Legendary Perspective

Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham has served as the team’s radio analyst since 2000. Players seek him out for advice on football and life, and head coach James Franklin shares a weekly tradition with Ham, when the two will talk for about a half hour before practice. Along with Dan Connor, the program’s all-time leading tackler who is now a defensive analyst for Penn State, Ham provides first-hand insight to the current team as a letterman. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Spend time around the Penn State football program — even a few minutes — and you’ll run into legendary Nittany Lions. When they played is almost beside the point. Who they played for is what counts.

For example: Dan Connor and Jack Ham.

Connor, a linebacker and the program’s all-time leading tackler, returned in an official capacity earlier this year, as a defensive analyst and analytics coordinator. This was following an NFL career that spanned six seasons and three teams, with Connor having been selected in the third round by the Carolina Panthers.

At Penn State (2004-07), Connor was a force, twice earning status as a First-Team All-American (2006, 2007) and winning the Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player (2007). Why didn’t he also win in 2006, you may be wondering? Teammate Paul Posluszny claimed the honor.

Connor got into coaching immediately after playing, serving posts at West Chester University, Archbishop John Carroll High School, and Widener University — all located in Pennsylvania — in the time leading up to his current role.

Head coach James Franklin heard that Connor would be interested in coming back to Penn State if an opportunity was available, and in February 2022, Connor — who totaled 419 tackles as a Nittany Lion — re-joined the program where he’s still (rightly) held in high regard.

“That guy’s a Hall of Famer, I’m going to ask him as many questions as I can,” said sophomore linebacker Curtis Jacobs, who’s tied for third this season on the team with 17 tackles, adding a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. “I want to pick his brain as much as I can, because obviously that’s an all-time great, and you don’t get a chance to talk to many all-time greats when you’re playing this game.

“So obviously, every time I have a question, just having him in the room has been really important, because even if he wasn’t a defensive analyst, I’d be bothering him with questions when he came back. You should ask Jack Ham how many questions I ask him when he comes on campus. It’s just great to have a guy like that in the room. Obviously a great dude outside of his legacy, very humble guy, and it’s just been great having him.”

That shoutout to Ham shows that Jacobs understands the legacy he’s now part of. Teammate and fellow linebacker Tyler Elsdon similarly will seek out Ham when he’s around.

“It’s awesome to have someone (Ham) like that at Penn State, and every time I see him, I really do try to talk football with him. I even talk about life with him, too. He’s a great person, and he does have a lot of insight.

“He played at a different time, but football at the end of the day, it’s about tackling and blocking. The team that tackles best and blocks best usually wins. He has a lot of great insight and he’s built relationships with a lot of linebackers on the team, and I think he’s been huge. I look forward to seeing him, and I look forward to talking with him.”

The team has a tradition of regularly sharing inspirational and motivational quotes. It’ll be written on the board in a meeting room, with the quote attributed to the person, usually well-known or even famous. Franklin said sometimes players of this current generation won’t always know who the person is, though he said they’ve talked about Ham and his time at Penn State and in the NFL.

Ham is one of only two Nittany Lions who’ve been inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and NFL Hall of Fame — lineman Dave Robinson, who played at Penn State in the early 1960s, is also in that illustrious category — and Ham’s stayed connected over the years as the team’s radio analyst, serving alongside play-by-play announcer Steve Jones since 2000. And when walk-on redshirt senior Drew Hartlaub was awarded a scholarship last year, Ham made the announcement in the locker room, in an inspiring scene that the team shared on its Twitter page.

Franklin and Ham have a weekly tradition, when the Hall of Fame linebacker will stop by on Thursday and ask Franklin questions during a 30-minute walk before practice. Franklin joked that Ham took all of his material recently, when the broadcaster took all the answers from the coach and shared them last week on The Penn State Coaches Show right before Franklin followed him on the weekly broadcast.

That level of banter and mutual respect is one example of how Franklin has bridged the gap between himself and guys who played for the Nittany Lions prior to his arrival in 2014. Hiring Connor, and several other lettermen, is another. At a tradition-rich program like Penn State, making those connections is critical. And Franklin’s done that.

“He’s been great, as you can imagine,” Franklin said in describing Ham’s impact. “Both (him) and Steve Jones, they do a phenomenal job for us just all the time.”

