Senior Day Emotions

Senior Cam Brown (6) will play his final game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Saturday will mark the final time Penn State’s senior class get to suit up for a game inside Beaver Stadium.

As the Nittany Lions close their chapter on the regular season, the seniors close their home careers. 

Penn State will honor 16 seniors (see the full list at the bottom of this story) as part of the annual Senior Day festivities. It will undoubtedly be a bittersweet day.

“I think I’m the kind of guy who likes to think I’ll be okay, but I have really no clue when it’s going to happen, especially with my parents being down there on the field,” senior safety Garrett Taylor said when asked if or when he’s going to get emotional. 

“I think that’s going to be pretty special. So, I’ll see. It’s kind of weird thinking about it, but I’m excited just to have one last chance to get out there in Beaver and play in front of 100,000-some people. It’s been a heck of a journey and I’m super appreciative of it.” 

Fellow senior Cam Brown said he expects to be somewhat emotional, but he’s not going to let it affect his play. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“I’ve been thinking about it, the process, just everything going through it,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an emotional weekend for me, mentally at least, but the game of football is about containing those emotions and playing the game. That’s my biggest thing this weekend is focusing and being able to channel myself to play in this game.”

Brown has been one of the key leaders for Penn State the last few seasons. 

He’s currently third on the team in total tackles with 62 and tied for first in forced fumbles with three. 

More importantly, he’s been a vocal leader for the Nittany Lions, being a source to rally behind whenever the team needs a boost before or after a game. 

With his Nittany Lion career now winding down, Brown said wants to be remembered as someone who played hard for his teammates all the time. 

“I try to push, tried to lead this year, and granted, it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I feel like that part is going to at least stay in the locker room,” Brown said. “The guys will know that I always fought for them, even with the coaches. I fought for the coaches in the locker room, I fought for the players with the coaches, and I feel like if that’s what I can leave here with, I’m good.”

Brown, Taylor and the rest of the senior class compiled a 40-11 record to this point, becoming the first 40-win senior class at Penn State since 2009. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A win over Rutgers would tie the 1997 seniors’ 41 wins.

“We talk about being an elite program day-in and day-out, 365 days of the year and what that takes,” Taylor said of the program’s development since he first got to campus as a freshman.

“I think what’s gotten us there is the buy-in. I came in when there was a point in the program there was still some turmoil and Coach Franklin was trying to get guys to buy in. We had some guys who were. We had some guys who weren’t. And that’s no fault to them. That’s just kind of where the program was at that point.”

For Taylor, especially, it’s been quite the journey to become a starting safety for the Nittany Lions. 

An injury his senior season in high school forced him to sit out his freshman year as a redshirt. He was a role-player his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, with most of his contributions coming on special teams. 

It wasn’t until his junior season that he found a significant role in Brent Pry’s defense. With the departures of Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, he won a starting job at the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense. 

“It wasn’t a clear-cut route. But through the support of my parents, which was huge, the support of my coaches, and just mainly the belief in myself, I was able to have the patience and have faith that my opportunity was going to come,” Taylor said. 

“Thankfully, I got that opportunity, earned the starting job and never looked back. I think a lot of guys when their opportunity comes, it’s either you take it or you miss it. I think I did a really good job of capitalizing on that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Taylor is one of a handful of fifth-year seniors for the Nittany Lions. Players, who for one reason or another had to go through a redshirt season. 

They’ve seen the program experience some incredible highs — a Big Ten title, back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls, etc. — and some rough lows.

But each of them stuck around long enough to see Penn State back in the upper echelon of college football.

“Five years ago where the program was compared to where it is now is dramatically different. And the reality is those guys and guys like them, the guys that were fifth-year seniors before that, they’re owed most of the credit,” Franklin said. 

“They really are. They committed to Penn State at a time that maybe it wasn’t as easy of a decision to commit to Penn State. They’ve battled through adversity. They’ve been phenomenal. So it’s really hard to kind of sit here and put into words what they have meant to this program, what they have meant to me personally.”

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State’s Senior Day Participants:

Nick Bowers

Cam Brown

Weston Carr

Dan Chisena

Nick Eury

Blake Gillikin

Steven Gonzalez

Jan Johnson

Hunter Kelly

Colton Maxwell

John Reid

Michael Shuster

Garrett Taylor

Justin Tobin

Robert Windsor

Jake Zembiec

Penn State Preview: Rutgers

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on Big Ten Network. 

Venue: Beaver Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 37 degrees with a wintry mix possible 

The line: Penn State – 40.5

Last week: Penn State lost at Ohio State. Rutgers lost at home to Michigan State 

All-time series: Penn State leads 27-2

Last meeting (2018): Behind a stellar performance from the Penn State defense, Trace McSorley became the winningest quarterback in program history with last year’s 20-7 victory over Rutgers. McSorley threw two touchdowns to Pat Freiermuth in the win. 

Throwback classic (2015): We caught up with longtime editor of The Football Letter, John Black, to help recount Penn State’s first Stripe Out game, a 28-3 win over the Scarlet Knights. 

Overview: Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes are all but over, but there’s still plenty to play for when the Nittany Lions host the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. Checking in at No. 10 in the latest Playoff rankings, Penn State is in a great position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Rutgers, meanwhile, limps to the finish line once again, having already fired head coach Chris Ash earlier this season. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions handle business. There’s a reason Penn State is a near six-touchdown favorite. Rutgers has been awful and the Nittany Lions should be eager to put the disappointing loss to the Buckeyes behind them. 

Rutgers wins if: We’ve tried to come up with a scenario where the Scarlet Knights somehow catch the Nittany Lions sleeping in this regular season finale, but it’s just not going to happen. The best Rutgers could hope for is to keep it relatively close until halftime. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Count On: A lot of emotions for Penn State seniors. Senior Day is always a bittersweet moment for college athletes. These Nittany Lion seniors deserve all the credit in the world. They’ve led Penn State to a remarkable four-year run, which with a win on Saturday, will see the program tally at-least 10 wins in three of the past four years. That’s a heck of an achievement. 

Keep an eye on: The Penn State quarterback situation. At his Tuesday press conference, head coach James Franklin said starting QB Sean Clifford would probably be a game-time decision. Knowing Clifford’s competitiveness, he’s going to want to be out there one last time in Beaver Stadium this year. Still, even if Clifford does play, expect Will Levis to get a healthy share of the reps, especially if the Nittany Lions are up big early.  

Trivia tidbit: The first matchup between these two programs came all the way back in 1918. The teams met on Nov. 9, 1918, just two days after the German armistice effectively ended World War I. The Scarlet Knights came away with the win at New Beaver Field, 26-3 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Rutgers 14

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 45, Rutgers 7

Cheering with Dr. Barron: University President visits Chicago Chapter

 

Penn State Chicago-President Barron

President Barron enjoyed time with the Alumni Association’s Chicago Chapter earlier this season, when he stopped by to cheer on Penn State during their game against Michigan State. “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us,” Chapter President Caitlin Bencel said, noting that Dr. Barron made time to meet chapter members and pose for a group photo.

President Barron wanted to find a place where he could watch the Nittany Lions with fellow Penn State fans.

He found just the spot, thanks to our Chicago Chapter.

Barron was in the Second City during Penn State’s visit to Michigan State in late October, and he stopped by Smoke Daddy, one of the chapter’s designated restaurants for football watch parties. Letterman Mike Dunlay owns the place; he was an offensive guard on the 1982 national championship football team and has supported the Chicago Chapter in various ways.

Dunlay approached the chapter in the last year and expressed interest in hosting Penn Staters, and Barron joined the chapter during the second quarter of the Nittany Lions’ 28-7 victory over the Spartans.

In his customary style, Barron was low-key, not wanting to draw attention to himself; mostly, he wanted to meet local chapter members and enjoy the game. He was offered a table, though opted instead to sit with alumni and friends, with Chicago Chapter President Caitlin Bencel ’07 saying at least five people came up to her and said they couldn’t believe Dr. Barron was there and how cool it was that he shared the afternoon with them.

