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VIDEO: THON 2015 Pep Rally Dance - Football

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Check out the Nittany Lions dancing on stage during the THON 2015 Pep Rally on Saturday night.

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VIDEO: Nittany Lions Host THON Explorers Event

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly 50 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special tour of the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year.  The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

"This is a huge event, for not only the current Penn Staters, but for those coming in the future," sophomore Christian Hackenberg said. "It's great for us to give our hand. This is the kind of stuff we look forward to. Saturdays are fun, but this is what is important and this is what we look forward to. It feels good to be able to give back on a day like today."

"It's great to give back to kids whose wish it was to come here," junior Akeel Lynch said. "It's really great to spend time with the families and just see the impact we have on these lives."

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility.  Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.


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Football Completes More than 1,900 Hours of Community Service in 2014

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pumpkin_carving.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin frequently talks about being successful in all facets of a football program.

Simply put, he wants each member of the program to have the entire package - athletically, academically, spiritually and in the community.

On the heels of ending Franklin's first season with a thrilling 31-30 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl and a stellar fall semester academically, the Nittany Lion football program set the benchmark for success off the field during the summer and fall of 2014, completing a program-record of more than 1,900 total hours of community service.

Beginning with volunteer hours at the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Summer Games on June 6 and ending on Dec. 26 with a visit to Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York, members of the football program participated in more than 30 different community service events during the summer and fall semesters in 2014.

A pre-season highlight was a trip to Hershey Medical Center on July 23. The entire team boarded buses for a drive to Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital just before the start of training camp. The team visited with patients and their families in different sections of the hospital.

"There is nothing more important than taking the time to share a smile with somebody and making a positive impact on their life," Franklin said. "Having this type of visit, it puts things in perspective for us."

The list of events includes 23 community service engagements during the football regular season. Highlighting the list was the United Way's Day of Caring, which takes place each October in State College. Approximately 50 members of the team used an off day during a bye week to give back to the community by helping with the upkeep of Centre Furnace Mansion.

Additionally, nearly 25 members of the team
and LifeLink special education students carved and painted pumpkins on the patio of the Lasch Building on Oct. 16.  Approximately a dozen members of the team played games and participated in the Buddy Walk at Medlar Field to help raise awareness for children with special needs and support the Centre County Down Syndrome Society on Oct. 18.

In November, the football program adopted Noah Benner through Friends of Jaclyn foundation as an "official" member of the team. Members of the staff gave Noah and his family a tour of the football facility before meeting and speaking with the team at practice.

The Nittany Lions also gave Deven Jackson, a Perry County, Pennsylvania native, an opportunity to tour the football facility and visit with the team at practice. Jackson, who suffered from kidney failure and lost both of his legs to meningitis, inspired the team by competing in youth football with two prosthetic legs.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving was a big time period for community service. The Nittany Lions spent time participating in "Roar for Reading" at local elementary schools, visited The Village, a State College retirement community, spent time with children at the Bellefonte Youth Service Bureau and helped the State College Food bank move more than 2,000 pounds of food.

The long list of community service opportunities is met with tremendous enthusiasm from the student-athletes on the roster. The members of the team jump at the opportunity to lend a hand in the community.

"I absolutely love it," freshman linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It keeps you grounded. Obviously, you like to do it because you want to help the community as much as possible, but it helps me as a person. You grow and you get to see just how fortunate you are. It makes you appreciate all of the things around you."

Also in 2014, the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes set new heights with fundraising efforts surrounding the 12th Annual Penn State Uplifting Athletes "Lift For Life" held on July 12. The chapter raised a record $151,990 last year, bringing the cumulative total to more than $1 million to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association.

Looking ahead, the latter stages of February will be another busy time for the Nittany Lions in the community. The team and staff will again play a big role in the THON festivities beginning on Saturday. The Lions will host their annual THON 2015 Explorers Program (The Football Experience). Members of the team will provide a tour of the building and have an ice cream social with Four Diamonds children and their families.

The Lions will also participate during THON's "Athlete Hour" on Saturday afternoon, in addition to dancing on stage as part of the annual pep rally on Saturday night.

Penn State's community service activity adds to the program's outstanding semester off the field. The team produced a record-setting academic performance during the fall 2014 semester, with 51 squad members earning at least a 3.0 grade-point average, the second-highest total in program history.

The squad set program records with 25 student-athletes earning Dean's List (GPA of 3.5 or better) recognition, 57 players owning a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher after the fall semester and 21 true freshmen posting a 3.0 GPA or better last fall.

