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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
Penn State’s Senior Day Participants: