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


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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

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.


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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Facing an Unfamiliar Fall

Beaver Stadium

Fans will have to wait until at least the spring to see their Nittany Lions play at Beaver Stadium, as Penn State prepares for a fall unlike any other in history. Photo by John Patishnock 

I’m incredibly spoiled.

That probably sounds like a strange way to start a column, though it’s something that I think of constantly. I’m also reminded of this on my daily run around the University Park campus. I grew up in the area, graduated from Penn State, and have plenty of memories of Beaver Stadium, both as a fan while growing up and also covering the team.

Since moving back to State College, I’ve spent the last seven years living in College Heights, right next to campus.

I’ve been a runner for a long time now, going back to my undergraduate days, and my current routine takes me up a few blocks along Atherton Street, where I cross at Park Avenue, and then run the entire length of Curtain Road.

I pass by the Nittany Lion Shrine, University Libraries (Pattee-Paterno), Palmer Museum of Art, and the Berkey Creamery. I keep going until I hit the T-intersection where Beaver Stadium intersects with Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, head to University Drive along Park, and then double back.

Many Penn Staters are able to return to campus only a few times a year. Usually during highly popular events such as the Blue-White Game, Arts Fest, Homecoming, and the seven home football games.

In many ways, this is a lost year for alumni and friends, though I don’t see it entirely that way. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that. Again, I’m spoiled. I have the opportunity to work for my alma mater and see the aforementioned legendary campus landmarks nearly every day.

With the Big Ten football season (and all fall sports) now officially canceled — the conference will regroup and see if the teams can pull off a spring season — Penn State faces a fall unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.

Chances are pretty good the next four-plus months will go by slowly. Campus will probably have something of an eerie feeling at times. As a runner, sometimes it’s nice to feel like I have campus to myself, though I undoubtably miss the buzz that students and visitors create when they swarm back to Happy Valley.

While looking ahead, there are already a few things I believe I’ll remember from this year. And perhaps future generations will benefit, too. Anytime something seismic comes along that fundamentally shifts the way people live and work, and I think a global pandemic counts, changes are bound to happen.

  • Many Penn State football student-athletes speaking up and further realizing the influence they have, and how to positively wield that influence beyond the field. Among other leaders on the squad, team captain Sean Clifford posted a thoughtful message once the cancellation was announced. This followed up similar posts featuring hashtags #IWantToPlay and #IWantASeason, and also imploring fans to wear masks. You can scroll through the Twitter feeds of many of his teammates to find additional examples.
  • James Franklin continuing to be a strong advocate for student-athletes and further cement his status as one of the best coaches in the country, and one who’s not afraid to comment on important issues facing our society. Here’s a message he posted the day before the official cancellation announcement came out. When not saying anything is sometimes the easiest thing to do, it’s heartening to see our on-field leaders speak up.
  • Had the 2020 season continued in the fall, I strongly believe Penn State would’ve made the playoffs. I had this projection in place heading into 2019, and I saw last season unfolding like 1993, which led to the all-time great season of 1994. Just like 1993, the Nittany Lions had a few regular-season losses, though enjoyed a strong finish with an impressive bowl win. There was so much talent on the roster, and over the years, Franklin talks with more and more confidence about how this program is where he wants it to be. One example is agreeing to be highlighted on HBO’s 24/7 College Football program last season. The team had been approached with the request in previous years, though it wasn’t until last year’s campaign that Franklin said he felt comfortable enough to agree to it. How this year’s Penn State team would’ve fared probably will be a lively conversation topic among fans in the coming years.

One last thing I’ll remember: Never take anything for granted. Before this year, I knew I could always count on covering Penn State football in the fall, seeing hundreds of thousands of alumni and fans return to their collegiate home, and see campus come alive again after a laid-back summer.

I knew it. It would always happen. Until 2020.

So when Penn State football returns in 2021, I’ll savor it even more. Until then, I’ll settle for the welcoming views on my daily runs.

