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Eight Lions Ink NFL Free Agent Deals

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May 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. - The Penn State football program saw eight alums sign undrafted free agent contracts and one earn a rookie mini-camp invitation after having six players selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions have 15 players from the 2017 team with NFL opportunities.

The undrafted free agent signees include Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J.) and Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J.) inked deals with the Oakland Raiders, while Grant Haley (Atlanta, Ga.) and Tyrell Chavis (Richmond, Va.) joined the New York Giants. Additionally, Curtis Cothran (Newtown, Pa.) signed with the Minnesota Vikings, Parker Cothren (Huntsville, Ala.) signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tyler Davis (St. Charles, Ill.) signed with the Buffalo Bills and Brendan Mahon (Randolph, N.J.) signed with the Carolina Panthers. In addition, former walk-on turned starting linebacker Brandon Smith (Winfield, Pa.) was invited to the Buffalo Bills rookie mini-camp.


 

 

The six Penn Staters to hear their name called during the 2018 NFL Draft were: Saquon Barkley (Coplay, Pa.) who was the No. 2 overall selection by the New York Giants, Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J.), who was the 42nd overall pick by the Miami Dolphins, safety Troy Apke (Mount Lebanon, Pa.) and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton (Fredericksburg, Va.), who were selected in the fourth round by the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, respectively, safety Marcus Allen (Upper Marlboro, Md.), who was the Pittsburgh Steelers' fifth-round selection and cornerback Christian Campbell (Phenix City, Ala.), who was a sixth-round pick for the Arizona Cardinals.

"This is an outstanding opportunity for Saeed," Penn State Head Coach James Franklin said. "He was a guy who some said was under the radar during his career at Penn State, but he played a lot of football for us from a young age and made some huge plays during his career. The number of big plays and his yards per catch made a dramatic impact for our team. He earned his degree in telecommunications in December."

Saeed Blacknall, WR, 6-3, 212, Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan

  • Earned Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week honors on Oct. 10 after a four-catch effort at Northwestern.
  • Earned the Quarterback Club Award at the annual team banquet, the award for seniors whom deserve special recognition.
  • Was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.
  • Made three catches for 64 yards and caught Tommy Stevens' first career touchdown pass, a 35-yard connection, in the third quarter against Georgia State.
  • Made his only catch on fourth-and-2, gaining 6 yards to move the chains on Penn State's game-winning touchdown drive at Iowa.
  • Owned six catches of 20-plus yards in 2016.
  • Posted career highs with 15 receptions, 347 yards and three touchdown catches as a junior.
  • Posted career highs in catches (6), receiving yards (155) and touchdown catches (2) in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. His 155 receiving yards are a Big Ten Championship Game record, surpassing Ohio State's Devin Smith's 137 yards in 2014.

"We are thrilled to see Jason have an opportunity with the Raiders," Franklin said. "He has been a leader for this team, both on and off the field, throughout his career. He played a bunch of football for us and was the key to our defense for much of his career. He represented Linebacker U with pride and we know he will carry that on to the next level."

Jason Cabinda, LB, 6-1, 234, Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central

  • All-Big Ten second team selection by the coaches and honorable mention pick by the media.
  • Played in the East-West Shrine Game.
  • Led the team with 88 tackles.
  • Had two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
  • Finished his career tied for eighth on Penn State's career tackles chart with 287 stops.
  • Ranked tied for 19th in the Big Ten in tackles per game (7.0).
  • Had nine career double-digit tackle games (three in 2015, three in 2016, three in 2017).
  • Earned Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week (Bachie, MSU) and Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week after 12 tackles, a half-sack and a forced fumble vs. Michigan (10/21).
  • Selected as a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
  • Was the Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week on Oct. 2 after producing a career-high-tying 14 tackles vs. Indiana.
  • Earned Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week following his effort vs. Indiana (9/30).
  • Made a career-high-tying 14 tackles (Army, 2015) against Indiana, including six solo tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • Named All-Big Ten third team by the conference coaches in 2016.
  • Awarded a Helmet Sticker by ESPN's "College Football Final" following 13-tackle effort vs. Ohio State (10/22/16).
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week after his showing at Rutgers (11/19/16).
  • Named honorable-mention All-Big Ten by both the coaches and media in 2015.
  • Selected as an ECAC first-team All-Star in 2015.

"We are so proud of Tyrell and all he's overcome to earn this opportunity with the Giants," Franklin said. "He was a big part of our defensive success up front the last two seasons. He is a guy who will continue to work hard and improve his craft. He impressed me on a daily basis with his effort at practice, and we look forward to watching him at the next level."

Tyrell Chavis, DT, 6-3, 295, Richmond, Va./Nassau C.C.

