Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 3

From Allen Robinson II muscling through defenders to help the Chicago Bears complete another crazy comeback to Jesse James’ first touchdown for the Detroit Lions, it was another productive day for Penn Staters in the NFL.

Let’s take a look at some of the standout Sunday Nittany Lions. 

Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears
There’s been a fair amount of trade speculation with Robinson II in recent weeks, but that hasn’t affected his performances at all. He leads Chicago in targets, receptions and receiving yards.

He didn’t skip a beat as the Bears transitioned from Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles midway through Chicago’s matchup with the Falcons on Sunday. Foles connected with Robinson for a big 37-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to continue the Bears’ comeback. 

Robinson II finished with 10 catches for a 123 yards as Chicago pulled off the 26-23 win to become one of the more surprising 3-0 teams in the league. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Robinson outmuscles Ohio State defender for leaping grab

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

Adrian Amos, S, Green Bay Packers
Amos continues to be one of the leaders in the Green Bay secondary and despite New Orleans putting up 30 points on Sunday, the defense did enough to give the Packers a road win on Sunday Night Football.

With Aaron Rodgers playing at a terrific level, the Packers defense merely has to hold their own against opposing offenses. 

Amos recorded five tackles in Green Bay’s  37-30 win. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Amos has impressive day against Ohio State in 2013

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

TE Jesse James and FB Jason Cabinda, Detroit Lions
Cabinda has made the move from linebacker to fullback this season and its resulted in a significant increase in playing time for the Lions.

Cabinda’s sound blocking on this touchdown allowed fellow former Nittany Lion Jesse James to score his first touchdown with Detroit. 

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

The Lions pulled off the eventual upset over the Cardinals 26-23. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: James tiptoes down the sideline for the score against Nebraska.

Penn State’s Most Memorable Teams

Chances are good Daryll Clark and the 2008 Penn State squad will find a place on our list of Penn State’s most memorable teams. The team won the program’s third Big Ten title and finished the season in the Rose Bowl, narrowly missing a chance to play for the national championship after a late-season loss at Iowa. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Kickoff for Penn State’s opening game against Indiana is still weeks away, though chances are this season will remain memorable for many reasons, most of which being the bizarre circumstances that the Nittany Lions will play under.

That’s one way to elevate to “memorable” status,” though there are many others. Success certainly is a good option, with wins being just one way to define that word. The 2012 team that finished 8-4 instantly jumps to mind for obvious reasons.

Starting next month, we’ll rank Penn State’s most memorable teams over the years, and we’ll include insights from the letters that Ridge Riley ’32 and John Black ’62 authored as the Nittany Lions rose to national prominence over the second part of the 20th century. As much time as we’ve spent browsing them, there are still many lessons and stories that are worth uncovering for new generations of fans.

We’ll also speak with some of the lettermen who can share insights about what stood out about those teams: talent, chemistry, off-the-field stories that created bonds.

Fans know all about Penn State’s storied tradition, so there are plenty of teams to choose from. Have a suggestion for who should make the list? Drop us a line in the comments or tag us on Twitter at @PSUFBLetter.


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The Football Letter Live: Week 4

This week’s episode — set for this evening at 8 — features a behind-the-scenes look with the duo that creates each memorable issue of The Football Letter: editor John Black and photographer Steve Manuel.

Tune in and hear about the creative process that goes into each issue along with some historical background and how Black and Manuel are building on the legacy started by Ridge Riley in the 1930s. Manuel will also share insight on some of his top images from over the years, with CEO Paul Clifford facilitating the discussion and questions from the audience.

Alumni and fans can register online or tune in on Facebook at 8 p.m. tonight.


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The Mental Cost

Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18) is hailed by coaches and teammates as having a high football IQ. That quality translates to off the field, too, with the standout bringing attention to the players’ mental health during relentless rumors. Photo by Steve Manuel.

Shaka Toney deserves a lot of credit. Let me tell you why.

First, here’s why Toney should already be on your radar. He’s distinguished himself as a standout along the defensive line, helping to create havoc with his wingspan, reach, and length. 

Toney has a ferocious drive, once registering four sacks in a single quarter, tying the program record in 2018 at Indiana. And coaches and teammates routinely mention Toney’s football IQ when describing why he’s so successful and so valuable to the Nittany Lions, both on and off the field. 

This is the quality that stood out recently, though you could easily argue that the sharp point Toney made goes well beyond football.

First, the background: Toney said this on what ended up being the day before the Big Ten announced that there’d be, after all, a fall season. And he said it amid an unrelenting media storm that featured nonstop inaccurate reports.

“Everyone only thinking about football. The rumors y’all keep putting out is destroying our mental health. Just let them announce it please. If you care about players in the B10 just wait for the answer.”