“So many people described him as being down-to-earth, they didn’t realize who he was until he approached them and was chatting everybody up,” Bencel said. “That was really cool that he was able to fly under the radar, and it wasn’t until he asked if it was OK for a group photo that I introduced him.”

Bencel added: “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us.”

You can check out the group photo at the top of the article, and the image indicates just how popular fall Saturdays are for the Chicago Chapter. The chapter added a third venue this year with the continued interest from local Penn Staters, and even though each one of the watch party locations provides a different atmosphere, Bencel said the goal is for members to have the same experience at each spot.

The chapter features 50-50 raffles that benefit either the group’s scholarship or THON fundraising initiatives, and occasionally local charities. Penn Staters from both the city and the suburbs frequent the chapter’s three locations on fall Saturdays, enjoying an opportunity to make new connections, and learn more about chapter events and volunteer opportunities.

And of course, there’s plenty of time to share in the camaraderie that naturally bubbles up anytime Penn Staters get together to watch football.

As a volunteer leader, Bencel understands how important it is to maintain that connection to her alma mater, and how the seemingly smallest things can transform an ordinary gathering into an upbeat occasion that transports you back to your college days.

That’s the beauty of game day, whether you’re cheering on the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium or elsewhere across the country.

“Chicago is a long way from Happy Valley, so we aim to bring a bit of Happy Valley to Chicago,” Bencel said.  “We start with decorating the watch party locations with Penn State flags, pompoms we order from the Blue & White Society, and other items to evoke the atmosphere of being back at Penn State. We also play Blue Band songs and other hype songs you’d hear in Beaver Stadium, give away Penn State swag at halftime, and of course, bring out the cowbell!”

From The Archives: Penn State V. Rutgers (2015)

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Penn State’s inaugural Stripe Out was a huge hit with fans, who watched the Nittany Lions upend Rutgers 28-3. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Even if you’ve been covering Penn State for 40-plus years, as John Black has, you still have an opportunity to see something new.

That’s the beauty of college football, especially in Happy Valley.

Over the years, the pre-game theatrics at Beaver Stadium have intensified, much to the delight of fans. Recruits, also, have taken notice, with James Franklin bringing in highly ranked classes the last few years.

While the atmosphere for home games has always been one of the best in the country, the operations and marketing teams for football has elevated the environment at Penn State into something that is truly, to borrow a phrase, “unrivaled.”

All of this leads us back to Black, the dean of football reporters. As the 1962 Penn State graduated surveyed the scene at Beaver Stadium a few moments prior to kick-off against Rutgers in 2015, he saw something he never had before at Beaver Stadium.

That’s saying something.

Comebacks and blow-outs, amazing plays and unexplainable gaffs, spectacular shows from the Blue Band, weather delays, fans storming the field, and pretty much anything else imaginable.

But a stripe out? Nope. Never.

Meaning, on his way to writing more than 500 consecutive editions of The Football Letter, John Black scratched off another item on his seemingly empty Penn State bucket list in the first month of the 2015 season.

Black had seen a stripe out before, at Iowa in 2012, though this was the first such occurrence at Penn State — the annual game has grown to be one of the most visually striking images each football season.

Count Black among the many fans who’ve embraced the new tradition.

“It gave a very neat effect,” Black said this week, recalling the game at Iowa seven years ago. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope Penn State does that soon,’ and they did.”

The Nittany Lion version debuted three years later, during a night kickoff against Rutgers in September. Penn State eased to a 28-3 victory with two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, a score each from Akeel Lynch and DeAndre Thompkins; and a stout defensive showing.

Enjoying his customary view on the west side of the stadium, Black witnessed the stands fill up with coordinated fans intent on willing their Nittany Lions to victory.

“Sitting in their blue-or-white clad sections, the fans themselves were part of the first-ever Beaver Stadium Stripe Out Show, as the last sunset glow faded behind the press box,” Black described in The Football Letter.

