Feature: Seven Captains to Lead Nittany Lions in 2014

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Aug. 13, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Garnering respect from your peers is the ultimate honor for a student-athlete.

Penn State Football held a voting process where each player on the roster selected his captains for the offense, defense and special teams. Head coach James Franklin announced the results of the vote in Tuesday afternoon's team meeting.

On defense, seniors Mike Hull and C.J. Olaniyan were selected. On offense, senior Miles Dieffenbach and sophomore Christian Hackenberg were tabbed. On special teams, seniors Sam Ficken, Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle were named captains.

All seven players embody the role of a teammate. Each guy is looked upon as a role model in the locker room. Now, the seven captains will lead the Nittany Lions in 2014 with utmost dignity and class while understanding the importance of the responsibility now on their shoulders.

"The players and the coaches voted on the team captains and these players have clearly earned the respect of their teammates and coaches," Franklin said. "We are trying to promote and develop leadership throughout the entire program and I'm really excited about the role our captains will have throughout the season."

At the conclusion of 2013, Hull took a more active role as a team leader heading into his senior season. The highly-productive, instinctive and physical player on defense and special teams should merit All-Big Ten and CoSIDA Academic All-America consideration this season. He was named first-team preseason All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports and Lindy's and second-team all-conference by Phil Steele's College Football Preview. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Hull earned his degree in finance in May.



"It's just a great honor to be captain here at a program like Penn State," Hull said. "All of the guys who are captains have worked hard since the day we arrived. It's an honor, and I can't be more excited to get the year started."

On track to graduate this week with a degree in criminology, Olaniyan possesses excellent physical attributes, instincts and desire. He led the squad with five sacks for minus-45 yards and was second on the team with 11.0 tackles for loss (minus-64) last season. The quick and elusive athlete, who started all 12 games, earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors and should be a candidate for all-conference accolades during his fifth-year senior season.

"It means a lot to me. It means that all the hard work is being noticed," Olaniyan said. "I'm very humbled, very proud, and I couldn't do it without my family, my teammates and the man upstairs."

Entering 2014, Dieffenbach is the most experienced member of the offensive line and is an established team leader. The talented, tough and intense player has been a fixture at the left guard position since he grabbed the starting spot prior to the 2012 season-opener. Dieffenbach graduated with a degree in advertising/public relations in May with a cumulative 3.27 grade-point average. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

"It's one of the greatest honors I've ever had in my life," Dieffenbach said. "It means a lot for the other players and coaches to think of me as that type of leader for the football team. Hopefully, myself and the other captains can lead this team to a great season."

For the first time in program history, a sophomore has been voted captain of the Nittany Lions. Hackenberg's leadership traits on and off the field speak volumes about his reputation in the locker room as a sophomore. The vastly talented and instinctive Virginia native was named the nation's No. 8 overall quarterback by Lindy's and the Big Ten's best passing quarterback by Sporting News. Hackenberg also was selected second-team preseason All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports and Lindy's. The former Fork Union Military Academy All-American became just the second true freshman quarterback to start a Penn State season-opener since 1911 and started all 12 games. Hackenberg was selected the 2013 Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Year.

"It means the world to me," Hackenberg said. "We've worked really hard together this offseason. I just try to be the best teammate I could be for each and every one of these guys. I'm going to continue to try and do that with this honor. It comes with a lot of responsibility, and I think us as a core group will do a great job."

The dedicated and determined Ficken has a strong and accurate leg and should be an All-Big Ten candidate this fall. One of the squad's hardest workers on and off the field, he earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten recognition in 2013. After connecting on his final 10 field goal attempts of the 2012 season, Ficken was true on his first five attempts last year to boost his consecutive made streak to 15, breaking Craig Fayak's school record of 13 straight field goals in 1992. The former Valparaiso High School all-state player delivered the longest field goal by a Penn State player in home game history when he knocked in a 54-yard attempt in the rain against Kent State. The Dean's List student owned a 3.59 cumulative grade-point average in finance entering the summer and is on schedule to graduate in December.

"Obviously, it is a tremendous honor. A lot of times specialists are not in this position to be a captain," Ficken said. "I'm embracing the opportunity to set an example of how to lead and work on and off the field."

The talented, athletic and instinctive Della Valle has played in every contest the past two seasons on defense and special teams. Last season, his second as the team's primary punt returner, he ranked fourth in the Big Ten with an 8.7-yard average on his 18 returns. The Pittsburgh native is the epitome of a core special teams contributor, and he is willing to do anything necessary to help the team be successful. One of the squad's top students, Della Valle owned a 3.38 cumulative grade-point average after the spring semester. He graduated with a degree in advertising and public relations in May.

"It's almost surreal for me because I have come a long way after walking on here," Della Valle said. "We've been through a lot here, and it's the same for Keiser. Knowing all of the great players from here and all of the captains, it is an extreme honor. I'm extremely honored to be in this position. To have the support of my teammates, I'm ready to lead those guys and go out there and have a great season."

Keiser is a talented player with good instincts and a nose for the ball, a combination that will have him playing a significant role during his fifth-year senior season. Keiser has been a consistently productive player on defense and special teams, playing in 36 of a possible 37 career games the past three seasons. A fixture on each of the special teams unit during the vast majority of the last two seasons, the Central Pennsylvania native is poised to again play a paramount role on special teams this fall. Keiser owns a 3.37 grade-point average, made the Dean's List last spring and is a potential CoSIDA Academic All-America candidate. The two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree is on schedule to graduate this week with a degree in kinesiology.

"It's a great honor to be a captain with some awesome guys," Keiser said. "I really respect everyone on the team. The group is out here working hard every day. It's a great honor to voted captain by such a great group of guys."


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