It’s not clear whether Toney was specifically referencing only the media or also fans, though either way, he’s absolutely right. And in line with his teammates who have participated in social justice rallies and marches this summer, or teammates who’ve promoted a safe return to campus on social media, Toney displayed an incredible level of leadership and maturity. 

No football this season would absolutely be devastating to a lot of individuals and businesses, many of whom are going to feel the effects anyway with no fans attending games, though the would-be impact would hit the student-athletes themselves the hardest. So, credit Toney for speaking up on an issue that some folks still are shy about discussing. Sometimes, it’s easy to recognize why. A quick scroll through the replies to Toney’s post reveals mostly positive responses, though there are a few that weren’t. 

Far and away the most thoughtful article I read during the past month was from Sports Illustrated columnist Matthew Stevens, who authored a selection titled, “The Big Ten Misinformation Campaign by ‘Content Creators’ Needs to End.”

Stevens threaded his column around the chaos caused by all the misreporting and general uncertainty surrounding the Big Ten’s final, not-so-final, decision to not play football this fall. That’s because when conference commissioner Kevin Warren said in August that the fall season was postponed and the decision wouldn’t be revisited, he meant the exact opposite. 

Give Warren and his colleagues credit in continuing to exhaust all options, though he could have said in August that’d be the plan. Here’s something I prepared in a few minutes. I think it would have worked:

Look, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. We’re learning new information every day — every hour in some cases — so please give us a few weeks. In the meantime, we’re going to do everything we can to get our student-athletes competing this fall in a safe manner. As soon as we know more, we’ll let you know, and we’ll be as thorough and decisive as the medical facts will allow us to be. We’ll be transparent to cut down on any rumors, and the only official announcement you should believe will come from the conference offices.

How hard would that have been? Not very. 

Instead, the sweeping statement that sports wouldn’t be happening left a whole lot of folks wondering what was next, and when it would be announced. This is the part of the play where all the writers and reporters rush in with their Twitter accounts. 

Never mind that these scoops everyone was chasing were details everybody would learn eventually. Or that the reports changed so often it was difficult to know which ones to take seriously, if any.

The media deserves the lion’s share of criticism, though the Big Ten deserves some, too, for creating the mercurial scenario in the first place.  

Here’s the point: We heard for weeks on end that at the center of all the discussions were the student-athletes and their well-being. As Toney astutely pointed out, the players’ mental health certainly falls into that category. 

In some ways, it’s pointless trying to blame the media for creating and feeding into a frenzy when expecting anything less is like expecting an undersized running back to protect his quarterback from Micah Parsons. But this situation is worth pointing out for no other reason than we might see a replay next month. 

Yes, Penn State and the Big Ten are scheduled to play a nine-game season. Emphasis on scheduled. Numerous college football games have been postponed because of COVID-19, most recently, Notre Dame’s Saturday contest against Wake Forest. And locally in Happy Valley, State College High School won’t play its Friday night season-opener against Central Dauphin East. The school is still employing remote learning and has approved athletic competitions for contact sports only when in-person learning is taking place. You can read more on WTAJ’s website.

So, if we’re in a similar situation next month leading up to Penn State’s season opener on Oct. 24 — and believe me, I sincerely hope we’re not — with reports swirling about a possible postponement or other changes to the football schedule, let’s remember to act responsibly and with measure. 

It’s for the well-being of student-athletes at Penn State and all across the Big Ten. And after all, that’s what matters most.



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Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 2

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

We start this week’s Penn Staters At The Next Level blog sending our best to Saquon Barkley. 

Barkley left the New York Giants’ loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday with a knee injury and it was confirmed yesterday that he had torn his ACL.

Like everything Saquon does, we know he’ll attack rehab with everything he’s got. We hope he can come back better than ever and we look forward to seeing him star on Sundays again soon. 

With that being said, let’s highlight which Penn Staters stood out in Week 2 of the NFL season. 

Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
Following a strong finish to his sophomore campaign in 2019, Gesicki was a popular candidate to have a breakout season at the tight end position. After a quiet first week, Gesicki exploded in Week 2, putting up 130 yards on eight receptions. 

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

He became just the eighth tight end in Dolphins history to record a 100-yard game and broke a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single game. 

He might have also had the catch of the season with this grab in the third quarter. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Gesicki goes up high for a one-handed catch against Temple

KJ Hamler, WR, Denver Broncos
Hamler missed Week 1 of the season with an injury, but flashed why the Broncos drafted him in the second round of the draft against the Steelers on Sunday. He snagged three passes for 48 yards and also carried the ball once for nine yards.

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

With Courtland Sutton out for the year with a torn ACL, Hamler’s role within Denver’s offense is sure to expand as the season develops. 

