From the Archives

Beaver Stadium, as seen during halftime of a game in 1968. If you look closely, you can see the Blue Band performing. Photo credit: Penn State.

Ever since this blog’s beginning nearly a decade ago, we’ve had a recurring feature called “From the Archives,” featuring previous game summaries authored by Ridge Riley ’32 and John Black ’62. You can read our entire collection of From the Archives stories on the blog.

The main reasons for the series were to highlight our rich archives and showcase lettermen from previous generations. We’re continuing the series, though in a different way. Instead of a weekly blog story, we’ll have regular posts on The Football Letter Twitter account, and you can see recent examples of John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, and John Urschel, just to name a few.

One of the reasons for the transition is that with the addition of Football Letter Live, we’re routinely featuring lettermen each week, and we’re now able to include standalone images and expand the photo collection we can pull from. Another example includes this aerial photo of Beaver Stadium from 1968. The image is from this Penn State Flickr gallery, and we’ll share other photos from the collection this season.

I’m a member of several Penn State-themed Facebook groups (OK, probably all of them), and I regularly see compelling images from Penn State football’s past. There may be occasions when I’ll ask to run that photo on the blog and our social accounts, and we’ll always do everything we can to give appropriate photo credit. We’re not looking to monetize anything, just focus on the rich tradition of Penn State football.

Have a compelling photo from your personal archives, or a family photo you’d like to share? Send it to with the subject line “From the Archives” and we may feature it in the future.

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Live From University Park

Football Letter Live returns this fall, airing at 7 p.m. Thursdays on YouTube and Facebook. Free registration is available for the entire schedule, with a weekly link provided to everyone who signs up.

This has been said many times, though it’s still worth repeating: Penn State football is special for so many reasons, both on and off the field. Highlighting those reasons is really what drives Football Letter Live, which debuted last season and is back again this year. Our season premiere episode is this Thursday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., and will feature Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour, letterman wide receiver Jordan Norwood ’08, and Madison Chapter President Phil Bower ’99, ’01g.

You can visit the show’s landing page to see the guest lineup and also to register. When you sign up, you’re registered for the entire season’s worth of shows and will receive a link each week for the upcoming episode. We’re broadcasting on a new virtual platform this season (StreamYard), which allows us to share questions and shoutouts on screen, along with a running ticker at the bottom.

In addition to submitting comments when you register, you can also share questions/shoutouts in the chat area of YouTube and Facebook — where the show will be live streamed — and we’ll get to as many as we can each week. We want the audience to not just watch, but also be part of the show. We’re aiming to have each interview be more of a discussion than a straight-forward Q&A, and we’ll be sharing plenty of videos and photos on screen during the show.

This is a big weekend for Bower and his group, with Penn State visiting Madison for the season opener against Wisconsin. The game will kick off at noon (ET), 11 a.m. local time, with the Madison Chapter and the Alumni Association co-hosting a mixer Friday night. That event is already sold out, and last week, we also reached capacity for our game day pep rally. So, it’s pretty safe to say that Penn Staters are ready to cheer on the Nittany Lions.

We’ll ask Bower what this weekend means for the chapter and how they hope to capitalize on it — the alumni mixer usually benefits a scholarship or similar fundraiser, and with Wisconsin being in the Big Ten Western Division, the Madison Chapter can’t count on seeing Penn State every other year.

Alumni and fans can tune into the premiere episode of Football Letter Live this Thursday evening at 7 to hear from Jordan Norwood and ask the standout wide receiver questions about his time at Penn State and in the NFL. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Norwood, meanwhile, has successfully transitioned into his post-NFL days by launching a photography business while also investing in real estate, among other entrepreneurial pursuits. That’s not to gloss over his collegiate and NFL career. He was a standout receiver for the Nittany Lions from 2005-08, and then enjoyed an NFL career highlighted by a Super Bowl victory. In that game — which saw Norwood’s Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50 — Norwood set a Super Bowl record for longest punt return. He also has deep ties to the State College community, and we’ll cover all that and more.