  • Earned the Tim Shaw Thrive Award, awarded to the student-athlete who has overcome adversities and been an inspiration to his fellow teammates, at the annual team banquet.
    Had career highs in tackles (5), tackles for loss (3.0) and logged his first career sack against Akron in 2017.
  • Logged the first pass breakup of his career in the third quarter against Indiana in 2017.
  • Collected three tackles, including one solo stop, at Ohio State (10/28/17).
  • Totaled three tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack, at Michigan State (11/4/17).
  • Sacked Jake Browning in the first quarter for his lone tackle in the 2017 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
  • Helped Nassau Community College to the Northeast Football Conference Championship with a perfect 10-0 record in 2014.
  • Selected All-Northeast Football Conference first team at defensive tackle as a sophomore in 2015.
  • Collected all-conference second team accolades as a freshman in 2014.

"We are so happy that Curtis has this opportunity with the Vikings," Franklin said. "He has great potential and will work hard to continue his football playing career at the next level. Curtis showed he was very versatile on the defensive line, moving from end to tackle, during his time at Penn State. That flexibility and willingness will help him to contribute in a variety of ways. He continues to improve in almost every area of his game with a strong work ethic. He also found success in the classroom, graduating in August with a degree in criminology."

Curtis Cothran, DT, 6-5, 280, Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North

  • Earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors from the conference coaches in 2017.
  • Claimed the Quarterback Club Award at the annual team banquet, the award for seniors whom deserve special recognition.
  • Played in the East-West Shrine Game.
  • Totaled three tackles against Akron.
  • Had three tackles, all solo, two for no gain, at Iowa.
  • Had two tackles and registered a solo sack of John O'Korn on third down of Michigan's opening drive to force a punt.

"It's so great to see Parker in a position to continue his playing career with the Giants," Franklin said. "He did everything that we asked of him during his time at Penn State and was willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. Guys like Parker perform roles that are critical to team success but they are typically the ones who also come out without a lot of fanfare. He played a major factor in our team accomplishments during his career. We are so proud of him to have graduated with his degree in recreation, parks and tourism management last August."

Parker Cothren, DT, 6-4, 295, Huntsville, Ala./Hazel Green

  • Earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors from conference's media voters in 2017.
  • Was honored with the Reid-Robinson Award, given to team's outstanding defensive lineman, at the annual team banquet.
  • Played in the East-West Shrine Game.
  • Totaled four tackles and recovered a third-quarter fumble, which was forced by Marcus Allen, against Indiana in 2017.
  • Made three tackles at Northwestern and four stops against Michigan as a senior.
  • Earned All-Big Ten honorable mention from the conference coaches in 2016.
  • Selected honorable-mention Big Ten All-Freshman Team by BTN.com in 2014.
  • Named Academic All-Big Ten in 2014.

"We are ecstatic to have Tyler sign with the Bills," Franklin said. "He is the most accurate kicker in program history, which is a credit to his tireless work ethic. He took a different path than most collegiate football players, but his experiences as a soccer player and the adversities he has overcome have positioned him to succeed in the NFL. He also excelled in the classroom, earning his economics degree in December."

Tyler Davis, K, 5-11, 180, St. Charles, Ill./North

  • Finished his career tied for No. 7 on Penn State's career field goals made charts with 39, equaling the marks of Matt Bahr (1976-78) and Robbie Gould (2001-04).
  • Capped his career at No. 6 on the career scoring charts at Penn State with 261 points.
  • His 144 consecutive extra point conversions finished No. 2 in Big Ten history following the 2017 season and broke the previous Penn State mark held by Brett Conway (119; 1994-96).
  • Capped his career as the school record holder in career field goal percentage (79.6%), besting Nick Gancitano's previous mark (77.6%; 1981-83).
  • Ended his career as the school record holder for consecutive field goals made with 18, breaking Sam Ficken's mark of 15-straight makes between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
  • The 18-straight made field goals were tied for the longest streak in the Big Ten since Brad Craddock (UMD) converted 24-straight (2013-14) and rank fourth in Big Ten history.
  • Broke Penn State's single-season extra points made record 71 made extra points in 2017, surpassing the mark of 62 he previously shared with Brett Conway (1994).
  • Became the first Penn State kicker with multiple seasons of 50-plus extra points made.
  • His 98 points in 2017 ranked No. 16 on the single-season scoring charts.
  • Tied for No. 2 on Penn State's single-season field goals made charts with 22 makes in 2016, trailing only Sam Ficken's 24 makes from 2014.
  • Finished No. 6 on the PSU single-season scoring charts (128 points) in 2016.
  • Tied the Big Ten single-season kick scoring record with 128 points in 2016, equaling the mark set by Ohio State's Sean Nuernberger in 2014.
  • Named Academic All-Big Ten in 2016 and 2017.
  • Ranked tied for No. 2 with 71 extra point conversions among kickers with 100 percent accuracy on extra points attempts in 2017.
  • Earned the 2016 Vlade Award (most accurate collegiate kicker) from the Columbus Touchdown Club.
  • Named All-Big Ten first team by the conference coaches and second team by the media in 2016.
  • Named one of three Lou Groza Award Stars of the Week on Oct. 3, 2016, following his effort vs. Minnesota, which included a game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation.
  • Earned Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week (McCarron - Iowa) following a 4-for-4 effort on field goal attempts and a career-high 15 points at Rutgers (11/19/16).
  • Led the Big Ten and was No. 8 nationally with a .917 field goal percentage in 2016.
  • Was No. 2 in the B1G and No. 17 in the FBS in field goals per game (1.57 fgpg) in 2016.
  • Ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 19 nationally in scoring (9.1 ppg) in 2016.
  • Finished No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 11 nationally in total points (128) in 2016.