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Penn State Preview: Northwestern

The Blue Band performed prior to kickoff last Saturday against Central Michigan. Penn State is home again this weekend, hosting Northwestern for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: 3:30 p.m. kickoff, against Northwestern, broadcast on ESPN.

Records: No. 11/12 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (1-3, 1-0 Big Ten)

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 306-79.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): It’ll be October, and it’s starting to feel like football season. Temps will be in the mid- to-late 50s with a high of 57, and we’re expected to receive some rain from Tropical Rainstorm Ian. Looks like alumni and fans may want to bring a jacket Saturday.

The line: Penn State -25.5.

All-time series: Penn State leads 14-5 and has won seven of the last nine matchups.

Last week: Penn State stayed unbeaten with a 33-14 triumph over Central Michigan while Northwestern dropped its third straight game with a 17-14 home defeat to Miami (Ohio). The RedHawks kicked a late 36-yard field goal to keep the Wildcats winless since their season-opening victory over Nebraska in Ireland. So, Northwestern is still searching for its win on U.S. soil this season.  

Worth noting: In last Saturday’s win over Central Michigan, senior quarterback Sean Clifford tossed three touchdowns in a game for the 14th time.

Last meeting (2017): Penn State won 31-7 at Ryan Field, with Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley both scoring on the ground to pace the offense. Barkley finished with two scores and McSorley added a scoring toss to DaeSean Hamilton.

Throwback classic (2005): Michael Robinson’s clutch leadership was on display as he led Penn State to a touchdown with less than a minute at Ryan Field en route to the Nittany Lions winning the Big Ten, and then outlasting Florida State in three overtimes in the Orange Bowl.

While Robinson’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams rightly receives plenty of attention, his 20-yard strike to tight end Isaac Smolko in the middle of the field on 4th-and-15 — from Penn State’s 15-yard line — kept the drive going. You can see a condensed version of the game on YouTube.

The lead: If Penn State successfully fulfills their weekly mission — going 1-0 — the Nittany Lions will head into their bye 5-0, and with a probable Top-10 ranking. Waiting for them after their brief respite will be a critical three-game stretch against Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State. The Golden Gophers vaunted into the rankings after trouncing Michigan State in East Lansing last weekend.

On Saturday, if Clifford can even come close to the consistency he’s exhibited so far this season — 12 total touchdowns, only one interception — the Nittany Lions should be able to rotate in a bevy of backups and younger players, positioning the team to have plenty of depth when Penn State encounters the teeth of the conference schedule.

Count on: Hearing a huge ovation when senior punter Barney Amor is announced during starting lineups Saturday. The transfer from Colgate has endeared himself to coaches, teammates, and fans with his surgeon-like precision on the field, and his affable demeanor off it. Daily Collegian writer Max Ralph lists some of the reasons that distinguish Barney on this Twitter post.

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s secondary. The Nittany Lions lead the nation, by a wide margin, with 41 pass breakups. That’s the number they had all last season, and they’re outpacing every other team in the country by 16 in that category.

Academic excellence: A total of 552 of Penn State football student-athletes have earned Academic All-Big Ten honors since 1993 for owning at least a 3.0 grade point average and being a letterwinner.

Trivia tidbit, Part 1: Penn State has one of the best turnover margins in the country at plus-eight. Helping that metric: the Nittany Lions have caused four turnovers in each of the last two games.

Trivia tidbit, Part 2: James Franklin can reach 100 career victories this season. He’s currently 95-49, including a 71-34 mark with Penn State.

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Penn State Preview: Auburn

Ji’Ayir Brown (16) and Tariq Castro-Fields (5) disrupted Auburn’s offense during last season’s 28-20 victory. The Nittany Lions visit Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend for the program’s first-ever trip to Auburn. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: 3:30 p.m. kickoff, at Auburn, broadcast on CBS.

Venue: Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Penn State will play for the first time.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 79 degrees with mostly sunshine.

The line: Penn State -3.

All-time series: Penn State leads 2-1.

Last week: Penn State rolled Ohio 46-10 in its home opener while Auburn collected a 24-16 victory over San Joe State, thanks, in part, to 210 rushing yards.