Timeless Collectibles

Coke bottles

Like many Penn Staters, I’m spending a lot more time at home lately. I’m fortunate to be able to work remotely, though there’s also been plenty of cooking, baking, and organizing around the house.

Which leads us to this past weekend.

I was helping my parents with some spring cleaning, when I uncovered three collectible Coca-Cola bottles from the 1980s, commemorating the team’s national championship in 1982.

I remember seeing them in my childhood home, and then understandably, I forgot about them. I always thought they were cool, in a sentimental type of way before so many aspects of sports became commercialized.

My parents thought the bottles were worth bringing to their State College home about 20 years ago, and I’m glad they did. We found them in a side closet in the walk-in pantry, behind cans of paint, various cleaning supplies, clothes, and even an old pair of shoes.

But the bottles were there, still unsealed and looking just as cool as ever.

I snapped a photo of the keepsakes on the kitchen counter and posted it to our Twitter account, asking if anyone else still had these bottles in their collection (similar bottles were also produced in 1986). I figured there’d be a handful of replies, maybe even a few dozen.

Instead, we received nearly 100 responses, and the post generated about 8,000 engagements.

Pretty good for a couple of old Coke bottles.

Many of the responses were detailed, with alumni and fans sharing photos of how and where their championship bottles are displayed in their homes. Just the latest example of Penn State fans displaying their passion.

So, that got us thinking: What other cherished items do Penn State fans have in their memorabilia collections?

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter and reply to our posts at the top of the page. We’re looking forward to seeing your responses, and maybe we’ll even see something new.

Of course, the classics are always good. And timeless.

Putting things in perspective

Nick Scott THON (2)

Penn State letterman and team captain Nick Scott danced in THON in 2018, saying that he was inspired to participate after meeting Four Diamonds families during the football team’s annual trip to the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey. Photo credit: Nick Scott via Twitter.

Nick Scott ’19 still speaks with a sense of awe.

THON will do that, giving you a feeling of wonder that perhaps you can’t find anywhere else.

Scott knows that as well as anyone.

If you ever saw him on the football field, or anywhere on campus, chances are Scott was smiling. That was one of the things that stood out about him. Clearly, he loved playing football, and enjoyed being a student-athlete at Penn State.

For most people, that’d be enough. Not for Scott, though. Motivated by the football team’s annual trip to the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Scott wanted to get involved with THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. The annual event at the Bryce Jordan Center is the culmination of a year-round fundraising effort to fight pediatric cancer through research and awareness.

Scott danced at THON in 2018, along with teammate Charlie Shuman ’18, ’19g, saying the team’s trip to Hershey was a huge reason why he got involved. It was in Hershey where Scott first learned what Four Diamonds families go through and the sacrifices they make. He spent time with children going through strenuous battles and listened to their inspiring stories.

Seeing that on the forefront, as he described it, left an impression.

“That was one of my favorite times of the year,” he said last week. “In terms of college kids, we think we go through so much, but in retrospect, it’s nothing compared to what some people go through every day of their lives. Being able to meet people and hear their stories, it motivated me to want to do more to help others with all they may be going through.”

Scott is on the other side of the country now, pursuing a professional football career after the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He talked about his time with THON after a morning workout, saying what he remembers most about dancing is how much of an emotional experience it was.

“You start thinking about how young these kids are and all the things that they go through on a day-to-day basis, yearly basis, and just the strength of the families and the support system they have,” he said. “It creates an extremely high sense of community and love for one another. It just puts things in perspective.”


Scott appeared in all 16 games for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, recording eight tackles and also catching a pass for 23 yards. Photo credit: Will Navarro/Rams.

Scott knows a little something about perseverance, too, albeit in a little different way.

He arrived at Penn State as a running back, and then shifted to the defensive backfield during Saquon Barkley’s highlight-fueled freshman season — Scott once endearingly said, “I tell people all the time, there’s 26 reasons I moved to safety.”