As expected, Barbour’s been busy with the fall sports season underway, and she covered plenty of topics earlier this month during a conference call with the media. You can see the entire discussion on our YouTube channel, and be sure to check out Thursday’s episode to hear more from her, along with our game preview and ways that you can connect with alumni in your area and support the Nittany Lions.

The season of Football Letter Live should be a fun time. We hope to see you Thursday evening and all year long.

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Wednesday Night Lights

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions continued fall camp at Beaver Stadium on Wednesday night. Franklin said the team will practice at the stadium again Saturday, mirroring the game day routine at Madison for the Sept. 4 opener against Wisconsin, including going through the pregame meal and walkthrough. Photo credit: John Patishnock

The aura of Beaver Stadium is always there. Always. Even when the place is nearly empty. Actually, perhaps especially when it’s nearly empty.

That was the scene around 9 p.m. Wednesday night as Penn State was finishing practice and the media portion was waiting to start. The photo above was taken from the north side of the stadium, right at the back of the end zone. From there, you could look out and imagine all the great plays and noteworthy Nittany Lions who have elevated the program to where it is today.

Today, Penn State’s ranked again in the AP preseason poll and is nearing the end of fall camp, which means gearing up for the first game week of the season. Following the work out — which the media saw for the first 20 minutes — head coach James Franklin said that the team would practice at the stadium again Saturday in preparation for the season opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 4. It’ll be an 11 a.m. local kick, and Franklin said the Nittany Lions will mirror the game day routine. That’ll include the pregame meal and walkthrough, and then the team will scrimmage at Beaver Stadium at the exact time that the game will kick in Madison to help the players’ body clocks get acclimated.

For someone’s who as dedicated to details as Franklin, that shouldn’t be surprising. You can watch Franklin’s entire post-practice presser below, courtesy of Penn State Athletics.

Along with Franklin, tight ends coach and letterman Ty Howle, tight end Brenton Strange, and safety Jaquan Brisker also chatted about the progress the team’s made so far in camp. I asked Howle if he’s had much of a chance to talk with fellow lettermen who are back with the team in coaching roles, and if so, if he’s noticed certain themes that bond lettermen from different generations.

“Absolutely,” said Howle, who mentioned a few times how much he’s thrilled to be back at his alma mater. You can watch Howle’s media availability below, also courtesy of Penn State Athletics, and my interaction with him begins shortly after the 6:00 mark.

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Kicking off the fall sports season

Junior defensive midfielder Devon Olive attempts a shot on goal during the Penn State women’s soccer match against La Salle on Aug. 22 at Jeffrey Field. The Nittany Lions won 4-0 to improve to 2-0 on the season, following up their victory the previous Thursday, the first Penn State Athletics sporting event of the fall semester. Photo credit: John Patishnock

And just like that, we’ve launched off the starting block.

“We’ve” in this case is referring to the Penn State Athletic varsity programs, though even broader, it also applies to the entire State College and surrounding community. After 18 months of watching the Nittany Lions sports teams on TV and live streams, alumni and fans once again soaked in the sights in person, with the Penn State women’s soccer team getting everything started last Thursday with a 3-1 win over UMass at Jeffrey Field. The Nittany Lions followed that up with a 4-0 blanking of La Salle on Sunday, also at Jeffrey.

Head coach Erica Dambach has achieved so much success that such victories are commonplace (though should always be appreciated), and also noteworthy was the tangible start to what can, and hopefully will be, a mostly healthy fall sports season at Penn State.

Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour mentioned Dambach’s team’s opening match in her welcome remarks with the media during a conference call last Saturday, saying:

“So, we’re off and running, and it really is about looking forward, but forward is always informed by the past. Certainly, it’s been a challenging and difficult year and a half, but as an optimist, I think you look at it as how much we’ve learned, and we’ve learned a lot.”

Barbour said it’d be “a huge mistake” not to bring lessons learned into this new sports season at Penn State, mentioning health and safety standards and other things that she and her colleagues have learned about themselves and each other and society.

Keeping with the soccer theme, I used my question to ask Barbour about Dambach, and what Barbour sees from her behind the scenes and away from the field that leads to so much success for the national champion (2015) and two-time Olympic medalist (2008 Beijing, gold; 2020 Toyko, bronze).

