Q&A sessions below. 

James Franklin Trace McSorley

Family Guides Gaia Through Penn State Experience

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By Arielle Sargent, Penn State Strategic Communications

Originally from a small town on the water positioned midway between the south side of Baltimore and Annapolis, Pasadena, Maryland native Brian Gaia grew up setting crabbing trotlines as a summer job with his friends.

When not on the water boating with his family, Gaia and his father Tim, could often be found in the garage working on cars - customizing vehicles to be exact. Recalling days when Brian was up to his elbows covered in grease, the garage was place where Tim Gaia and his son were more like best friends rather than father and son.

That's until Penn State came along, because when Brian Gaia received an offer from Penn State, it didn't take long for him to make up his mind.

For Gaia though, it's not how his Penn State experience begins or even where it's at today that makes it special. Rather, it's about the journey and those who were with him along the way.

A two-time team captain at the Gilman School, a private all boys school in Baltimore, Gaia helped guide his high school team to three Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A titles.

Gaia was the first freshman on the football team to start at Gilman in nearly 65 years, while also closing out his high school career with three all-state selections.

"We had a lot of talent on our team," Gaia said. "We had like 10 Division one kids on our team my senior year. It was great to be surrounded by a lot of talent." 

With talent abound, his performances on the football field started to attract the eyes of collegiate head coaches. 

Gaia was not one for the recruiting process though, as the Gilman School was located more than an hour away from his home in Pasadena. The long commute started early in the morning and usually wrapped up late in the evening after football practice, leaving little time for extras.

"I didn't get home until 9:30 or 10 every night and coaches wanted to talk but I still had three hours of homework to do and then I had to wake up again at five in the morning," Gaia said.

Although the Gilman School expectations and requirements were high, Gaia proved that he was just as good on the field as he was in the classroom.

"There were times where I would get up and look down the hall and Brian's bedroom door was closed at 1:30 or two in the morning and I would pop my head in thinking he went to bed and left the light on, but oh no, he was at his desk working," Tim Gaia said.

It wasn't long before former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson delivered his best pitch to Brian.

"When he was at Penn State, he pulled me in and showed me what I could do and how good I could be. He really sold the Penn State dream," Gaia said.

Inspired by a dream that combines a tradition of excellence in both athletics and academics, Brian Gaia committed to Penn State early in his junior year on an evening his father remembers well.

"He sat down and said, 'I made my decision,' Tim said. "He said, 'I'm going to Penn State. Penn State has always been my decision' and he didn't want to continue thinking about it."

Prior to Brian's freshman season in 2012, Bill O'Brien was named Penn State Football's head coach. Despite the unexpected coaching change, Gaia did not change his commitment and neither did Penn State.

In 2012, Gaia spent a year on the scout team, taking a redshirt year before playing in all 12 games at defensive tackle and on special teams in 2013. He made five tackles in a non-conference outing against Eastern Michigan and saw significant time in the thrilling quadruple-overtime game against Michigan, making one tackle. Gaia also excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors during the year. 

Just as he was settling into his role on the defensive line, Penn State announced that O'Brien had accepted a head coaching position with the Houston Texans. The Nittany Lions later named James Franklin the program's 16th head coach in January 2014. 

Once again, Gaia did not change his commitment as he remained steadfast in his decision to continue pursuing the Penn State dream.

There were still more changes though, as Gaia received a call from Franklin just outside the Maryland state line while he was on his way home during break shortly before spring practice.

"I thought I did something wrong, but I couldn't think of anything I did wrong so I picked up the phone and I said hello and Coach Franklin asked me what I thought about moving to offense."

With a team first mentality, Gaia agreed to the move without hesitation. Willing to help the team in any way he possibly could. A response that came as no surprise to his father.

Unsure if he was officially moved to offense or set to remain on defense, Gaia returned to campus for spring football and sat down in the defensive line area.

"Coach looked at me and said, 'what are you doing over there, you're on offense' and from there, that's how I figured it out," Gaia said. 

Switching from defensive tackle to right guard was no easy task though, as Gaia remembers the first few memories of the transition being absolutely terrible.

"I thought I knew what I was doing, but I just had no clue," Gaia said.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Gaia took it in stride earning the Red Worrell Award presented to the offense's most improved player following spring practice in 2014. He started all 12 games at right guard during the 2014 season, finding success helping protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg and blocking for running backs in Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak. He also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season.

More changes were ahead for Gaia though, as the 2016 spring football season brought another challenge as he moved once again, but this time from right guard to center.

It's widely regarded that one of the most important relationships a quarterback can have on the field is with his center, a relationship that Gaia and Nittany Lions signal caller Trace McSorley have fully embraced.

At six feet-three inches and 295 pounds, Gaia worked tirelessly throughout the summer, preseason and into the 2016 campaign, growing into the added responsibility of the position.

"The hardest part is learning how to snap and block at the same time and I'm still learning about that through every game," Gaia said.

Committed to working as hard as possible to get the job done, Gaia has not been alone in journey, relying on the steady relationship with his father throughout the entire process.

"Brian had every opportunity to walk away from it, but it shows the kind of man that he is, he stuck with it and he didn't give up," Tim said.  

Speaking daily on the phone, conversations between Tim and Brian are sometimes about football, but often mostly about life, with even a little bit of talk about cars.

"When Brian was going through all the changes, I just told him, 'Brian you're going to be as good as you're going to be and that's on you.' I don't want you to be a superstar, I just want you to be as good as you can be." 

Now a leader on the field as one of three team captains, Brian has taken command of the offensive line, teaching and guiding the younger members of the line, in the spirit of the same tradition he experienced coming through the program.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing though as Gaia and the Nittany Lions endured their first Big Ten setback on the road against nationally ranked Michigan in the early part of the conference schedule.

After the game, Brian sent a text message to his father. One Tim said he'll never forget.  

It read, "Dad I'm not a superstar, but today I did the very best I could do for my team."


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