Scott emerged as a standout in the secondary for Penn State, excelling on special teams, too, and earning distinction as a team captain. He was a leader in multiple ways, humble and eager to contribute any way he could. Some players might’ve been stubborn and not wanted to switch positions, for example, while Scott turned the situation into a positive on his way to the NFL.

He scooped a fumble and scored a touchdown against Indiana in 2017 when the Hoosier returner botched a punt, a good example of how Scott always seemed prepared to make a play when called upon. He also sealed a win against Wisconsin a year later with a last-minute interception.

Looking back on this past season for Penn State, Scott jokingly recalled watching the team’s season opener and sounding astonished that the team kept playing — “I was watching the TV, and thought, ‘Dang, even though I left, they still really do go on without you.’”

It was a weird feeling for Scott, who added, “I feel a huge amount of pride for the guys, I know how hard they work, day in and day out,” rattling off a long list of former teammates and defensive backfield mates, including Journey Brown, KJ Hamler, Garrett Taylor, Jonathan Sutherland, Lamont Wade, and others.

“I always look forward to supporting those guys and watching them play,” Scott said. “I think Penn State fans and alumni and lettermen can be excited for what’s in store with Coach Franklin at the helm the next couple of years. We were good this year, but I think this coming season, we can have even more young talent that’ll be old. So, I’m really looking forward to what we got in the future.”

As Scott alluded to, he’s still very much connected to Penn State. That’ll continue next month, when he attends The Hope Gala, an annual THON fundraiser founded by the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter. Both he and Shuman will be there, with Todd Blackledge ’83 emceeing the event on March 21 at Gotham Hall.

Tickets can be purchased online and include dinner, dancing, and a silent auction.

It’s not surprising that Scott continues to make time for Penn State, and specifically for THON. He was friendly and cordial on the phone, and he spoke with enthusiasm and appreciation for his time in Happy Valley.

“I’m always up for talking some Penn State,” he said, “it takes me back.”

This week, all eyes turn to the BJC.

“It’s really beautiful how so many young people can come together for such a great cause, especially at a time like this, where a lot of people see this generation as so self-centered,” Scott said. “To see kids pouring their hearts out for other families and students and children is pretty amazing. It’s a great feeling, and it definitely enhances the Penn State experience.”

Passionate and prepared, McGloin ready for XFL

Matt McGloin_Guardians Twitter (1)

Matt McGloin will lead the New York Guardians into their 2020 season opener Sunday at MetLife Stadium. “It’s definitely exciting to have the opportunity to continue to play this game at a high level, it’s something that I’ve always wanted,” McGloin said after a team practice last week. Photo credit: New York Guardians.

Matt McGloin ’12 figured it was only a matter of time.

He had worked too hard, invested too much time, and overcome too many hurdles to see his professional career end while still in his 20s.

The Pennsylvania native walked on at Penn State, eventually earning a scholarship and becoming a fan favorite for his fiery demeanor and unwavering grit. McGloin maximized his time with the program, working his way up the depth chart, becoming the starter while leading the team through an inspiring and challenging 2012 season and quarterbacking Joe Paterno’s 409th win.

Then, after he went undrafted, he played his way into a starting role for the Oakland Raiders, throwing for 1,868 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games from 2013–16.

Seemingly, there was always somebody ahead of him on the depth chart, a never-ending series of obstacles to sidestep.

However, McGloin kept grinding, still believed, and continued to train while he searched for a roster spot with another team. He competed with himself this past year while out of the NFL, adding five or 10 pounds to his sets, or increasing his workout by a few reps.

Anything to get a little bit better.

Cameras weren’t rolling (he wasn’t doing this for an audience), and his future was unclear.

The entire time, though, McGloin couldn’t shake the feeling that another opportunity was surely on the horizon, right?

“To be honest with you, in the back of my mind, I didn’t believe my football career was over,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d have another chance in the NFL or what would happen with the XFL. I didn’t know, but I didn’t feel like my career was over.”

He stayed positive and remained in shape, doing everything he could to be ready when his next chance arrived.