Last meeting (2021): Penn State used a balanced effort (182 rushing yards/185 passing yards) to delivered a 28-20 defeat to Auburn, which had a last-minute drive thwarted as time wound down. ESPN’s College GameDay was in town for the game, the fifth-straight season the popular production has visited Happy Valley.

Throwback classic (1996): In the teams’ first matchup, Penn State battered Auburn 43-14 in the Outback Bowl, which was played on a rain-soaked field. You can see a condensed version of the game on YouTube.  

The lead: Penn State’s first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium — and the first road trip against an SEC team since 2010 (Alabama) — presents an opportunity for the Nittany Lions to elevate themselves (most likely) into a Top-15 team in the country.

Count on: Penn State to be prepared. Head coach James Franklin said during this week’s press conference that the team practiced with a silent count — with music blaring — during preparation last week leading up to Ohio. Additionally, he said the players will see pictures of the locker room and stadium so the Nittany Lions know what to expect.

Keep an eye on: how many rushing attempts Nick Singleton gets. Franklin has said the team will share carries among the running backs until someone distinguishes themself. Singleton certainly did that Saturday, finishing with 179 yards on 10 carries. Fellow true freshman Kaytron Allen had six carries. Will there be a bigger gap Saturday? Either way, will be interesting to see.

Academic excellence: Per Penn State football’s game notes: A total of 552 Penn State student-athletes have earned Academic All-Big Ten honors since the team began competing in the conference in 1993. Each honoree totaled at grade point average of at least 3.0 while being a letterwinner.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State owns a .714 winning percentage since 2016 (55-22), the ninth-best mark among Power Five programs.

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Family Effort

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter sees his son, AJ (wearing media vest), every day, with AJ interning in the football team’s video department. Along with AJ, Poindexter was joined on the field by his wife, Kimberly, and their daughters, Morocca and Chloe, during Penn State’s home opener Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Photo credit: AJ Poindexter via Twitter

Penn State coaches have long championed the family atmosphere around the football program. Seeing youngsters running through the hallways or joining the players at mealtime are common occurrences.

The thinking is that coaches put in a mountaintop-high number of hours away from home and on the road, so squeezing in family time whenever possible is encouraged.

Turns out that applies to children of all ages.

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter’s son, Anthony (AJ), had an up-close view of Saturday’s home opener against Ohio, a sound 46-10 win for the Nittany Lions.

The teenager wasn’t enjoying a front-row seat in the bleachers, however. He was on the field, shooting the game for the Penn State football video department, where he’s been hired as an intern.

You can see some photos that AJ posted of himself on the field with his family and colleagues below. Included is a family photo of Anthony and his wife, Kimberly, and their daughters, Morocca and Chloe, along with AJ.

An injury derailed AJ’s wrestling career at George Mason, though when he arrived at Penn State, he had the chance to continue his passion for video, which his father says started in high school. Head coach James Franklin knew of AJ’s video expertise and recommended adding him to the program in an official capacity, which has been a win-win for everyone.  

“He jumped on the opportunity, he was so excited,” Poindexter said. “It’s really been good to have him, I get to see him every day in the office. I see him more often now than I did when he was little because he’s at work with me every day. I’m fortunate. I’m blessed that Coach (Franklin) allowed him to come onto the program and he really loves what he’s doing.”

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Penn State Preview: Ohio

Expect a packed crowd at Beaver Stadium on Saturday for Penn State’s home opener. The Nittany Lions (1-0) host Ohio (1-0) for a noon kickoff. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: Noon kickoff, vs. Ohio (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes), broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State will play its 63rd season.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 79 degrees with mostly sunshine.

The line: Penn State -25.

All-time series: Penn State leads 5-1

Last week: Penn State (35-31) and Ohio (41-38) opened their seasons with victories, defeating Purdue and Florida Atlantic, respectively.

Last meeting (2012): Ohio upended Penn State 24-14 in Bill O’Brien’s head coaching debut with the Nittany Lions.

The lead: With a win Saturday, it feels like Penn State should earn a ranking ahead of its first-ever trip to Auburn next weekend. First, the Bobcats, who earned their only win against the Nittany Lions a decade ago.

Throwback classic (1969): Penn State blew past Ohio 42-3 in front of a sold out crowd at Beaver Stadium (49,096) during Joe Paterno’s second straight unbeaten, untied season as head coach. We’ve got the details from the game in this week’s From The Archives feature on the blog.