Additionally, a Big Ten Conference-high 16 members of the football team had earned their degrees prior to the Nittany Lions' win in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to rank in the top 10 percent among all Football Bowl Subdivision institutions.

Penn State returns 15 starters (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist), and 14 additional players who have started, for the 2015 season. The Blue-White Game is set for April 18 in Beaver Stadium at 4 p.m. and the season opener is Sept. 5 at Temple.

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VIDEO: 2015 Signing Day Highlights

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Franklin, Nittany Lions Celebrate 2015 Signing Class | Signing Day Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Take an inside look at 2015 National Signing Day from inside the Penn State Football war room in the Lasch Building.

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Franklin, Nittany Lions Celebrate 2015 Class on Signing Day

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Signing Day Central - Complete Bios, Photos, Highlights & More

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin and the Penn State staff celebrated the signing of a top-15 recruiting class with the formal announcement of all 25 signees for 2015 inside the Lasch Football Building and at 'The Signature Event' in Rec Hall on Wednesday.

"We have had a great day," said Franklin. "Really excited about how this whole thing played out. A lot of hard work went into it by the coaching staff, the administration, the support staff, our players. And I think really for the most part we did a nice job. So I'm really pleased. We have added depth, we have added talent, and I think we got really good fits.  So I'm really proud."

Franklin walked into the Lasch Building at 6:08 a.m. ready for the signing day festivities to begin.  The entire football staff congregated inside the building before 6:30 a.m. with an eye on the fax machine just outside the back door of Franklin's office.

The fax machine rang just after 7 a.m., and wide receiver Irvin Charles had the honor of sending the first approved national letter of intent. Signing day emcee Jevin Stone (video coordinator) emerged from behind a blue curtain, walked to a podium in the Penn State war room and introduced Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, who announced the signing of Charles to a rousing cheer from more than 75 staff members and supporters.

Charles's bio magnet was placed on the Penn State Signing Day "Big Board", with wide out Brandon Polk and tight end Nick Bowers following to begin the celebration on an exciting day for Nittany Lion football.

As the 22 letters of intent were approved on Wednesday, each signee had his own announcement.  The announcements frequently included the signees and their families, who called in via FaceTime and were then projected on big screens inside the war room to watch the festivities.

Representatives from across campus and the football staff participated in the announcement process on Wednesday morning. The list included Penn State President Dr. Eric Barron, former Nittany Lion Wally Richardson, coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey), Cael Sanderson (wrestling), Erica Walsh (women's soccer), Associate Athletic Director Rick Kaluza, legendary radio voice Fran Fisher, current radio voice Steve Jones, "Mike the Mailman", the Lionettes, Blue Band, cheerleaders, Nittanyville and THON representatives. The excitement surrounding the signing day festivities was infectious, and everyone in the room felt like a part of the football family.

Franklin and the staff could not have been prouder to make the announcement of all 25 signees (including the three early enrollees already on campus) in a stellar 2015 signing class rated among the nation's top 15.

Ranked as high as 12th by national recruiting outlets, the 2015 class features 16 signees ranked as a four-star prospect by at least one of the four major recruiting outlets. The class includes 22 signees from within a 350-mile radius of State College. Franklin and the staff set out to "Dominate the State" since the day they arrived, and the Nittany Lions did that emphatically with the 2015 class, signing 11 prospects from Pennsylvania (most from Pennsylvania since 10 in 2004). According to Scout, the Penn State class featured 10 out of the top 15 prospects out of Pennsylvania and seven out of the top 10. From 2011-'14, Penn State signed a cumulative total of four Pennsylvania top 10 prospects (Scout).

"We take great pride in the state of Pennsylvania, we take great pride in this region," Franklin said.  "We have tremendous respect for the teachers in this state and the teachers in this region and in preparing our guys and getting them ready to come to Penn State and be successful academically. We take great pride in the high school coaches and the players in this state.  We think we can be very, very successful with players from Pennsylvania and from this region. So I think that's very, very important for us moving forward."

The football staff put in a tremendous amount of effort to secure the class, seemingly since National Signing Day in February of 2014. Following a few days off, recruiting will continue almost immediately for next year's class. But for now, the Nittany Lions will celebrate the addition of 25 new members of the football family.

"You know, I think it's exciting, because there are so many things right now that are falling into place," Franklin said. "You look at the recruiting class, you look at the length and the athleticism and the size and the fit that we were able to, we were able to attract.  You look at ending the season in a really dramatic bowl win in New York City in front of a basically a home crowd.  You look at getting scholarships back.  You look at being able to go to a bowl.  You look at all the wonderful things that are going on here at Penn State."