Last fall, he was proven right.

The opportunity came in the form of a new league with a familiar name, as McGloin was assigned in October to the New York Guardians of the rebooted XFL, which will feature a 10-game regular season starting this weekend.

“It’s definitely exciting to have the opportunity to continue to play this game at a high level, it’s something that I’ve always wanted,” McGloin said Friday, following a team practice.

“I’ve got some experience playing professional football, but I still believe I can get better as a quarterback, better as a player, and better as a leader. That’s my mindset, to improve every day and prove that I can go out there and win games, week in and week out.”

Back in the Huddle

Originally launched for one year in 2001, the XFL is the brainchild of WWE owner and entrepreneur Vince McMahon. The inaugural (and only) season featured some memorable highlights — years later, fans might still remember Rod Smart wearing “He Hate Me” on his jersey — as the league gave many fans their first glimpse of professional football beyond the NFL. Penn State fans might recall that Wally Richardson ’96, ’03g also played in the league, starting most games for the New York/New Jersey squad.

Now, the XFL is back, and so is McGloin, with the Guardians kicking off their season Sunday, hosting the Tampa Bay Vipers at 2 p.m. FOX will broadcast the contest from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Extra special for McGloin, who will wear No. 14, is that his family and friends can watch him play — MetLife Stadium is less than a two-hour drive from his home in Northeast Pennsylvania. Folks have been telling McGloin’s family that they’re heading to the game Sunday, and the proximity takes on even for more significance for McGloin and his wife, Bailey, after they welcomed their first child last year.

In all the excitement and preparation, it’s worth noting that Sunday’s season opener will be the first professional (regular season) action for McGloin since 2016. The last three seasons have seen him sign with a handful of NFL teams — he was briefly reunited with Bill O’Brien in Houston — though nothing stuck. He was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 and it looked like things had worked out, though a late roster cut abruptly changed that outlook.

McGloin figures Sunday will be exciting, and also that he’ll be nervous.

For him, that’s a good thing. It means he still cares about football, that he’s still passionate about the game, that he still craves the opportunity to lead a team.

Matt McGloin_Guardians Twitter (2)

McGloin was assigned to the Guardians in October, designated as a Tier One quarterback by the XFL. Of the eight such signal-callers, McGloin boasts the most NFL experience, throw for more than 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Raiders from 2013–16. Photo credit: New York Guardians.

It’s been a quick turnaround for McGloin and his teammates, and they all understand that. It helps to have a coach with nearly 40 years of experience, he said, mentioning Kevin Gilbride, who coached in the NFL for nearly a quarter-century after some time in college and a few seasons in the Canadian Football League.

Some of the XFL rule changes have been incorporated to make the game faster-paced than the NFL, while also giving teams more of an opportunity to come back. You can check out the complete list online. For McGloin, it means a team is never truly out of the game. For fans, it should translate into a product more conducive to television.

The Guardians have been posting some fun content to Twitter, and there are several videos that showcase McGloin during practice. Of all the Tier One quarterbacks in the XFL, McGloin holds the most extensive NFL experience — most QBs don’t have any experience beyond college and NFL practice squads — putting the former Nittany Lion in position to lead the Guardians to a title.

“Coach Gilbride chose me to be the quarterback here because I can make good decisions,” McGloin said. “I’m accurate and timely with the ball, and that’s the way I play the game. … They trust that I’m going to get us into the best possible play. I think that’s where my game has gotten better, understanding coverages and fronts. That’s what Coach Gilbride has seen out of me.”

McGloin said it’d be unfair to compare the team’s training camp to anything he experienced in the NFL, though communicating is still paramount. Most of the coaches and players don’t have history with one another, though McGloin said that’s what is so special about football.

“You meet different people and work with different people,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic journey so far.”

Penn State family

McGloin stayed busy in the fall, and if you thought you saw him roaming the sidelines at Beaver Stadium, you’re right. After attending the football team’s media day for a local outlet in August, Penn State Athletics asked McGloin to co-host a live postgame show from Beaver Stadium for the 2019 season.