Count on: packed tailgating crowds, including after the game. Tag the Penn State Alumni Association and The Football Letter in your posts, and we’ll share throughout the weekend. And if you’re watching at home or with one of our alumni chapter, share those photos, too.

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s running back rotation. James Franklin said this week that the team will continue the rotation, so freshmen Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton will continue to gain experience before the meat of the conference schedule begins later this month.

Clear bag policy: Penn State’s released updated its bag policies for Athletics events, and full details are at GoPSUsports.com. Of note: The clear bag policy is more fan friendly and aligns with policies in place for large events around the country, so the size of allowed bags has increased. Clear tote bags, which can be sized 12″ x 6″ x 12″ or smaller, will be permitted beginning this fall. In addition, a 4″ x 6″ x 1″ small clutch or wristlet will continue to be permissible.

New food options: Fans can enjoy loaded pork fries, nachos, and dogs (all separately, though you can always get creative and combine them), and a sausage sandwich, all of which will make their Beaver Stadium debuts Saturday. And don’t worry, the fan-loved chicken baskets are staying. You can get the visuals of all the options on Beaver Stadium’s new Twitter account.  

Trivia tidbit: With the 35-31 victory last week at Purdue, Penn State (910) stayed one win ahead of Nebraska (909) for the seventh-most wins in college football history.

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The Roaring 20: 2022 Fall Semester

The 2022 fall semester has started, and the football season will commence next week. Here’s how the Alumni Association will keep you connected. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

1. The season premiere of Football Letter Live aired a few nights ago — hosted by Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20g and myself — featuring Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics, Dr. Pat Kraft, and letterman Shelly Hammonds. In addition to Facebook and YouTube, each show will also air on Twitter and LinkedIn, and you can register for the entire season on our website.

2. Cool note we learned about Dr. Kraft: His Indiana jersey is on display at Nick’s English Hut, a favorite watering hole among Bloomington locals and IU students, and among visitors. If you’re traveling to IU for the Nov. 5 battle between the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers, we highly recommend stopping there.

3. Speaking of the state of Indiana, that’s where Penn State is headed next week for its season opener against Purdue, a Thursday night kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. We’ll have a game preview posted to the blog in a few days.

4. All Penn Staters (provided we have your email address) will receive The Football Letter game day email Thursday. It’ll include the preview, videos, photos, info on how the Alumni Association keeps you connected to the football program, and lots more. If you’ve changed your email or want to ensure we have your correct address, you can update your info on our website.

5. Alumni Association members will receive the postgame Football Letter email for Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 3. We’re planning to send the email around lunchtime Saturday, and it’ll feature The Letter, an exclusive photo gallery, and plenty of videos and sights and sounds from West Lafayette. Anyone who isn’t yet a member can learn more and join the pride at alumni.psu.edu/YouBelong.

6. Ace photographer Steve Manuel ’84, ’92g will be back on the field this fall for The Football Letter, and you can learn more about Steve’s impact at Penn State on the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications’ website.

7. My superstar colleague Vince Lungaro ’18 will be in the press box this season for The Football Letter, writing the weekly Roaring 20 feature, in addition to posting to the blog and our social channels.

8. We’re fortunate to have a great team at the Alumni Association, and as a group, we’ve updated our game day page that outlines all the ways you can stay connected to the football program. Included on the site is information about this year’s Roar Tour (away game pep rallies), chapter events, and more.

9. The Roar Tour features the Penn State Cheerleaders, Nittany Lion, special guests, and fun, family friendly games. There is no cost to attend, though registration is required. Alumni Association members who attend will receive a commemorative lanyard with this year’s football schedule and roster. You can register now for Auburn (Sept. 17), Michigan (Oct. 15), Indiana (Nov. 5), and Rutgers (Nov. 19).

10. At last count, registration for the Roar Tour at Auburn surpassed 400 people. No surprise there, as we expect lots of Penn State to accompany the team for its first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

11. A significant change — and pretty cool, I think — that happened this year with the Alumni Association is that membership now includes access to our vast network of alumni chapters, at no additional cost or extra steps. Across the country, and the world, our chapters host football watch parties during the season. You can view a full list of chapters on our site. Chances are there’s one near you.

