Maybe the most memorable soundbite from Friday’s press conference introducing James Franklin’s coaching staff came from Charles Huff, the Nittany Lions’ special teams coordinator and running backs coach. Huff, who said he’d been asked repeatedly about the “identity” of his special teams units, offered up a phrase that stumped most (if not all) of the assembled media: a “nekton mentality.”
He smiled as he added, “I’m not sure how many science teachers are in the building…”
The answer, in regard to the packed Beaver Stadium media room, most likely was “none.” But, Penn State being a world-class research university—and because simply checking Wikipedia seemed like the easy way out—we were pretty sure we could find someone on campus who could explain. As Huff put it on Friday, “A nekton is a living organism that can flow freely through water not affected by the current, and it’s always attacking. The most reasonable example will be a great white shark … that’s how we’ll be on special teams. We’ll attack, attack, and attack.”
Iliana Baums says that’s essentially a fair description—and she would know. An associate professor in the biology department in the Eberly College of Science, Baums heads her own lab that focuses on marine evolution and ecology. She was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her Friday evening to explain. Here’s what she told us:
“Nekton encompasses all organisms that live in the water column and can propel themselves against ocean currents—as opposed to plankton, which is unable to move against ocean currents. Nekton includes both great white sharks and reef fish that eat algae (herbivores), and everything in between. Members of the nekton are not necessarily vicious predators, (so) the analogy is not perfect. But then again, the coach probably was not trying to be scientifically accurate.”
We’d say he was pretty close. And, given how cool it is to imagine a pack of great whites speeding down the field on punt coverage, we’re happy to give Coach Huff the benefit of the doubt.
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