From there, his role quickly expanded, and he spent the season as a sideline reporter for Penn State football, working directly with Steve Jones ’80 and Jack Ham ’71 during broadcasts. McGloin fit right in, looking and speaking the part of a seasoned analyst, also appearing in weekly video previews on the team’s social media channels that feature massive followings.

McGloin provided invaluable insight, teaming with feature content specialist and on-air talent Mitch Gerber to give a firsthand account of what Penn State’s coaches, players, and fans could expect week-to-week.

Speaking about the raucous atmosphere at Ohio State or the famed pink visitor’s locker room at Iowa gave McGloin a chance to discuss his playing career in a way that was always topical and timely, lending an authenticity that you can only get from a player who’s been there, done that.

“He provided a completely different dynamic,” Gerber said, adding that McGloin’s ability to explain complex ideas in a way that makes sense for the average fan is similar to Tony Romo’s approach.

That comparison is notable, considering the former Dallas Cowboy quarterback has quickly ascended the broadcasting ranks ­— he reportedly made more than $3 million last year — and multiple outlets will likely compete over him this year after his contract with CBS expired.

It was fun being back on the field, McGloin happily acknowledged, and he speaks with the thrill of a fan when mentioning the partnership with Jones and Ham: “Those guys are awesome,” he said. “It was definitely a lot of fun and a great season at Penn State. I was really happy to be part of it and watch it up close.”

Part of what makes the broadcasting duo so iconic is that they’re intertwined with Penn State football, and yet they’re also approachable.

McGloin is much the same way.

He’s attended alumni chapter events over the years, with his likable personality and easy demeanor winning over crowds. He definitely has a presence — like any accomplished quarterback — while also remaining welcoming.

He also recognizes the importance of the Penn State network.

Shortly after joining the Guardians, McGloin got connected with the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter, attending a recent alumni event with Bailey and a few team representatives in October.

Set in the city’s meatpacking district, Chapter President Linde Miles ’09 said the happy hour-style event was designed for young Penn Staters to meet fellow alumni and network. It was the first time that Miles met McGloin, and she was impressed, even if the QB wasn’t what she was expecting.

The Guardians’ senior director of marketing emailed her and said that a Penn State graduate with the XFL was interested in attending the event, and he asked if that was possible.

Miles’ reaction? Sure, and she figured it was someone with an administrative position or similar role. Instead, in strolled McGloin, who attended with Bailey and a few team representatives.

Miles instantly recognized McGloin from his days as a Nittany Lion. She had graduated by the time he became the starter, though she returned for a few games in 2010 and 2011 and saw him play at Beaver Stadium.

“We were floored that he would want to come out to an event for our chapter,” Miles said. “Everyone was kind of starstruck, including myself. He was so down-to-earth. They were all really welcoming and wanted to get to know the chapter and what we do.”


McGloin connected with the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter in October, shortly after joining the Guardians. “We were floored that he would want to come out to an event for our chapter. Everyone was kind of starstruck, including myself,” said Chapter President Linde Miles, pictured with the former Nittany Lion.

“It was awesome,” McGloin said of attending the NYC Chapter event. “The Penn State family has always been great to me, and I can’t thank them enough for their support over the years.

“I’ve always said this and have always felt this way: It takes a different person to be a Penn State student-athlete, and a different person to be part of the Penn State family. It’s a special group. The longer I’m out of school, the more I realize how special and important it is. My love for the University continues to grow, and I’m very lucky and very blessed to have attended Penn State.”

The NYC Chapter is planning to attend the Guardians’ home game on April 4, and you can learn more and buy tickets online. Miles worked with the Guardians to secure a discounted group rate, and $3 from every ticket will benefit the chapter’s scholarship fund. Additionally, the first 20 fans to purchase tickets will receive entry into a postgame autograph signing with McGloin and some teammates, and Miles figures it should be a really fun day.