12. ICYMI: We posted a couple features to the blog this month. One focuses on what motivates players, and the common theme that emerged was family. The second article spotlights kicker Jake Pinegar, and his mindset as his role on the team shifted last year.

13. Penn State’s home schedule features seven games. You can see the entire lineup on our Twitter account, along with a view of Beaver Stadium.

14. About every three months or so, we switch up our profile photo on Twitter to feature a letterman. Currently, we’re spotlighting Curt Warner, one of the best running backs in program history. An astute fan pointed out the photo is possibly from the 48-14 rout of then-No. 1 Pitt in 1981.

15. You can see the team photo for this year’s squad on our Twitter account. We snapped the image during the team’s recent photo day at Beaver Stadium.

16. Hear from head coach James Franklin, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in our media day highlight video.

17. Earlier in August, we hosted the Alumni Leadership Connections Conference. The two-day event provided opportunities for our alumni leaders to network, share best practices, and hear from alumni experts. The conference is largely made possible by the generosity of Jim ’83g and Kathleen Stengel ’84g, who met at Penn State while studying in the Smeal College of Business. Jim is one of the world’s most expert marketers — he led two keynote sessions during the conference — and after an incredibly successful career as an executive at Proctor & Gamble, he’s now the president of his own company. He also hosts The CMO Podcast, interviewing the world’s most foremost marketing experts. Many thanks to Jim and Kathleen for their ongoing support. You can view a group photo of this year’s conference and video highlights from a fun day at Tussey Mountain on our Twitter page.

18. Lion Ambassadors welcomed first-year students earlier this week at Rec Hall, during Be A Part From The Start. The event features our student leaders, lots of Penn State Athletics teams, and introduced students to many Penn State traditions. You can view the entire event on our YouTube page.

19. A few days later, Blue & White Society — the student chapter of the Alumni Association — continued the good vibes during BASH, held at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. You can view photos and a video from the event on our social channels.

20. Thank you for reading, watching, and otherwise staying engaged with the Alumni Association and University. We’re thrilled to keep you connected with The Football Letter and the overall football experience that includes our Roar Tour stops, chapter events, and all the other ways you can get involved. If you ever have any questions or want to share any feedback, you’re welcome to email me at jmp411@psu.edu. We hope to see you and hear from you this season and beyond. We Are …

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Motivating Factors

Penn State quarterback Christian Veilleux finds motivation through “All the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here. I think that’s what drives me. Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing.” Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Winter workouts. Summer camp. Fall camp. Early mornings. Late nights. Blood, sweat, and tears, as the saying goes.

Football student-athletes endure a lot.

So, what drives them and keeps them going when they don’t feel like it? Turns out, many of them have the same answer: family.

A sense of commitment, a sense of loyalty, a sense of wanting to make good on the sacrifices made on their behalf.

Look at senior linebacker Jonathan Sutherland and sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux, for examples. Both originally from Canada, they each moved away from home as teenagers to pursue their dream of playing Division I college football.

It’s worked out for both of them, thanks in large part to their families supporting them in numerous ways.

“My journey really, being where I’m from and all the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here, I think that’s what drives me,” Veilleux said in May during a freshmen media session. “Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing. My parents have sent me here, I’ve done so much, so for me, I’ve got to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.”

At 16, Veilleux moved from Ottawa and became a two-year letterman at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. He and his parents figured moving to the U.S. early would eventually happen. At home, he trained at Gridiron Academy, and with a trainer who helped Canadian student-athletes transition to playing Division I football or enroll at prep academies. So, he said, the path was already laid out, which explains why he didn’t need to convince his parents or put up a fight.

“My parents said, ‘Yeah, let’s send our kid away at 16 years old,’ not a lot of parents can do that, right? So for them to do that, have confidence in me … they sacrifice a lot for me, so I’ve got to get it back in return for them.”

Last season, Veilleux became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown in eight years (Christian Hackenberg). He actually threw for three scores, taking most of the snaps in a late-November home contest against Rutgers. Penn State won 28-0, and that game became known as coming amid a horrific flu bug that sidelined many players on the team.

“Thursday was a good day,” Veilleux said, recalling the lead up to Rutgers. “Friday is when everybody went down. Our whole QB room came in with the flu. Our training room looked like a hospital. Everybody had IVs hooked up to them. It looked bad, man, I didn’t know what was going to happen Saturday.”