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Akeel Lynch broke away for 75-yard touchdown run before halftime. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Additional details he authored in that issue mentioned Blue Band Director Greg Drane leading the band’s pre-game routine for the first time (the previous week’s game against Buffalo featured heavy rain and the band didn’t have the opportunity to thrill fans before kickoff) and the drum major flips, along with performances from the majorettes and Lionettes.

The types of particulars that alumni and fans have read from Black since 1976. Perhaps overlooked by some, though always top-of-mind for the author of The Football Letter, who knows his audience.

“I don’t know that you would read that sort of thing in the standard commercial publications, but to me, it’s part of the whole experience and a significance part of it,” Black said. “That’s what I’m trying to convey, a special sense of the identity of Penn State alumni and their participation in the whole game day experience; have a part in it, have their presence mean something. So, to me, it’s an important thing.”

How The Gilmores Gave Back

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at”

Deryk and Camille Gilmore are always eager to give back.

They don’t do it for special recognition or personal gain, though. It’s simply a byproduct of how they were raised.

Deryk, a Penn State football letterman (86-88), grew up most of his life in a single-parent home.

His father, Arthur T. Gilmore, an engineer and one of the first black men to serve in the U.S. Navy, died when Deryk was just four years old.

He looked to his mother for guidance and inspiration, as she instilled in him a deep sense of faith that he continues to carry today.

Camille lost her father, Dennis H.M. Chang, who once served as the personal bodyguard for the Jamaican prime minister, when she was a freshman in college. Her mother, a nurse, was tasked with raising and supporting Camille and her three siblings.

“I think one of the things we recognized is the blessings that we have now are because of those who came before us,” Camille, a 1991 Penn State graduate from the Smeal College of Business, said. “The best way to honor them was to give back. We knew how hard it was for our mothers to raise kids from New York by themselves, and we all ended up living pretty darn well.”

To further fulfill that mission of giving back, the Gilmores have recently donated scholarships to support students at three different universities across the country.

At Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where Camille served as a board of visitor’s member, the Gilmores provided funds for a scholarship to the school’s nursing program in honor of her mother, Pamela Chang.

The second scholarship created by the Gilmores went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Deryk and Camille both received their MBAs, and where Deryk was a football coach for the Fighting Illini. This scholarship was dedicated in honor of Deryk’s mother, Yvonne Gilmore.

For the third scholarship, the Gilmores wanted to accomplish two things: they wanted to give back to Penn State and they wanted to find a way to honor their fathers in the same mold as they honored their mothers.

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at,” Deryk, a 1990 Penn State agricultural business management grad, said.

When you talk further with the Gilmores, you learn quickly why Penn State will always remain a special place for them.

It is, after all, the place where the Gilmores met almost 29 years ago.

Visiting the McDonald’s on College Avenue to grab dinner one night, they each stepped up to their respective cash registers to place an order. 

“We were both at the counter ordering and we each asked for a coke with no ice and that was the start of it for us, I guess,” Camille said laughing. “I ended up going to a party of his later on.”

And just to prove how good of a businessman I am, even though I liked her, I still charged her five dollars to get into the house,” Deryk quickly responded in jest. “And we’ve now been together 29 years, married for 26. It’s always funny to look back on that.”

This past summer, the Gilmores committed $25,000 for a scholarship fund at Penn State, which will offer $5,000 in direct student support through the Penn State BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program for each of the next five years.

It was the perfect way to honor their fathers, while simultaneously give aid to students at their alma mater.

“Our dads just worked so hard to help people and we wanted them to be recognized as the role models that they were in their own communities,” Deryk said. “They both worked in careers that were not common for men of color at the time. They worked and were deeply family men.”

The Gilmore/Chang Family Scholarship will be awarded to full-time undergraduate students who have demonstrated a financial need, meet the academic requirements, participate in the BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program, and hold the values of mentorship, leadership and service.