She spoke highly of McGloin, saying “I think his leadership was paramount to the (2012) team continuing to go and push through, and I’m excited to see that leadership again here in the city.”

McGloin is similarly thrilled.

After spending most of his time in the NFL on the West Coast — away from his family and friends — he’s returned home to play in one of the biggest markets in the country for a league that seems primed for a lengthier run this time around.

So no, McGloin’s not done yet, and maybe not for a while. He’s only a few months past his 30th birthday, is still in great shape, and now has an opportunity to quarterback a team to a championship.

More than anything, McGloin has just wanted a chance, and now he has it.

“I was preparing, and now I’m ready for this opportunity,” McGloin said. “I felt like something would come along, I felt like something would happen. That’s always been me. I continued to believe in the process, and I stayed positive, and I’m ready for Week 1.”


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Lamar Stevens’ legacy

Penn State v. Indiana (Photo by Steve Manuel

Lamar Stevens moved into third place all-time in scoring (1,994) for Penn State basketball on Wednesday night against Indiana. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Lamar Stevens has increasingly cemented his all-time standing within the Penn State hoops program this season.

There are the points — he’s now third among Nittany Lions with 1,994 in his career. Stevens also eclipsed the 800-rebound mark in the team’s win against Indiana on Wednesday. Tied at halftime, Penn State outpaced the Hoosiers in the second half for a 64-49 victory, boosted by Stevens’ 17 points, nine rebounds, and four steals.

It was the latest performance in a season that’s shaping up to be Pat Chambers’ most memorable in Happy Valley. In December, Penn State earned a national ranking for the first time in more than two decades, and a likely NCAA Tournament appearance awaits the team in March.

When Stevens opted to return to Penn State for his senior year, these milestones likely represented what it’d take for the Nittany Lions to have a successful season.

Pick up meaningful road victories in the Big Ten. Ascend into the upper half of the conference. Go beyond the NIT and get into the big dance.

Penn State’s accomplished the first two and is trending the right way for the third.

So, the Nittany Lions are on the right trajectory, and Stevens has played a big-time role in positioning the team to play meaningful basketball in late March, something this fan base has been craving since the team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance nearly a decade ago.

Deliver that, and fans will rightly celebrate Stevens for a long time into the future.

However, that might not be where Stevens’ true legacy lies. Or at the very least, those achievements don’t tell the entire story.

The Nittany Lions are on the road for their next two contests, and then return to the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday, Feb. 8, for a game against Minnesota.

The BJC should have a festive vibe, as the team has partnered with Special Olympics and LifeLink for what’s being hailed as “Everyone is Awesome Day.”

The first 1,000 fans will receive a Stevens T-shirt jersey, and the star forward has authored a children’s book, with illustrations contributed by kids with Down syndrome whom he’s met through the team’s community outreach efforts. Copies will be available, and Stevens will have a postgame book signing.

It’s the latest example of Stevens showing how he understands the platform he has, and the impact he can have — especially beyond the court.

From Coaches Vs. Cancer to the annual Buddy Walk, which raises funds and celebrates individuals with Down syndrome, Stevens has become a mainstay in the community.

Sure, he’s a star basketball player; and understandably, that’s how many fans will remember him. But it’s not what defines Stevens as a person.

“Lamar is an incredible ambassador for this university and this athletic department, he’s always giving back,” Chambers said. “I think he recognizes how blessed he is, and he doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s incredibly grateful for being in this position, and he’s always doing something for charities.

“He wants to give back, especially to children. I think that speaks volumes about his character, and how he’s wired, and how he’s made.”


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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Ridge Riley’s timeless question

Road to Number One (1000x)

Even though we’re about a month removed from an incredibly successful (and enjoyable) season, we’re still amazed at how Penn State football unites our alumni network.

We have the privilege of seeing firsthand how much time and energy our alumni volunteers put forth during the football season, organizing events each weekend across the country.

Of course, each Saturday is a lot of fun. Additionally, watch parties serve as an opportunity to leverage the shared passion that Penn State alumni have for football into something that goes beyond the field.