Saturday unfolded fine for the Nittany Lions, as Veilleux finished 15-of-24 for 235 yards and no turnovers. The exact type of performance you want anytime, and especially toward the end of the schedule against a team that’s overmatched.

He wasn’t fazed, even when he slipped near the south end zone tunnel after the game. For a half-second, he stayed down, acting like he almost intended for the spill to happen. That kind of calm demeanor is the result of growing up sooner than most people your age, the result of moving away from home, and accepting an increased level of responsibility.

“I had to be smart, I had to be mature, and I had to make decisions that would keep me down there (Maryland) and keep me in school and keep playing football so it definitely made me grow up,” Veilleux said of moving away from Canada. “It definitely helped with my game. I think that’s the point where I realized I had to be more of a neutral emotional guy on the field, so not get too high, not get too low, always stay at the same level.”

You can hear more from several players, who spoke about what motivates them prior to this summer’s Lift For Life event at the Lasch Practice fields. Sutherland’s entire video focuses on this topic, while both junior safety Keaton Ellis and junior tight end Brenton Strange share what motivates them in addition to other topics. You can jump to the 3:08 and 3:15 marks, respectively, to hear Ellis and Strange share what drives them.

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Relationship Builder

In his short time back with Penn State men’s basketball, Adam Fisher, front, helped bring in the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry said: “He’s a people person and our guys love him. I think the players that he’s recruited, they love him.” Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Adam Fisher has a close relationship with his players. 

Exactly how close? 

“I probably hear from him more than I hear from my mom, honestly,” senior guard Jalen Pickett said. “I hear from him four, five times a day about something. He loves us and he’s a great guy. He pushes me to be better with honesty and the truth with film.”

Fisher’s been back at his alma mater for about a year and a half — serving as associate head coach of the men’s basketball team — and in that brief amount of time, his ability to connect with players on a personal level has bolstered the Nittany Lions’ roster. 

Pickett, for example, one of Penn State’s all-around leaders last year, transferred to Happy Valley after three years at Sienna. Pickett noted Fisher’s the one who reached out to him about becoming a Nittany Lion. Fisher also serves as Pickett’s academic advisor, with Pickett and his teammates receiving regular invites over to Fisher’s house. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Pickett said: “I think me and Fish have a great relationship.”

When Micah Shrewsberry arrived in Happy Valley in early 2021, Fisher was his first coaching hire. A 2006 Penn State graduate, in addition to experience as a student and graduate member during his undergraduate days, Fisher boasts coaching stops at Villanova and most recently at Miami, Fla. He also returned to Penn State for a few seasons in 2011-13 for roles as video coordinator and director of player development. 

“That’s my guy,” senior swingman Seth Lundy said of Fisher. Lundy’s capable of playing both guard and forward, starting 30 games last year as the team’s second-leading scorer (11.9) and third-leading rebounder (4.9). “He was recruiting me when I was in high school at Miami. Even though I committed to Penn State and he was at Miami, he still saw the potential in me and he’s just that type of guy.

“He’s a great coach but he’s also a great guy off the court. Definitely last year, I built a stronger relationship with him, watching extra film with him, talking to him about my game. We also talk about a lot of stuff off the court. Building that relationship off the court definitely builds that confidence with the coach.”

Fisher, while with Villanova from 2007-09, earned a master’s degree in education leadership. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Shrewsberry added this assessment, during a media session earlier in July: “He (Fisher) brings a lot of different elements to our program from the coaching side, the player development side, the player relationship side and then the recruiting side. I talk about it, our whole staff, we’ve got some bulldogs on the recruiting trail, these guys really really work to build relationships, not just with players, with everybody around that player and everybody in that player’s family and I think that’s a strength of his. He’s a people person and our guys love him. I think the players that he’s recruited, they love him, so he’s easy to root for.”

After the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, Shrewsberry recalled how he recruited Fisher. The two had recently driven around Indianapolis during the Big Ten Tournament, when Shrewsberry — recently named as the head coach at Penn State — was on the phone with Fisher, who was at Miami, coaching with the Hurricanes.