You can watch Barbour’s entire press conference on our YouTube channel. My Q&A with Barbour begins around the 36:05 mark.

Dambach’s squad is back in action Sunday at Jeffrey Field, with a 5 p.m. start time against Hofstra. You can view all the sports schedule’s at All you need to do is hover over the “Teams” tab at the top and all the varsity sports programs’ links for schedule and roster will appear.

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Meet Your 2021 Nittany Lions

Penn State players, coaches, and staff gathered at Beaver Stadium for the team’s annual photo day, which features plenty of time for everyone to get photos with family and friends, in addition to the official photos by position group and other categories. Photo credit: John Patishnock

What a special day for the players and their families.

That’s the feeling I had as I was leaving Beaver Stadium today, after the media portion of the football team’s annual photo day concluded. Media had about 90 minutes to watch, grab some photos and videos, and see the Nittany Lions in a somewhat relaxed environment. Just as important as anything, coaches and players had the opportunity to have their family members and friends at the stadium for photos. Seeing the pure joy and enthusiasm on the faces of parents, brothers and sisters, and other family members is always special.

The atmosphere at photo day is a combination of graduation and the first day of classes. There’s plenty of excitement, some goofiness, and maybe even some wonder about what the future will hold.

Associate head coach and letterman Terry Smith ’91 (center) and the team’s cornerbacks took time out Saturday to pose for a group photo. In addition to the official team photos, players and coaches also get plenty of photos on their phones during the day. Some are serious, some are light-hearted, though all are good memories. Photo credit: John Patishnock

After the Blue Busses pulled up to the stadium to drop off the players, everyone gathered in the north end zone for the official team photo. It’s not an easy task to take that large of a group photo, and there’s a fair amount of last-second shuffling, though everything is worth it to get that shot.

Looking across the field at Beaver Stadium, there’s plenty of talent on this squad, and head coach James Franklin has assembled an impressive coaching and support staff. Included among that group is letterman Alan Zemaitis ’05, who returned to his alma mater earlier this year as an assistant recruiting coordinator. During media day, defensive coordinator Brent Pry spoke highly of Zemaitis, called “AZ” for short, for his energy. Smith added that Zemaitis especially epitomizes one of the team’s four core values: have a positive attitude. Even though he’s been in his position for not quite six months, it’s clear Zemaitis has already had an impact.

Letterman Alan Zemaitis ’05 was back on the field at Beaver Stadium, where he excelled as a second-team All-American and three-time all-Big Ten selection at cornerback. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Penn State opens the season Sept. 4 at Wisconsin, with a noon (ET) kickoff, 11 a.m. local time. The week after, the Nittany Lions begin a four-game home stretch against Ball State, Auburn, Villanova, and Indiana. You can check out the entire schedule at GoPSUsports, with kick times and TV info still TBD for most of the games.

As always, we’ll keep alumni updated and connected as we roll through the season.

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Penn State Football Playlist

As promised, we’ve been bringing alumni and fans plenty of video coverage as Penn State gears up for the 2021 campaign, and this will continue all season long.

The video above features sights from media day earlier this month. We take fans onto the field at Beaver Stadium, have some interviews, and then head over to Lasch for the second practice of fall camp.

One of the most popular videos we’ve shared so far features associate head coach and letterman Terry Smith ’91 from media day. Smith eloquently described the impact that Penn State’s had on his family, and how that legacy continues with the current roster, as his nephew Tank’s on the team as a sophomore running back. You can view that video of Smith on our Twitter account.

The video of Smith was incredibly popular with Penn Staters, as the video surpassed 250,000 impressions on our Twitter account. I’m the first one to acknowledge that numbers don’t always tell the entire story, though that one felt like it was worth sharing.

We also chatted with defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who’s quickly becoming a fixture in Happy Valley, as he’s going into his eighth season, having arrived with James Franklin in 2014. In addition to Smith, several more letterman have joined the coaching staff or have been hired in other roles, such as Alan Zemaitis ’05, who returned to his alma mater earlier this year as an assistant recruiting coordinator. Alan, or “AZ,” as he’s called by his nickname, has contributed right away.