One FaceTime call provided some comedic entertainment mid-way through the morning. While attempting to connect with defensive lineman Shareef Miller, Franklin suddenly became connected with Aleem Nedley, a lifelong Penn State fan, who was driving to work in Philadelphia. The phone numbers of Miller and Nedley were one digit apart, but it made Nedley's day when he realized who was on the other end of the FaceTime.

"'Coach, I think you have the wrong number, but this is awesome!'" Nedley said. "It's National Signing Day. Thanks for calling!"

The day culminated with the second-annual "Signature Event" in Rec Hall. Returning Nittany Lion starters signed autographs with fans before Franklin addressed the crowd about each member of the signing class while showing video highlights.

The Blue-White Game is 73 days away (April 18).

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2015 National Signing Day Blog

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live, interactive coverage from the Lasch Football Building on National Signing Day.  On Wednesday, student-athletes from across the nation will sign a national letter of intent to join the Penn State Football family.

Stay tuned with GoPSUsports.com for live coverage from the war room on signing day.

Live Blog 2015 Signing Day Blog

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Gilliam and Hill Excited to Be Part of Super Bowl XLIX

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blog_MSU_14_10_2.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's hard to imagine a better script to start an NFL career than the one former Nittany Lion standouts Garry Gilliam and Jordan Hill have crafted with the Seattle Seahawks.

Hill, a second-year defensive tackle, and Gilliam, a rookie offensive tackle, are batting 1.000 in Super Bowl appearances in their short time in the NFL. One trip to the world's biggest football game is a thrill most athletes never get to take part in, so the Penn State duo is not taking anything for granted as preparations continue for Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona (Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on NBC).

"I'm definitely honored to be part of this opportunity and with such a great team," Gilliam said. "Having a chance to play in the Super Bowl in my first year is obviously a huge thing. There are a lot of players who have never even gotten a chance to play in the Super Bowl, so for me to get a chance in my very first year is huge for me."

For Hill, who was a third round pick of the Seahawks in the 2013 NFL Draft, this experience is something he is getting used to.

"I'm just really blessed to have these opportunities, especially back-to-back," Hill said. "Many guys don't even get a chance to experience everything like this. I'm really grateful for the opportunity. And I'm becoming a little accustomed to this, so I'm going to be expecting this each and every year."

Gilliam, who earned a Penn State degree in advertising/public relations following the 2013 season, earned a spot on the Seahawks roster as an undrafted free agent last May. The Carlisle, Pennsylvania, native played in 14 games this season, including one start. Gilliam was a contributor on the offensive line throughout the season, but his shining moment came in the dramatic NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

Trailing 16-0 late in the third quarter against Green Bay, the Seahawks turned the tide in the game with a gadget play on a field goal attempt. Lined up on the left side of the line during the attempt, Gilliam slipped free into the secondary and hauled in a 19-yard touchdown toss from punter Jon Ryan. A tight end at Penn State from 2010-'12, Gilliam is no stranger to catching passes in games, but this was the biggest play in his life.

"Honestly, I'm pretty sure I blacked out for a split second," Gilliam said. "It was crazy. To be put in that situation and have the coaches trust you with that play and opportunity, and then to go make the play was a surreal feeling. It feels like a dream."

A play that Seattle had practiced all week, Gilliam knew it had a good chance of working in the game.

"It worked in practice, and there is no reason why it wasn't going to work in the game," said Gilliam. "We worked on it for a few days, and it worked out in the game."

Gilliam's score kick-started a rally from the defending Super Bowl champs. Seattle out-scored Green Bay 28-6 during the latter stages of the third quarter, fourth quarter and overtime to win in epic fashion. For Gilliam, the scene in CenturyLink Field brought back visions of a special night in Beaver Stadium.

"It rivaled the night at Penn State when we played against Michigan in the four overtime win," Gilliam said. "You are just standing there in awe and saying, 'wow, I can't believe this is happening.' It was just amazing to see the grind all come together and the character of my teammates in that situation...No one thought we were going to win that game in the second half, let alone the fourth quarter. It was huge, and it shows the kind of guys we have on our team."

Hill, who graduated from Penn State with a recreation, tourism and parks management degree in 2013, came on strong in the second half of the regular season. He had a sack in five of Seattle's last six games, including two against San Francisco on Dec. 14. He finished with 19 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2014.

"Especially during the second half of the year, I just felt more comfortable and able to go out and just play football," Hill said.