Ridge Riley understood this better than any Penn Stater.

Riley faithfully served the Alumni Association for decades, ending each issue of The Football Letter with, “Faithfully, your correspondent.” He understood his audience and spotlighted what truly matters to Penn Staters, always providing insight that alumni couldn’t find anywhere else.

That’s why we’ll occasionally pop downstairs at the Hintz Family Alumni Center and peruse his book, “Road to Number One.” There are three copies in Robb Hall, two personally donated by the Riley family.

The pages and book covers are worn, a testament to how often alumni and friends will stop by and glance through the book, learning Riley’s perspective as he chronicled the rise of Penn State football from an eastern power into a national force.

Joe Paterno wrote the forward, a thoughtful reflection that included he was the last person to speak with Riley. During one of their many talks, in January 1976, Riley asked Paterno, “Where do we stand? Where are we right now?”

Both an incredibly simple and complex question.

Those were Riley’s last words (he died shortly after from a heart attack), and they’re just as timely now as in 1976. Coming off another 11-win season and NY6 bowl game, James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are primed for their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

That isn’t just the hope, as it certainly seems to be the expectation for the team heading into 2020. Accomplish that, and the program’s third national title is also within reach.

So, imagine someone posed Riley’s question to you, heading into spring practice in a couple months: “Where do we stand? Where are we right now?”

What’s your answer?


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North Texas Chapter offers ‘something for everyone’

Pep band (group photo)

The North Texas Chapter serves an expansive geographic region with a wide variety of events, such as when the chapter’s alumni Blue Band played at the chapter’s sendoff picnic four years ago. All Penn State eyes have been on Texas this week, and the Dallas-based chapter has been ready. 

The North Texas Chapter’s watch party will feel different this week.

The chapter averaged nearly 100 Penn Staters per event this football season, though Saturday’s game will feature some new ambience. Mainly, Penn State football is coming to them.

Penn State is playing in Texas for the first time in nearly a decade, and it’s been a little longer than that (44 years) since the Nittany Lions last appeared in the Cotton Bowl.

Giving it some more thought, “different” might be an understatement.

Suffice to say, our Dallas-based chapter is excited. And beyond that, Chapter President Jeff Zawadzki ’97 understands the opportunity the game provides beyond football.

“What we try to get across to people is we have a broad range of events — you’re going to find something where you fit in,” Zawadzki said. “We work really well with the other Texas chapters and find something for everyone.”

Zawadzki moved to Texas three weeks after graduating from Penn State, and he joined the North Texas Chapter the following fall. As he said, not everybody is a football junkie, so a networking event or community service project will probably be more appealing to some folks. The chapter also hosts a holiday party that attracts local Penn Staters. 

Given the expansive geographic region that the chapter covers, Zawadzki figures the more options, the better. It makes sense.

More immediate, the chapter is hosting an event Friday evening in Dallas, and chances are board members will see Penn Staters who they haven’t met before. Even for new folks they meet during the season, Zawadzki said newcomers are surprised by how organized and produced their watch parties are.

Some games are so packed that there’s standing-room only space, and the chapter uses those Saturday afternoons to recruit new members and renew membership for current members. There are also raffles that support the chapter’s scholarship endowment, which has grown over the years and now exceeds $100,000.

Aside from a few folks who are out of town on vacation, most of the chapter’s board members will be in attendance at AT&T Stadium on Saturday; kickoff is set for Noon ET/11 a.m. CT between Penn State and Memphis.

Zawadzki’s keenly familiar with the area that the chapter serves, and he has nearly two decades’ worth of experience to draw from. He first got involved with the chapter in 2001, and over the years, has helped out with the chapter’s website and social media channels. Zawadzki also previously served as vice president in charge of technology, and this is his third year as chapter president.

He succeeded Craig Micklow, an alumni leader who served as North Texas Chapter president for 27 years. The chapter routinely earns Elm Level distinction, which current Vice President Kurt Heinemann proudly noted Friday morning as he represented the chapter during the Alumni Association’s community service project.