You can check out the video below to hear Pry’s perspective on what it means to have several lettermen back with the program.

You can watch more of our conversations with Smith and Pry on our YouTube page, which will feature some of the longer-form videos that don’t fit within Twitter’s time limitation.

Other videos we’ve shared to social include a slow tilt of Beaver Stadium on an early-morning summer day, and weekly hype videos that count down to Penn State’s season opener. Here’s the one we posted this morning, signaling that the season opener is two weeks away.

As a reminder, you can bookmark our 2021 YouTube playlist, which we’ll be updating regularly throughout the fall. We’ll have at least a few hundred posted by the end of the season, and most likely more.

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Updated Landing Spot

Capturing the sights from game day has been a key component of The Football Letter for a long time. Check out the updated Football Letter landing page for more information about the member benefit. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

One of our favorite and most popular episodes of Football Letter Live last season featured our legendary team of editor John Black ’62 and photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g. The duo discussed the way they approach covering the football team and the in-depth collaboration that goes into each edition of The Football Letter.

There were also plenty of laughs.

As someone who’s been incredibly fortunate to travel and work with both John and Steve over the years, I’ve gotten to know them a little bit. Their tireless dedication has been inspiring to see, as there have been many early mornings, late nights, rental cars, and connecting flights. Through it all, you always get the sense there’s no place else they’d rather be or anything else they’d rather be doing, and that enthusiasm makes a difference. In a lot of ways, their passion comes through in The Football Letter, and I’m confident many alumni and fans would agree with me.

There’s a lot of thought, energy, and effort that goes on behind the scenes, and on the episode, they shared some memories and stories, along with many of Steve’s most memorable photos. If you missed the episode or want to check it out again, you can see it on our YouTube page.

Along these lines, we recently updated The Football Letter landing page, thanks to some wonderful team members we have at the Alumni Association who oversee and maintain our website. The updated page shares more about John and Steve, along with links for additional stories and details on the two and their accomplishments. There’s also some info on Ridge Riley ’32, who started The Football Letter in 1938. Ridge’s achievements were so vast that University Libraries has a collection of his papers on file.

Stay tuned this fall for more of everything you enjoy about The Football Letter. The season opener will be here before you know it.

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Media Day Sights and Sounds

Linebacker Ellis Brooks (left) and safety Ji’Ayir Brown celebrate during Penn State’s second fall practice Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Lasch Practice Fields. The Nittany Lions opened fall camp the day before, and earlier on Saturday, James Franklin and the team met with the media to look ahead to the 2021 season. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Wow, did it feel good to be back at Beaver Stadium.

True, the media and a small group of fans were present in April for a few spring practices, though Saturday brought with it all the familiar sights and sounds that appear, or rather re-appear, when a new season can be seen on the horizon.

The next best thing to being there is actually feeling like you were. That’s where we can help (we hope). Our ace photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g was onsite at Beaver Stadium for the media portion of the day, before catching the late-afternoon practice over at the Lasch practice fields. You can check out some of Steve’s photos on Twitter, and we’ll be sharing more images in the weeks to come, both on social and on all our Football Letter platforms. First, you see images from practice, and if you scroll down just a bit, we also have photos from the media day session at the stadium.

We got to the stadium early Saturday, which we find is always beneficial. Before the on-field interviews started, we had a few hours to record lots of video in the stadium, which we’ll share throughout the year, especially on this season’s episodes of Football Letter Live. And even before then, we captured some cool sights from outside and around the stadium. Alumni will definitely see those shots this fall, too.

You can see our highlight video on Twitter (it’s also on Facebook), and the video takes you onto the field at Beaver Stadium, where you’ll see the iconic place from some different angles. Alumni will also hear from associate head coach and letterman Terry Smith ’91, senior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, and senior quarterback Sean Clifford. We end the video at Lasch for the second practice of the fall, and you’ll see players going through drills and finding some rhythm in preseason camp. There’s some cool natural sound, particularly on the Jugs machine, which fires footballs at receivers and defensive backs to help with their reaction time.