A calf injury sidelined Hill following the final regular season game (placed on injured reserve on Jan. 6), but the tenacious defensive tackle has been an active part of Seattle's playoff run.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy because you rarely ever see a team that wins the Super Bowl and gets back there," Hill said. "It goes to show how much hard work everyone in the organization puts in."

Gilliam and Hill add to Penn State Football's illustrious history of Nittany Lions in the Super Bowl. Penn State has had at least one alumnus in 44 of the 49 Super Bowls, including 18 times in the last 20 years. A total of 105 Nittany Lions have been on Super Bowl rosters.

For two of the most prideful Penn State alums, it means a lot to represent the Blue and White on the biggest stage in sports.

"Penn State is such a great University, and obviously the list of great players who have come out of Penn State is so impressive," said Gilliam. "For me and Jordan to be able to represent Penn State is huge for the University, and both of us are from Harrisburg, so it's big for our hometown. And it just goes to show that if you grind, no matter what circumstances you come through, if you keep your head focused, you can make it to the top."

"It means the world to represent Penn State because Penn State means so much to me," said Hill. "Me being a local guy from Steelton right outside of Harrisburg, I wanted to be a Nittany Lion first before I even thought of wanting to be in the Super Bowl. To continue to have the support means a lot."

Adding to the bond between the two former Nittany Lions is the tie to Central Pennsylvania. Both are proud to be representing the Harrisburg area. By no means was it an easy journey for either player to reach the top level of the sport. Both battled through adversity growing up in tough areas, but you won't find two more humble individuals when it comes to the pride in playing for the folks from their hometowns.

"Especially for the younger kids in the community where we are from, to be able to inspire them and show them that they can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it, that's the main thing I am so happy about making the Super Bowl in my first year," said Gilliam. "You know, I cam from nothing and didn't take the easy route to get to where I'm at now. But if you keep focused and don't let the hurdles get to you, you can make it to wherever you want to go."

The Seahawks and Patriots are in the final stages of a busy week in Arizona. While this is Hill's second-straight trip to the Super Bowl, he said that the experience is unmatched.

"You really can't compare the experience to anything else," Hill said. "It's once in a lifetime. It's just one of those things that you just have to do it to even process what is going on around you."


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VIDEO: James Franklin Visits ESPN's College Football Playoff Set

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ESPN_CFP_blog.jpgPhoto Gallery - ESPN Visit

FORT WORTH, Texas - For the second-straight year, head coach James Franklin served as a guest analyst and participated in a host of shows on ESPN for the network's preview coverage for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Franklin traveled to Fort Worth on Thursday to spend the day with a who's who of national college football personalities to help preview Monday's title game between Ohio State and Oregon. The day included two live segments on SportsCenter and a stint on College Football Live.

"So thankful of ESPN giving us the opportunity to come down here and represent the Big Ten," said Franklin. "Most important for us, this was another opportunity for us to get out on national television, sell our brand, which is Penn State. And it was a great opportunity to interact and talk ball while selling Penn State nationally."

Franklin's day started with meetings and interaction with a host of on-air personalities inside ESPN's College Football Playoff National Championship headquarters on the 31st floor of the D.R. Horton building in downtown Fort Worth. Franklin spent time with Penn State great Todd Blackledge, Kirk Herbstreit, Rece Davis, Lou Holtz, David Pollack, Jesse Palmer, Scott Van Pelt, Joe Tessitore, Mark May, George Whitfield and Lee Corso, among others.

The leader of Nittany Lion football first appeared on a SportsCenter roundtable with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and former Michigan coach Brady Hoke, along with hosts Chris McKendry and Jay Crawford at 10:30 a.m. CT. Franklin then appeared on SportsCenter live at 11:20 a.m. CT for a solo segment on the Sundance Square Plaza set to preview the title game and talk about the 2014 season for the Nittany Lions.

Franklin returned to the set at 1:30 p.m. CT for a seven-minute segment on College Football Live with Kelly, Hoke and host Chris Cotter. Franklin and the two coaches broke down Monday's matchup between the Buckeyes and Ducks. Portions of the College Football Live segment will also air on ESPN Radio's Championship Drive during the next three days leading up to the game.

Take a behind the scenes look at Franklin's trip to the ESPN set as a guest analyst, including a visit with some Penn State fans from Texas.