It was also nice to see a Nittany Lion reunion of sorts after the Steelers-Broncos game, when Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton and Marcus Allen caught up with one another and grabbed a photo together. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: KJ embarrasses Maryland defense on his way to the end zone

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel

Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
While the Eagles’ early season struggles continued, Sanders’ return to the lineup provided Philadelphia’s ground game a needed boost. Sanders carried the ball 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, and also recorded three receptions for 36 yards.  

Look for him to have another big day in Week 3 against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that gave up 215 yards rushing to the Cleveland Browns this past Thursday. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Miles won’t be denied a score vs. Illinois.

Here. We. Go.

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions will begin their 2020 season on Oct. 24 at Indiana. Photo by Steve Manuel.

There’s a popular meme that’s been circulating on social media over the years, a GIF from Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, “The Dark Knight.”

Heath Ledger’s character, The Joker, looks out across the city landscape while his diabolical plan is underway, and he says with a wave of his hand, “Here. We. Go.”

That’s what this week has felt like for Penn State fans, with the formal announcement that Big Ten football would begin an abbreviated season in late October.

Earlier today, the Nittany Lions’ eight-game regular season was shared, with James Franklin and Co. starting with an Oct. 24 contest against the Hoosiers in Bloomington. The following week, Ohio State visits for a clash on Halloween (Oct. 31), and Penn State will also host Maryland (Nov. 7), Iowa (Nov. 21), and Michigan State (Dec. 12). The Nittany Lions’ other three road games are at Nebraska (Nov. 14), Michigan (Nov. 28), and Rutgers (Dec. 5). Penn State will then play a ninth game on Dec. 19 against an opponent-to-be-determined from the West Division.

Image by Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics

This is all contingent on COVID-19 test results staying within the accepted positivity rates, and you can learn more about the medical protocols at There’s optimism the Big Ten will get through its season, if for no other reason that there’s been a tremendous amount of work that’s gone into ensuring student-athletes have a chance of competing this season, even in a shortened schedule.

Penn State Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour joined this week’s episode of The Football Letter Live, and you can see her appearance on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. She joins the show near the beginning of the episode.

One other noteworthy item from the week: Barbour said that the Big Ten has decided that they won’t allow on-campus tailgating, and fans are encouraged to cheer on the Nittany Lions from their homes or other places where they’re adhering to the local social distancing guidelines that are in place. 

Look at this way: This year’s cheering section will expand across the country. We’re looking forward to hearing everyone roar on Oct. 24.


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The Football Letter Live: Week 3

Big Ten football is back this fall, and so is The Football Letter Live this evening, for the third episode of our inaugural season.

Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour will join the show to discuss the return of Big Ten football and what it means for the University and the student-athletes. We’re also discussing the student experience at Penn State, speaking with student leaders from Lion Ambassadors about the S-Zone. Penn State teaching professor Jon Nese will also join the program.

As a reminder, you can register for the entire season of shows online. Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. to celebrate the return of Penn State football. Register online to watch on Zoom or visit our Facebook page and share your questions in the comments.


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Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 1

Forty Penn Staters hold places on NFL rosters to start the 2020 season, which is good for fifth most in the nation. 

That’s also the most Nittany Lions on NFL rosters on opening weekend since at least 2006. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the standout performers from Week 1 and check the end of this blog for the full list of Penn Staters playing and coaching at the next level.

Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears 

A-Rob had a fruitful opening day performance in the Bears’ comeback win over the Detroit Lions. Robinson II posted five receptions for 74 yards, including this excellent grab to put his team in the red zone late in the third quarter. 

Feel like we’ve seen a catch or two like that before from him.

Trip Down Memory Lane: Allen Robinson II hauls in big pass in 4-OT win over Michigan in 2013. 

Allen Robinson outleaps defensive back to haul in 36-yard pass in final seconds to set up Lions’ final touchdown in regulation time Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Godwin was targeted a team-high seven times by Tampa Bay’s new quarterback Tom Brady and recorded six catches for 79 yards. Big things are expected from Godwin this season after a breakout 2019 campaign, and Week 1 did little to diminish that. As he and Brady continue to develop their rapport, expect Godwin’s statlines to only get bigger and better. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Chris Godwin goes off for monster performance in Rose Bowl. 

Chris Godwin had a record-setting showing in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

John Reid, CB, Houston Texans

While the Texans fell to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on opening night, Reid made a strong impression in his first career game. Reid finished fourth on the team with six tackles and was credited with a quarterback pressure when sent on a blitz from the secondary. 
Trip Down Memory Lane: John Reid’s pick-six fuels big second half for Penn State against Buffalo.