“I’m glad that he came back,” Shrewsberry said during the recent media session at the Bryce Jordan Center. “One day, he’s going to be a head coach, and he’s going to be gone. But what he’s doing right now for us, is he’s laying a great foundation for this program in terms of what he’s done on the court and off the court and, it’s paying huge dividends for us.”

Senior guard Jalen Pickett finished last season as one of just six active Division I players with 1,500 career points, 500 career rebounds and 500 career assists, and one of only two to reach all three marks in just four seasons. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Part of that groundwork shown last season, when the Nittany Lions allowed only 65 points per game, lowest in the Big Ten and the program’s best such number in 11 years. Moving forward, the team adds the program’s best-ever recruiting class, signed in November 2021 and ranked as a Top-30 class by the nation’s top recruiting sites.

After the media session on July 19, practice was open to the media. It was a whirlwind, like a hockey game. Constant motion, mostly taking place at one end of the court, with barely a few seconds in between stops.

At one point, Shrewsberry stopped drills to let the guys know the importance of communicating with each other. Another time, to emphasize the benefits of landing on two feet when delivering a pass.

In the middle of it all was Fisher, who while with Villanova from 2007-09, earned a master’s degree in education leadership. In some ways, Fisher looks unassuming, almost like he could be a fifth-year senior who’s on the team. Though over the last decade and a half, he’s amassed a wealth of experience.

He’s worked with Hall of Fame coaches and made the Final Four (Villanova, 2009). He’s held seemingly every job possible within a college hoops program. And now, he’s back where it started for him, guiding the current generation of Penn Staters.

“What really sticks out to me is when he invites us over (to his house) and really just wants to get to know us, and how we’re really doing, with dinners, different things like that, just talking to us,” Pickett said. “He’s a really great guy.”

Penn Staters can learn more about Fisher at GoPSUsports.com, with additional practice photos below. You can click on individual photos to see the full-size version and scroll through the gallery. Photo credit for all images goes to John Patishnock Jr.

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Higher Calling

Football letterman and two-time Super Bowl champion Stefen Wisniewski was among a group of impressive Penn Staters that received the 2022 Alumni Achievement Award earlier this year. In his acceptance speech, Wisniewski talked about his strong faith, which has led him to a second career as a pastor, before formally accepting the award from then-Penn State President Dr. Barron.

Stefen Wisniewski possesses an unwavering sense of purpose, which helps explain why there wasn’t any hesitation about his plans following pro ball.

In August 2021, Wisniewski announced his retirement from the NFL, also sharing that the next step in his life is to become a pastor. Wisniewski’s strong faith, evident in his retirement note and video, was also prominent in March, when the Penn State Alumni Association recognized the two-time Super Bowl champion with the Alumni Achievement Award.

A 2010 graduate from the College of Education, Wisniewski was nominated by the Schreyer Honors College, with the Alumni Achievement Award going to alumni 35 years of age and younger for their extraordinary professional accomplishments.

Wisniewski certainly fits that category.

Over the course of a highly successful 10-year NFL career, he starred as an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Oakland Raiders after being drafted 48th overall in 2011. He played in three Super Bowls, winning two — LII and LIV with Philadelphia and Kansas City, respectively.

In college, Wisniewski continued a family legacy at Penn State. He was part of the 2008 Big Ten Championship team that played in the 2009 Rose Bowl, and the 2009 Capital One Bowl winning team. He was a first team AFCA all-American 2010, an ESPN Academic All-American in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman” in 2010. Additinally, Wisniewski is an active volunteer for the Schreyer Honors College, appearing on the Following the Gong podcast to mentor Schreyer Scholars.

Also, notably in 2007, Wisniewski was the first true freshman to start along the offensive lineman for Penn State since 1999.

Penn Staters can learn more about Wisniewski at GoPSUsports.com, as his bio begins with: It would be nearly impossible to try and top the Penn State student-athlete experience Stefen Wisniewski has assembled over the past three years. He has maximized his opportunities on the field, in the classroom and in serving others.

You can view Wisniewski’s acceptance speech on the Alumni Association’s YouTube page. As much as his words, Wisniewski’s presence stands out. Humble, articulate, funny. Wisniewski — whose father, Leo, and uncle, Steve, both lettered for the Nittany Lions — was all of that and more.