Deryk said the ultimate goal of the scholarship is to try and make it easier for someone interested in Penn State to attend, particularly students of color. 

“Being black, we understand it’s hard for students of different backgrounds sometimes to be able to afford college,” Deryk said. “We want to help their path get a little easier. We didn’t want to make it all about grades but about upside. We want to help people who work hard to have a chance. Sometimes you just need that little bump. When students get into Penn State, it’s can be hard to stay there. If we can create avenues to help, let’s do it.”

During their time as undergrads, the Gilmores themselves were active student leaders and were particularly involved with several leadership programs for students of color.

In addition to her business degree, Camille was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She’s propelled her experiences at Penn State into more than 25 years of human resources leadership for various businesses.

She’s now the vice president of human resources and global chief diversity officer for Boston Scientific, a manufacturer of medical devices used in interventional medical specialties.

Photos courtesy of Deryk and Camille Gilmore

Having worked on promoting diversity in the workplace for most of her career, getting students from more diverse backgrounds to Penn State is important to Camille.

“The [BLUEprint] scholarship offers a level of inclusion to say, ‘Hey, we want you at Penn State. We believe in you and who you are. And we’re going to find a way to keep you here,’” she said. “To me, I hope Penn State can use this as a pull strategy to attract the best, diverse talent to Penn State. If this scholarship helps us to get the best and brightest from diverse backgrounds, that’s exactly what we want.”

Deryk started Incoming Black Athletes At Penn State (IBAAPS) — the first mentor education program for student athletes — and was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

He was also a defensive tackle on the 1986-87 Penn State football team that took down the favored Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to capture the program’s second national championship.

The Gilmore’s younger son, Deion followed in his father’s footsteps, and now plays at defensive tackle for Manchester University (Indiana), while their eldest son, Dantae’, is a theatre major at the University of Alabama.

“For me, my experience playing football was all about the friendships I created and the different skills I used to help me in life,” Deryk said. “You know, you learn time management skills balancing football and school. You must learn how to work with expectations, for yourself and for your group. It’s what helped make me so successful in business.”

As many of Joe Paterno’s former players are asked, Deryk gets questions all the time about what it was like playing under the legendary coach.

“You know, it was hard but rewarding playing for him. He definitely challenged me to be a better player and a better person,” Deryk said.

The biggest thing that’s always stuck with Deryk about Paterno is how much he cared for his players beyond how many sacks they recorded or touchdowns they scored.

He recalls the period when he had just graduated from Penn State and was in the process of looking for a place to start in his career.

Any time he interviewed or applied for a position, he said Paterno would call the employer and tell them that Deryk was the man to hire.

“He really helped me get my foot in the door, so to speak,” Deryk said. “He was always more worried about us as a person and the type of man we would become than he was about how great we were as an athlete.”

Deryk turned his experiences in business and football in to becoming the founder and owner of Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, whose clients include Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans — who Deryk helped negotiate a five-year, $82.5 million contract extension in March of 2018, the second-highest deal for a wide receiver in NFL history at the time.

Other Day 1 clients include La’El Collins of the Dallas Cowboys, Shaq Mason of the New England Patriots and Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs — all of whom have recently negotiated new contracts or contract extensions.

“You know, I’d say one of the reasons I got into the agent industry was to impact these young men’s lives,” Deryk said. “We want to connect them to wealth and teach them the importance of ownership and being involved in their businesses. We don’t want them to turn it over to someone that can take advantage of them and lose the money. I always try to show players that they can be more than the employee. They can be the owner.”

As they each continue to excel in their careers, the connection to Penn State is as strong as ever for Deryk and Camille.

They believe in the impact of Penn State, Penn State students and Penn State alumni.

“I saw there was an incident earlier this season where someone had written an awful letter to a football player of ours (Jonathan Sutherland), and just seeing how well he responded to it and how we as a Penn State community rallied,” Deryk said. “We had each other’s backs. I think that culture is what makes us, Penn Stater’s, great. And that carries well beyond the student-athletes.”