John Reid provided turning a point in the game with his pick-six early in third quarter – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nittany Lions In The NFL
Baltimore Ravens (1): Trace McSorley
Buffalo Bills (1): Ryan Bates
Carolina Panthers (2): Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller 
Chicago Bears (2): Jordan Lucas, Allen Robinson II
Dallas Cowboys (2): Sean Lee, Connor McGovern
Denver Broncos (2): DaeSean Hamilton, KJ Hamler 
Detroit Lions (3): Jason Cabinda, Jesse James, Amani Oruwariye
Green Bay Packers (1): Adrian Amos 
Houston Texans (1): John Reid 
Indianapolis Colts (1): Robert Windsor 
Las Vegas Raiders (2): Nick Bowers, Carl Nassib
Los Angeles Rams (1): Nick Scott
Miami Dolphins (1): Mike Gesicki
Minnesota Vikings (1): Dan Chisena 
New Orleans Saints (1): Blake Gillikin 
New York Giants (3): Saquon Barkley, Cam Brown, Austin Johnson
New York Jets (1): Sam Ficken, Chris Hogan, Ross Travis
Philadelphia Eagles (2): Miles Sanders, Trevor Williams 
Pittsburgh Steelers (1): Marcus Allen, Stefen Wisniewski 
San Francisco 49ers (2): Kevin Givens, Robbie Gould 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3): Chris Godwin, A.Q. Shipley, Donovan Smith 
Tennessee Titans (2): Jack Crawford, DaQuan Jones
Washington Football Team (1): Troy Apke 

Safety Troy Apke brings down Buckeye receiver K.J. Hill – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nittany Lions On NFL Coaching Staffs
Matt Rhule – Carolina Panthers Head Coach
Tom Bradley – Pittsburgh Steelers DBs Coach
Bobby Engram – Baltimore Ravens TEs Coach
Al Golden – Cincinnati Bengals LBs Coach
D’Anton Lynn – Houston Texans Secondary Coach
Mike Munchak – Denver Broncos OL Coach
Jeff Nixon – Carolina Panthers Senior Offensive Assistant
Bill O’Brien (Head Coach 2012-13) – Houston Texans Head Coach

The Football Letter Live: Week 2

This week’s episode of The Football Letter Live focuses on the Alumni Association’s affiliate group network and the inspiring efforts of Penn State volunteer leaders around the world.

Wow, that was fun.

That was the thinking after we wrapped up our inaugural episode of The Football Letter Live last Thursday night. More than a few thousand Penn Staters joined the conversation as CEO Paul Clifford and author John Black hosted this new online venture.

The weekly episodes will continue at 8 p.m. Thursdays this fall, and we’ll share a preview each week on the blog. As a reminder, fans can sign up online for the entire season of shows, which will also be livestreamed on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.

Tonight, it’s all about our affiliate group network, always an appropriate topic for us to discuss at the Alumni Association.

Our network of about 300 alumni groups unite Penn Staters through shared interests, academic colleges, and geographic regions, and you can learn more during tonight’s show or at


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Incoming and current Penn State students competed in the annual water balloon tossing content during the North New Jersey Chapter’s sendoff picnic in July 2019. The chapter’s one of about 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups that unite Penn Staters around the world. Photo by John Patishnock

A New Era Begins

The Football Letter Live_social

You love Penn State football. Of course you do, there’s a lot to love. The Blue Band. The Nittany Lion. Tailgating. The roar of 107,000-plus fans screaming inside Beaver Stadium.

We just need to be patient until we experience that rush again. In the meantime, we’re doing what we can to help fill the void.

One option for fans is tuning in every Thursday night this fall at 8 p.m., when we’ll air our new online show, The Football Letter Live. Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20g and author of The Football Letter, John Black ’62 will co-host, with the duo sharing a preview of what fans can expect to see in that week’s edition of The Football Letter and discussing various areas of impact for the Alumni Association.

Fans can sign up online for the entire season of shows, which will also be livestreamed on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.

Tonight’s episode launches the show with some info on what fans can expect and what we have in store this fall, along with commentary on the postponement of the season and what we’re hearing for alumni. Future shows will examine various areas of impact for the Alumni Association, and our alumni will play a significant role. We love sharing inspiring stories of how our alumni are making an impact, so stay tuned for what should be a fun season of shows.

We’ll send out a blog post every Thursday this fall with details on that evening’s show, and we’re encouraging fans to subscribe to the blog to stay updated. Fans can also submit questions ahead of time, and you can share your questions in the comment section of this post. We’ll be sure to pass them along and get to as many as we can during the show.

This fall isn’t what any of us were expecting, though we’re still talking Penn State football. So, tune in, let us know what you think, and hear from Nittany Lions every Thursday this fall.


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