During the media session, Terry gave an incredibly insightful answer about the impact Penn State has had for him, with numerous generations of his family having graduated from the University. That legacy continues with the current team, with his nephew Tank Smith occupying a spot on the roster as a sophomore running back. Toward the end of the media session, I asked Terry if “Tank” was a nickname, and if so, what’s the story behind it. The response was so heartwarming, which anyone who knows Terry has come to expect.

His brother named his son after Terry, “because he loves his brother,” Terry said, speaking of the relationship he has with his sibling. So, Tank was named Terry, and then he physically grew into the stature of a tank, So, the nickname came along, and has stuck. That’s why on Penn State’s roster, you’ll see No. 38 listed as Tank Smith.

Tank grew up in Pittsburgh, where Terry is a legend, particularly in the high school ranks. Many Penn Staters are familiar with Terry’s background and long-standing success in the commonwealth, though for anyone who wants to learn more, you can visit his official bio on Vince Lungaro ’18 chatted further with Terry, and you can read that Q&A on the blog.

Saturday was busy, fun, and productive. And best of all, it’s only the start of what’s sure to be a fun, exciting, and successful fall on the gridiron in Happy Valley. Stay tuned. There’ll be many more videos, photos, and stories to share this season.

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Letterman Terry Smith ’91 is one of several former Nittany Lion players on James Franklin’s staff for the 2021 season.
Image Credit: Penn State Athletics/Mark Selders

As Penn State gears up for another season, where stars like Jahan Dotson and Jaquan Brisker will look to cement their legacies in Penn State history, there is also plenty of that history on the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff in the form of former lettermen.

Players who spent their college careers suiting up for the blue and white, running out of the same tunnel Dotson, Brisker, and the rest of the 2021 team will go through in a few weeks for the home opener against Ball State. 

James Franklin has built a staff from his connections from all over the college football world, but he’s also recognized the importance of Penn Staters who have a deep connection to the program from their time as players. 

Former lettermen on Franklin’s staff include Terry Smith (associate head coach/cornerbacks coach), Ty Howle (tight ends coach), Deion Barnes (graduate assistant), Wendy Laurent (assistant offensive line coach) and Alan Zemaitis (assistant recruiting coordinator). 

Going into his eighth season as a member of the coaching staff, Smith was of course a standout receiver for the Nittany Lions from 1988-91.  

I caught up with Terry at the team’s Media Day on Saturday to talk about the importance of having Penn State lettermen as a part of the staff, what he learned going through the COVID-altered 2020 season, and more. 

As always, thanks to Terry for taking the time to chat. 

What did you learn about yourself as a coach going through such an altered season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

TS: “You just had to learn to do things a different way, to teach a different way. Whether that was Zoom or just teaching at a distance like we’re talking right now. It really helped me realize that you don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s the way you’ve done them your whole life. I think that helped our program change some things and do some things a different way. That’s going to help us advance in the future.”

Does the team’s process of preparation have to change at all knowing your opening up the season against a Big Ten opponent? 

TS: “No, our process is the same. Each week we’re trying to go 1-0. That opponent who is first, they’re the most important part of our focus. Training camp right now is to make sure we have a foundation set for the season. Whether it’s Wisconsin or someone else, all our focus is going on 1-0 to start things off.” 

How would you assess the cornerbacks group that you’re working with this season? 

TS: “I feel really good about the whole back end of the defensive backfield. With the corners, I feel like I have a lot of depth. There’s six guys that have played a lot of college football, including Johnny Dixon, who played at South Carolina. I’m excited for the competition this camp and we’ll let the field sort through all of that. Especially excited for Tariq Castro-Fields, who’s played a ton of football here and has been successful. Joey Porter had a breakout year last year. Daequan Hardy is our returning starter at the star spot. There’s a lot of guys competing to get back on that playing field. No job is given. They all have to earn it.” 

Image Credit: Penn State Athletics/Mark Selders

How important is it to have guys like yourself, Deion Barnes and Ty Howle on staff, who have been a part of this program as players and might understand what it means to play here just a little bit more? 