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Thrilling Pinstripe Bowl Finish Caps Off 2014 Season

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10649069.jpegVIDEO: One-on-One with James Franklin | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews

NEW YORK - Penn State etched its place in Yankee Stadium lore on Saturday with a thrilling 31-30 overtime victory over Boston College in a sold out New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

The Nittany Lions again showed their resilient attitude, rallying from 21-7 down in the third quarter to send the game into overtime thanks to a 44-yard boot from senior captain Sam Ficken with 20 seconds to go. Pinstripe Bowl MVP Christian Hackenberg then found Kyle Carter for a 10-yard touchdown pass in overtime after Boston College scored and missed its extra point.

Carter's touchdown snag set up a walk-off opportunity for a man who faced more adversity during his tenure in Penn State Blue and White than anyone else on the roster. True to form during a tremendous senior season, Ficken buried the extra point to give the Nittany Lions a one-point victory and send Yankee Stadium into pandemonium.

It's hard to imagine a more fitting way for Ficken's Penn State career to draw to a close on a day when he used Yankee legend Derek Jeter's locker in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse.

10649063.jpeg"It's a storybook ending, really," Ficken said. "I couldn't have written a better way for it to go. This team has worked so hard and fought through so much. To say we made it to a bowl, first, and then that we won a bowl, is really incredible."

Penn State fans have seen it for three seasons. Regardless of the sanctions, scholarship circumstances, or score deficits, the Nittany Lions never stopped fighting. For a senior class that stuck with the program during its toughest times, Saturday's win was the fairy tale ending the veteran players deserved.

"For the seniors, they set the example. They set the precedent for guys like me," Hackenberg said. "That one was for them. They earned that for everything they've dealt with."

"I couldn't be more happy with how it went," All-American Mike Hull said. "I'm so grateful for everything. It's just fitting - I told these guys earlier - that we win in Yankee Stadium in overtime after the roller coaster ride we have had."

Hull's senior campaign will rank among Penn State's all-time bests at the linebacker position. He tallied six stops against Boston College to give him 140 tackles for the season, which is tied for No. 4 in Penn State history. A true class act on and off the field, Hull is a rare player with an unrivaled work ethic.

"You have heard me say this time and time again, but these guys will be remembered forever, for standing strong when we needed them to stand strong, to lay the foundation for great things to come," said head coach James Franklin. "Every win we have next year and for eternity will be on their backs."

The senior class overcame the unprecedented circumstances to finish their four seasons with a 31-19 record, extending the program's consecutive winning seasons mark to 10 years.

Saturday's gritty victory was a team win. Contributions came from all three phases of the game - offense, defense and special teams - and a host of individuals, ranging from true freshman Chris Godwin's seven-reception, 142-yard effort to senior Adrian Amos' seven tackles.

But the star among stars was the captain wearing No. 14. Hackenberg was phenomenal for the Nittany Lions, throwing for a Penn State bowl game record of 371 yards and four touchdown passes. The Virginia native was in the zone from the moment he took the field.

10649065.jpeg"I think that is a huge springboard for us, the guys who are coming back," Hackenberg said. "We will really be able to carry that momentum into winter workouts and then spring ball...Guys scratched and clawed and that has been the story of our year. Tonight, the guys did what we needed to win. To see it all come to accumulation in this game was special."

Credit the offensive line for giving Hackenberg great protection all night long, but the Lion sophomore delivered numerous balls to the corps of receivers and tight ends that left the stadium in awe of his talent level. Eight different players caught a pass in the Pinstripe Bowl, and seven Lions had at least three catches.

"I love Christian Hackenberg, I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Franklin said. "I think he's got a really bright future at Penn State moving forward. I will fight and defend him till the end."

With his efforts on Saturday evening, Hackenberg broke the Penn State season total offense mark with 3,258 yards in 2014. He finished the season ranked No. 3 in career passing yardage at 5,932.

In a season filled with close games, the Nittany Lions finish 2014 with a 7-6 mark. Sure, everyone in the program would love to have a few plays altered to add more wins to the season total, but the Nittany Lions battled from start to finish.

The group has a never-say-die fiber about it that is truly unique. A season that began with a walk-off win in Ireland ended in storybook fashion on the field in one of the world's most famous venues.

Nittany Nation made Yankee Stadium feel like a home Saturday under the lights in Beaver Stadium, and the season closed in a fitting manner for a team that deserved every ounce of its success.

"The way the guys persevered all season, wasn't always pretty, but we stuck together, and to me that's who we are, blue-collar, hard-nosed program," Franklin said.


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VIDEO: One-on-One with James Franklin Following the Pinstripe Bowl

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Remarks

NEW YORK - Relive some of the crucial plays down the stretch and hear from head coach James Franklin following Penn State's thrilling 31-30 win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl inside Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.

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