UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's lacrosse, the Blue and White has been a part of many players' lives long before they put on the jersey. Players Matt Florence and Hunter Pearl, whose fathers played lacrosse for Penn State, keep the family tradition alive and well in Happy Valley.
From 1989 to 1992 J.J. Pearl protected the net for the Nittany Lions, playing goalkeeper and dominating his time between the pipes. He ranks fifth all-time in saves for Penn State. His son Hunter is a freshman, following a familiar path of goaltending for the Nittany Lions.
"For me, Penn State was born inside of me," said Hunter Pearl. "We were always fans since I was really young and my dad definitely had a big influence. He was really helpful in deciding where to go to school, he wasn't necessarily biased towards here but this is really the only place I wanted to go."
Redshirt sophomore Matt Florence, after transferring from the University of Virginia, put on the blue and white for Penn State just like his father, Tom. Tom Florence was a goaltender for the Nittany Lions from 1981 to 1985. Although he plays a different position from his father, Matt Florence, a midfielder, gives credit to his lineage for helping to make the transfer process a simple one.
"Once I decided to transfer my dad had somewhat of an impact, just that looking at the school and knowing kind of background about Penn State and what it meant to him," said Florence. "When I came here and visited I saw all those things that he had really loved about the school stood true and definitely was a place I felt comfortable in."
The family ties run deep for Penn State men's lacrosse. Not only are there second-generation Penn State lacrosse players on the team, but several team members also have other connections to the University. More than a handful of the Nittany Lions have had grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings attend Penn State.
"I think it's very special, it's really unique and it kind of adds to the family atmosphere that everyone tries to instill here," said Pearl.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni knows when recruiting, family ties do have an impact, and the idea of having players with family ties to Penn State makes the passion burn that much brighter.
"I always think it helps, having a Penn State lineage," said Tambroni. "I think most of these kids grow up with it in their blood, so to speak. And when it comes to lacrosse just thinking as a parent myself, you look back and think about what it would be like to have your kids play at the same university and walk on that same field. That would be a really special occurrence."
All Nittany Lions make an impact on the field, and it's not just lineage that makes Penn State such a special place. The impact the alumni have and the respect they have for the program is unparalleled. Past alumni come back to watch regular season games, and even more participate in the team's annual Alumni Weekend every fall semester.
"It definitely ties into the family aspect when those alumni come back," said Florence. "You definitely have a special connection with them and you really bond with them over being Penn Staters and taking pride in that blue and white."
This weekend the men's lacrosse family takes on No. 6 Denver.
"[Denver has] a really talented offense, they bring a lot to the table," said Florence. "For us it's really going to come down to how much do we want it and how much are we going to show that heart out on the field. If we can bring it and be absolutely relentless out there then we have a good shot at winning."
The team is up for the challenge playing Denver offers, as a win against such a highly ranked team would bring validation to all the hard work the team has been putting in. For all members of the team, not just those with Penn State heritage, this game will provide yet another chance to take the field with the pride of the Lions.
Penn State will take on Denver at the neutral site of Hofstra this Saturday at 2:30 pm.