And above all else, “We’re proud Penn Staters’, we bleed blue and white,” Camille said. “That’s for sure. That’ll never change.”

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Ohio State/Rutgers

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A 17-point spurt in the third quarter pulled No. 8 Penn State within four of No. 2 Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t complete the rally from there in Saturday’s Big Ten showdown from Columbus.

The Buckeyes scored a crucial fourth quarter touchdown and used a smothering defensive line to hold off Penn State, and eliminate the blue and white from Big Ten title contention.

Looking Back

Star of The Game: Chase Young

This award could easily go to Justin Fields or J.K. Dobbins, who both were terrific in the Buckeyes’ win. But defensive end Chase Young was flat out phenomenal. In his return from a two-game suspension, he was a terror from both edge spots. Young finished with nine tackles, including three sacks, and recorded a forced fumble. He effectively shut the game down as the Nittany Lions mounted another comeback in the 4th quarter. He absolutely deserves Heisman Trophy consideration.

Moment of Magic: Fields connects with Olave

With the Buckeyes only up four and the crowd inside the Horseshoe suddenly a bit nervous, Justin Fields lofted up a deep ball to his wide receiver Chris Olave in the end zone. Olave leapt into the air and outmuscled John Reid before hauling in the touchdown. It pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 28-17 and that proved to be enough as Ohio State’s defense closed the deal down the stretch.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Rutgers in a free fall

Penn State goes from playing the best team in the Big Ten this season to the worst. The Scarlet Knights are a disaster, having fired coach Chris Ash earlier this season and now reports circulating that they couldn’t come to an agreement with former coach Greg Schiano to take over the program. Rutgers is 2-9 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten, outscored 328-45 in conference games.

Parsons named Butkus Finalist

Despite the loss in Columbus, sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons had another stellar day for the Nittany Lions. He finished second on the team with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble while forcing another to help turn the tide a bit in the third quarter. Parsons was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday, given annually to the best linebacker in college football.

Penn State-Rutgers at a glance

Penn State is 27-2 all time against the Scarlet Knights and has won the last 12 meetings dating back to 1989. The last four games have been one-sided in favor of the Nittany Lions, with Penn State outscoring Rutgers, 122-16. The Nittany Lions should be in store for another dominant showing on Senior Day.

From The Archives: Penn State V. Ohio State (2008)

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Lydell Sargeant (10) rushed to recover the fumble caused by Mark Rubin in the fourth quarter of the 2008 game at Ohio State. NaVorro Bowman recovered the ball, igniting the Nittany Lions to a 13-6 victory over the ninth-ranked Buckeyes. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Some memories, you never forget. Just ask Lydell Sargeant.

The Penn State letterman and former defensive back for the Nittany Lions provided one of the defining moments for the Nittany Lions during their 2008 Rose Bowl season, when they won the Big Ten championship for the third time.

In the waning moments of the team’s slugfest against Ohio State, he “outleaped Brian Hartline for an interception in the end zone on Ohio State’s final play,” as John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter.

Asked about what continues to stand out to him about that game and if he still recalls specific details, he laughed, just slightly, in a way that suggest he’ll remember them forever.

“Oh, my goodness. I still remember plays from 14 years ago,” Sargeant said, referencing his freshman season at Penn State.

He then summarized the last drive, beginning with, “I can tell you every last thing that happened.”

Sargeant remembered Bowman tipping a pass as the Buckeyes were driving with less than a minute left: “NaVorro made a really good play up the middle. I think if he didn’t tip the pass, it would have drastically changed that drive.”

Then, Sargeant’s versatility shined through. Typically a cornerback, Sargeant would switch to safety when Penn State played nickel in the secondary. As he saw Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s pass sail toward the end zone, he saw he had an opportunity to catch the ball instead of knocking it down. The former was more attractive, since Sargeant didn’t want to let the receiver get in front of him.

The approach worked, as Sargeant hauled in Pryor’s lofty pass right at the goal-line to secure Penn State’s 13-6 victory.