TS: “It’s essential. We’re former Penn State lettermen. Who knows this program better than us? We played on this field at Beaver Stadium. We walked those same paths in the hallway and the locker room. We can tell players what Penn State can offer from personal experiences. I like to give my testimony: my dad went here and is a ’68 grad, I’m a ’91 grad, my son was an ’07 grad, my daughter Haley is here in the WorkLink program, my nephew (sophomore running back) Tank Smith is on the team. Penn State is a great place and my family is a testimony of how great Penn State is. When you come to Penn State, it’s a 40-year decision, not just a four-year decision.”

You mentioned Tank, what’s it like to have him a part of the team and getting to be around him as he gets his own experience within Penn State?

TS: “My nephew, he’s doing a great job over there (on offense). He knows his role on this team and understands it really well. He’s a major contributor for us. I’m happy for him and happy he’s here.”

Continuing to connect alumni to the football program

Penn State opens the 2021 season at Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 4. The game is scheduled for a noon (ET) kickoff. Photo credit: John Patishnock

It’s August in Happy Valley. Finally. It’s that time of year.

The significance of the upcoming football season has created even more excitement than usual, with fans returning to Beaver Stadium and the promise of another potential run at the Big Ten title for the Nittany Lions. Of course, that’s for fans to discuss. James Franklin and his team are focused on getting 1 percent better every day, and when you look at the results during Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley, that approach has worked. Part philosophical, part logistical, with an emphasis on laser focus on the task at hand.

For the team, that next task is the start of fall practice for the 2021 season, happening today. Then tomorrow, Franklin and the team’s three coordinators will each address the state of the program and answer questions during the team’s annual media day at Beaver Stadium.

Everything’s set to start around lunchtime, with on-field interviews afterward with nearly everyone in the program available for Q&As. The on-field interviews are one of my favorite times of the year. Players are certainly focused, though there’s also an inherently relaxed feel. Have an off-beat question for a player, such as “What’s your favorite restaurant in town,” or “Who’s the best dancer on the team?” Media day is the time to ask. Those really aren’t the types of questions you ask players when the team is preparing to play Ohio State or Michigan.

Still, there’s plenty of chances to gain real insight, often in 1-on-1 or small-group settings with the players and coaches. It’s also an opportunity to introduce yourself and see how much the players enjoy spending time with another. There’s joking, usually lots of smiles, and you also need to keep an eye out if you’re handling a camera. Sometimes players will try to playfully distract a teammate during an interview by squeezing a water bottle nearby. Seriously, it’s happened more than once.

We’ve got plenty planned for you this fall with The Football Letter. John Black ’62 will share his invaluable insight each week in the member-benefit Monday email, and world-class photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g is behind the lens again this fall, capturing images that bring John’s words to life. We’re also continuing the game day email sent each Saturday to members and nonmembers, and that’ll include a game preview, that week’s episode of The Football Letter Live — which will be hosted by myself and our CEO Paul Clifford ’20g — and other exclusive features from the blog.

Also worth noting: We’re adding significant video coverage this year, starting at media day and continuing throughout the season. We’ll take you onto the field and show you what it feels like to be at Beaver Stadium on game day, share interview clips, and highlight why Penn State football is so special, for many reasons both on and off the field. My colleague and former Daily Collegian sportswriter Vince Lungaro ’18 will be onsite at media day, along with myself, John and Steve, so keep an eye on our channels this weekend and in the coming weeks for all the sights and sounds.

Speaking of The Football Letter Live, you can now register for the entire season’s worth of shows, for free. Sign up today on our website, and you can click the Guest Lineup tab to see the schedule. Some of Penn State’s all-time great players will be on, along with inspiring volunteer leaders. We’re introducing a new virtual platform, which allows us to have a running ticker and on-screen banners, and there are a lot of fun times in store on all of The Football Letter channels this fall.

The opportunities extend beyond Happy Valley, as we’re hosting a free pregame event at each of the team’s five away games. Registration is free and also required, and you can learn more and sign up today. Whether it’s virtual or on the road, or if you’re replying to or sharing one of our social media posts, we hope to see and hear from our alumni this football season. Penn State football unites our Nittany Lion global community, so everything is all the more special if you’re along for the ride.

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