In the photo below Wisniewski displays his Super Bowl rings, one of which has a Bible verse, Romans 11:36, inscribed on it. In his acceptance speech, Wisniewski explained both the verse itself —

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen
.

— and the personal meaning the verse has for him. Toward the end of his remarks, Wisniewski said:

“I really believe I came into this world with nothing. I’m going to leave it with nothing. Everything I have while I’m here, I really believe is a gift from God.”

Wisniewski displays the two Super Bowl rings he earned during his NFL career. In addition to the award ceremony in downtown State College at The State Theatre, honorees and their guests enjoyed time together at the Hintz Family Alumni Center.

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The More Things Change

Stories from a 1961 issue of The Penn Stater featured game day traffic patterns, insight from Penn State’s football coach, and schedule notes. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Many of the similarities were striking.

For anyone who’s enamored with the history and tradition of Penn State — the football program and University — the connections to yesteryear will probably evoke affectionate chuckles more than anything else.

Alumni and fans were informed of new traffic patterns on game day, the football coach wondered how the sport’s new rules would impact his team, and the University president was concerned with the rising cost of tuition.

Stories detailing these topics appeared in The Penn Stater in 1961, specifically the September and December issues. I was transported back to this time after my parents recently picked up these Penn State artifacts at an antique shop in the Harrisburg area.

The find prompted some thinking on our part. At the time, what is now the Penn Stater magazine was called Penn State Alumni News. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that former Football Letter editor John Black, who previously oversaw the magazine, renamed the publication to The Penn Stater. The current edition of the magazine stopped italicizing The a number of years ago.

However, there’s a note in each issue detailing that the early 1960s version of The Penn Stater is mailed four times a year — March, June, September, and December — “by The Pennsylvania State University in the interest of Penn State alumni.” Longtime Alumni Association leader Ross Lehman is listed as editor, with Ridge Riley noted as executive secretary. This rendition of The Penn Stater was in its 24th year of publication in 1961, taking its origin back to the late 1930s. The current edition of the Penn Stater began in 1914.

News of the day in the 1960s featured some of the same topics that are timely today, in addition to light-hearted topics such as the popularity of milk. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

There are promotions for The Football Letter, an area titled News of Alumni that’s “condensed from the Penn State Alumni News,” and a sidebar with quotes from Rip Engle, preparing for his 12th year as head coach. Engle shared his thoughts on new rules enacted for the upcoming college football season. One-platoon football was again the norm, as unlimited substitutions went away — players played both offense and defense, unheard of for today’s game — and the two-point conversion was an option at the time.

At first, Engle wasn’t a fan of the platoon change, but he came around, saying that “unrestricted substitutions would mean bigger squads and bigger coaching staffs with offensive and defensive specialists. We would be spending too much money because of the increase in the overall size of the program.”

I’ll pause here to allow the reader to think about how much the game has seismically shifted since that time.

The platoon rule was changed again a few years later, and in 1965, teams once again featured separate offensive and defensive squads.

Here are a few editorial highlights:

  • At the time, tuition cost $525/year for in-state students and $1,050 for students from elsewhere. “Tuition and room-and-board charge cannot go much higher,” President Eric Walker said, “without seriously affecting the ability of our young people to enter college after high school.” Tuition rose multiple times from 1947-61, with President Walker adding, “It must stop soon or a college education no longer will be within reach of the family of modest means.”
  • A prominent headline reads, “University Outlines New Routes to Beaver Stadium to Ease Football Game Traffic,” adding that “five attractive home games” will most likely lead to record attendance numbers and extra traffic. Detailed traffic patterns, complete with color codes, topped the article, as that season, Penn State hosted Navy, Army, Syracuse, California, and Holy Cross. In case you’re wondering, the Nittany Lions defeated all those teams except for Army. After going through the requisite details of what to expect from game day traffic and how to alleviate it, the article ended, “And here’s a final suggestion, as practiced by many people last year: get to the stadium at noon, or even earlier, and bring a picnic lunch. You will have no traffic problem and plenty of time to admire the scenery.”
  • On the lighter side, a news item declares, “Milk a Popular Drink.” Numbers were provided to ensure this wasn’t opinion, but fact. Male students eating in the University dining halls consumed an average of 10 quarts per week, while coeds were close behind with an average of 8.5.

Check out more photos below:

Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

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