The new year promises more chances for folks interested in joining the chapter, or just learning more. Former longtime Penn State coach and administrator Joe Battista ’83 will visit with the chapter, and the group is also looking at attending a Dallas Stars hockey game.

There’s value in Zawadzki having served the chapter so long before stepping into the president’s role. You see and hear a lot over the years, what works and what doesn’t, etc. The chapter still employs a tactical approach, something Micklow started and which Zawadzki continues.

“I learned things from Craig: how you interact with different vendors and treat those people and build relationships,” Zawadzki said. “Craig is really good at building relationships, and that’s something I took from him. He approached the chapter from a business perspective, and that makes us successful. We want to have some procedures and processes, and it helps it run a lot smoother.

Zawadzki still talks with Micklow and his wife, Judy, who hosted the chapter’s annual student sendoff picnic at their house for nearly three decades.


Alumni leader and former longtime North Texas Chapter President Craig Micklow gave an inspiring speech in 2017, as he accepted the Kay and Ernie Salvino Volunteer of the Year Award.

There’s a strong foundation with the chapter, which oversees an expansive geographic region. There are challenges with that, and chapter is maximizing its footprint by partnering with other chapters in the state for what Zawadzki called a “Texas throwdown.”

Here’s the plan: Each participating Alumni Association chapter in Texas will create a page for its THON fundraiser. Zawadzki said it’s a friendly competition to see who can raise the most money. Sounds like it’ll be a win-win for everyone involved, most of all Four Diamonds families and THON.

As is often the case, football is also a mainstay for the chapter, a connecting point for alumni to get together and catch up. Same plan this weekend, only with tens of thousands of more visitors.

“Dallas-area folks are excited to get out there,” Zawadzki said of Saturday’s game. “We have some alums who can’t make it back to Happy Valley, so it’s nice to see them here locally.”


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Tradition of Giving Back


Nearly 100 volunteers from the Penn State Alumni Association and the University of Memphis Alumni Association teamed up Friday morning at I Can Still Shine, painting walls, organizing clothes, and building shelves. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

This is quickly becoming one of our favorite traditions.

That was the thinking Friday morning at the I Can Still Shine program, where the Penn State Alumni Association partnered with the University of Memphis Alumni Association to give back to the local community.

Nearly 100 volunteers from the two alumni associations painted walls, built shelves, organized clothes, and jumped in anytime something was needed. You can check out some photos here that showcase the spirit of volunteerism, as The Football Letter photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g was on-hand to provide his usual great photos.

It’s the third straight year we’ve partnered with the opposing team’s alumni association at the bowl for a community service project, and it’s a good reminder that alumni and fans can make an impact beyond the field.

We all know Saturday’s game is important, and folks from both sides spoke proudly about their Universities and alumni, and how much fun their seasons have been. We enjoyed meeting Memphis alumni and fans, and some of our colleagues at their alumni association. And the program’s founder, Brenda Jackson, shared how the program supports battered women and their children. It’s an inspiring story, and we hope we helped in some small way.

Each alumni base provided plenty of volunteers, and you can hear from Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and Memphis’ director, Kristie Goldsmith, on our Facebook page.

“Memphis is about giving back, and we love to do this type of volunteer work,” Goldsmith said, as volunteers hammered away and continued with the service.


Volunteers enjoyed a busy morning, organizing clothes for local families that I Can Still Shine supports year-round. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

That selfless mindset was present on both sides, with our North Texas Chapter onsite, too. Vice President Kurt Heinemann ’98 was busy all morning, moving from one side of the building to the other, helping with various projects.

As you can imagine, he and the chapter are excited for the game, and really, for all week. “As I tell my friends, my family is coming down to visit me this time,” Heinemann said, smiling, and he added the chapter will host an event tonight in Dallas.

Just one of many examples of Penn Staters coming together this week. And sometimes, we even include some Tigers.


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