“One thing Coach Paterno always said was, ‘Do you want your name in the paper? When it’s time to make big plays, make them,’” said Sargeant, who also broke up a pass earlier in the fourth quarter, thwarting a potential 30-yard gain for the Buckeyes to midfield.

Sargeant added: “To me, The Horseshoe is the next best thing to Beaver Stadium, with regard to their fan passion and how loud they get.”

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Anthony Scirrotto celebrated with fans after the third-ranked Nittany Lions seized the moment and claimed their first win at The Horseshoe since beginning Big Ten play. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Ohio Stadium was certainly loud for the Nittany Lions’ visit in the 2008 season, when Penn State (No. 3) and Ohio State (No. 9) met in a battle of Top-10 teams.

It was the first victory for Penn State in The Horseshoe since beginning Big Ten play, and the Nittany Lions shut down Pryor, explosive Buckeye running back Beanie Wells, and their offensive teammates. Ohio State scored 30-plus points in six other games that season, and 40-plus on four occasions.

“We had a rock star defense,” Sargeant said, pointing out teammates and future NFL stars such as NaVorro Bowman, Jared Odrick, Aaron Maybin, and others.

Sargeant was perhaps always destined to attend Penn State, though he had something of a circuitous route to Happy Valley. He grew up in Pittsburgh, and then moved to California in 10th grade, a result of his father serving in the military.

He returned to Pittsburgh the next few summers for a month or so, working out with childhood friend (and future teammate) Justin King, along with current Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, who was coaching Gateway High School at the time.

There’s a lot of connectivity with that trio. Smith is King’s stepfather, with Sargeant and King serving as ball boys for Smith going back to his days at Duquesne University in the late 1990s. Sargeant originally committed to Stanford (Oregon was his other top choice, along with Penn State), before transferring.

As Sargeant tells it, he and King looked at each other and said, “Hey, do you want to play together?”

The incoming recruiting class helped elevate Penn State out of one of the few down periods in Joe Paterno’s coaching career, with Sargeant saying that guys like Derrick Williams and Sean Lee, who played AAU basketball with Sargeant, also played important roles in the process.

After graduating, Sargeant signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, though retired from the NFL a few years later because of an injury. Then, he returned to Penn State for an internship that was facilitated by longtime offensive coordinator Fran Ganter, who transitioned into an administrative role after coaching.

Ganter mentored Sargeant, as the former defensive back learned what he was most passionate about in athletic administration. Sargeant earned his master’s in sports management studies from California University of Pennsylvania, then worked at Utah Valley University and Marquette University in development roles.

Currently, Sargeant serves as an assistant athletic director at UCLA, one of the most accomplished and impressive athletic departments in the country. UCLA is second overall in all-time national titles, with 118.

Even though he’s on the other side of the country, Sargeant returns to Happy Valley twice a year, for the Blue-White game and Homecoming. Additionally, he sits on the board of the Football Letterman’s Club and still is tight with King and Smith. He talks every day with King, who earlier this year accepted the position of manager of football operations for the startup XFL after previously working with Penn State football as a recruiting coordinator.

And Smith is as connected as ever to the program as cornerbacks coach after playing as a wideout for Joe Paterno in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Sargeant speaks passionately about his days at Penn State, and asked some questions of his own out of curiosity for how things are going back at his alma mater. Like Smith and King, he has an affinity for Penn State that’ll likely last a lifetime.

He cares, and he has a recognition for the importance that Penn State has played in his life, both during his playing days and now as he helps to oversee one of the most prestigious athletic departments in the country.

“I say all the time: nothing about what Coach Paterno taught was about football,” Sargeant said. “It’s fascinating, because he’s the most winningest coach in college football, and everything he emphasized were things outside of the game.

“As you get older, you start to realize he’s basically giving you the code to society. That shapes you, and you start to understand how successful Penn State guys are and how they’re able to navigate the professional world. There’s less of a deer-in-the-headlights look when you no longer have football. Coach Paterno was a huge factor in preparing us for life beyond football.”

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