"We couldn't be happier to see Grant get this opportunity with the Giants," Franklin said. "He has been a leader for our defense for several years with his has an unmatched drive, great nose for the ball and high football IQ. During his time at Penn State, Grant was willing to do anything we asked of him on both special teams and defense. He will long be remembered for his signature plays against Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2016. Off the field, Grant was an Academic All-District selection and graduated in December with his degree in advertising and public relations."

Grant Haley, CB, 5-9, 190, Atlanta, Ga./The Lovett School

  • Honorable-mention all-conference by coaches and media.
  • Played in the East-West Shrine Game.
  • Was second on the squad with 10 pass breakups.
  • Ranked eighth on the team with 40 tackles.
  • Finished his career with 23 pass breakups, which is in the top 20 in program history.
  • Named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, along with teammate Marcus Allen.
    Earned Midseason All-America honors from The All-American and USA Today.
  • Namedto the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week on Sept. 12 after grabbing his first interception of the season vs. Pittsburgh.
  • Earned Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week following his effort vs. Indiana (9/30).
  • Garnered a spot on the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week on Oct. 10 after a three-tackle, three-pass breakup effort at Northwestern.
  • Named CoSIDA Academic All-District in 2016.
  • Earned Co-Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week (Marcus Allen, PSU) and Rose Bowl Game Big Ten Player of the Week after returning a blocked field goal for the game-winning touchdown vs. No. 2 Ohio State (10/22/16).
  • Three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
  • Named All-Big Ten honorable mention from the media in 2015.
  • Selected BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman Team honorable mention in 2014.

"We are thrilled for Brendan to be sign with the Panthers," Franklin said. "Brendan has persevered throughout his career at Penn State and all of those battles have just made him stronger. He was a fantastic mentor to our young offensive line. He is a big, powerful offensive lineman with heavy hands, who has the ability to play multiple positions. We are so proud of him to earn his degree in landscape contracting in December."

Brendan Mahon, OL, 6-4, 320, Randolph, N.J./Randolph

  • Earned Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week honors on Sept. 5 after helping the offense pile up 569 yards of total offense vs. Akron.
  • Selected to the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week and Big Ten Team of the Week following his performance vs. Nebraska (11/18).
  • Earned the Dick Maginnis Memorial Award, honoring the program's outstanding offensive lineman, at the team's annual awards banquet.
  • Helped pave the way for a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back seasons for just the second time in Big Ten Conference history (Indiana in 2015 and 2016).
  • Selected Pro Football Focus All-Big Ten first team in 2016.
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week following his performance vs. Minnesota (10/1/16).
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week after his showing vs. Maryland (10/8/16).
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week following his performance vs. No. 2 Ohio State (10/22/16).

"What an unbelievable story Brandon Smith is! We couldn't be more excited to see him have a tryout with the Bills," Franklin said. "Brandon went from walk-on to special teamer to starting linebacker. He is one of the hardest workers we had on our team and is extremely intelligent. Brandon has also been so influential off the field with his community service and performance in the classroom, earning a degree in kinesiology last May and working towards a second degree in health policy and administration with plans to go to medical school after his football career comes to an end."

Brandon Smith

  • Named Penn State's recipient of the 2017 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
  • Earned CoSIDA Academic All-District in 2016 and 2017.
  • Selected to the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
  • Named a semifinalist for the 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded by the National Football Foundation, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
  • Selected as a semifinalist for the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award.
  • Earned the Letterman's Club Scholarship at the annual team banquet, a $5,000 scholarship given to an outstanding graduating senior student-athlete.
  • Two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.
  • Was a finalist for the Pop Warner Award.
  • Selected Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 10, 2016 after his 14-tackle effort vs. Maryland.
  • Selected as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.
  • Earned Dean's List accolades in the 2016 fall semester and a perfect 4.0 GPA in the 2017 spring semester.

Penn State returns 13 starters (8 offensive, 3 defensive, 2 specialists) and 26 additional lettermen. The Nittany Lions open the season at Beaver Stadium against Appalachian State September 1.

More than 6,300 new season tickets have already been sold for the 2018 season presented by PSECU. For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing new 2018 season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, fans can visit www.PSUnrivaled.com, call 1-800-NITTANY weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or visit the Bryce Jordan Center ticket office weekdays from 10 a.m-6 p.m.

@PennStateFball

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