Lifelong Service to Penn State

John Black (center) has shared this will be his last season covering Penn State football, his 46th year as editor of The Football Letter. Prior to the home finale against Rutgers last month, John’s family joined him in the press box for a ceremony recognizing his inclusion on a commemorative plaque. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

John Black, legendary Penn Stater and lifelong ambassador for the University, has announced 2021 will be his last season covering Penn State football for The Football Letter, a member benefit of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Black, a 1962 Penn State graduate who served in the U.S. Marines, walked onto the Penn State football team and served as the editor of The Daily Collegian for two years after initially joining the student newspaper as a sportswriter. In his role as editor of The Football Letter, Black covered Penn State as the team rose from an eastern power to a nationally premier and globally recognized program throughout the decades. Notably, he authored Football Letter columns from Penn State’s national title wins in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and 1987 Fiesta Bowl — sharing a firsthand account with alumni and fans.

Black has covered the last 564 Penn State football games out of the 1,355 games in Penn State’s illustrious 135-year gridiron history, saying “I have always tried to write about the game For the Glory of Penn State.”

After graduation from Penn State in 1962, Black went to work for the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, D.C., when Edward R. Murrow was the director. He covered the civil rights beat from 1962-66, when USIA sent him to New York to be a United Nations correspondent for USIA, covering meetings and actions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Human Rights Commission, and other international organizations headquartered in the United Nations Building in New York City.

Black accepted the position as editor of the Penn Stater magazine in 1970, then rose to become the deputy director of the Alumni Association. He formally retired in 2001 and stayed on as editor of The Football Letter in a volunteer role, assuring the continuation of the historic publication.

“John’s lifelong commitment to Penn State and her alumni is unparalleled having served the Alumni Association in an official capacity for parts of seven decades,” Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford said. “I count myself among the lucky Penn Staters to have had the chance to serve this great University with him. His legacy is in the lives he touched, the people he made feel special, and the countless stories he has told that live forever as part of the lore of Dear Old State.”

“I think a tremendous responsibility comes with that,” Black said in 2014 of writing The Football Letter, “because you’re doing your job and really following through on trying to be the eyes and ears at the game for all avid alumni and fans. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Black, the longest-tenured beat writer, has carried on the legacy and original mission of Ridge Riley, a 1932 Penn State graduate and longtime Penn State administrator. In 1938, Riley created The Football Letter, the longest-running publication of its kind in the country, to ensure alumni would remain connected to the football program. The week after each contest, alumni and fans across the nation read an eyewitness account of each game. Since this was before the invention of television and decades before the proliferation of media coverage, The Football Letter often served as the sole source for Penn Staters to follow the football team and learn in-depth details that Riley shared from being in attendance.

As Black began his first season authoring The Football Letter in 1976, he wrote the last chapter of Road to No. 1 after Riley’s death in early January 1976. Written by Riley, Road to No. 1 is the most comprehensive book ever written on Penn State football and includes a foreword from Joe Paterno. Riley and Paterno spoke often, with Paterno seeing Riley as a father figure and an integral part of the program as editor of The Football Letter. Black worked off Riley’s notes and consulted with Riley’s wife, Margaret, to ensure the book was finished and ready for publication.   

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can,” Black says. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Black has remained active with the Alumni Association since retiring from his full-time responsibilities, attending events and meetings, where he remains a popular conversationalist, speaker, and guest. Recently, he authored a column in the January/February 2020 issue of the Penn Stater, marking the 150th anniversary of the Alumni Association. In the article, Black shares:

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can. It’s not just going for a big tailgate and walking in to see the game as something that goes on, and then going home. For me, it’s been an opportunity to really closely follow the exploits of the Penn State football team.” The full article is available to read online.

Black’s name was included on the groundbreaking installation of a commemorative plaque in the Beaver Stadium press box, recognizing him for serving on the press corps for 25-plus years. The plaque was unveiled prior to this season’s home finale against Rutgers, and you can see a video and photos of the ceremony on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. Additionally, in 2020, Black co-hosted the inaugural season of The Football Letter Live, a weekly online show that’s part of the recent expansion of the publication.

Black spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps before coming to Penn State and becoming editor of The Daily Collegian, as a student, and, eight years later, of the The Penn Stater magazine as an Alumni Association staff member. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

The Football Letter will continue to remain an Alumni Association member benefit, with the game day emails, Football Letter Live, and additional components all returning next season.

John lives in State College with his wife, Veda Kay. They enjoy attending campus and athletic events, traveling, and spending time with their three children and eight grandchildren.

For more on The Football Letter, including how Alumni Association members can access archived issues, visit the Alumni Association’s website.

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Officially Official

Last month, James Franklin and Penn State agreed to a 10-year extension that outlines ways the football program will compete 365 days a year. This wasn’t news for the players on the team and incoming recruits, as Franklin had kept everyone updated. Now that the contract is official, the direct feedback Franklin’s been receiving has been positive. Photo credit: John Patishnock

James Franklin isn’t going anywhere.

While there may have been doubts among various sections of the fan base and other stakeholder groups, the current team and incoming recruits knew this all along. Beyond generally saying he’s handling things in-house, Franklin didn’t publicly comment in recent months while national writers and commentators pushed out the same tired storyline of him possibly leaving for another school.

Maybe that’s because he didn’t feel the need to say anything. If so, he was right.

He’s indicated time and again over the years — through both his actions and his words — that he’s committed to Penn State. You don’t passionately advocate for improving the infrastructure of a program, finally get everything in place, and then start all over somewhere else. And for what it’s worth, I don’t buy that USC is a more attractive job than Penn State. If you want to live in L.A., more power to you, but even that has its drawbacks.

The reasons why Penn State is a better job than USC (or LSU) is a topic for another column. For now, what’s important is that the lengthy extension didn’t come as a shock to the people inside Lasch. So, for all the misguided questions about distractions this season, it’s easy to argue that factors outside the team’s control, such as injuries, played a much bigger role this fall than anything else.

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are preparing for their fifth consecutive New Year’s Six/New Year’s Day bowl. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

“The recruits, I think there is a sense of relief,” Franklin said Sunday evening. “They were all informed the whole way, but, when you’re seeing things in the media, and when you also see so many other places and so many coaches say that they’re not doing anything and then they do, it gives you pause. So I understand that. As much as I’m talking to these families and kids and explain it to them, what’s going on in the process, it still makes them feel better when they see it come out publicly.”

Want to see the ripple effect of jumping from coach to coach? Look at Nebraska, Florida State, Miami, or Texas, among other programs that are now a shadow of their former selves. For all the angst concerning the team this season, Franklin and the Nittany Lions are preparing to play in their fifth straight New Year’s Six or New Year’s Day bowl. That a 7-5 record was enough to get Penn State playing in the Outback Bowl underscores the strength of the program that’s been built and maintained ever since Franklin arrived in 2014.

Critical observation is good (I feel) in all aspects of life. You don’t improve without identifying how you can improve. Whether that’s with your goals re: health, finances, business, or in leading a college football program.

What’s even better is direct feedback from people who self-identify as being in your corner. Franklin has built a good rapport with a group of lettermen that includes Anthony “Spice” Adams, LaVar Arrington, and Brandon Short. They’ve spent time around the program and like the approach that Franklin and his administration are taking.

One reason for the support is they’ve seen how things are done with the current staff. The day after the game against Michigan last month, Adams visited Franklin in his office and told him, “‘Coach, I love what you’re doing with the winning and those types of things, but it’s the other stuff. It’s how much you care about the kids,'” Franklin said, relaying the conversation.

“The impact that Penn State had on him, the impact that the coaches had on him, I think that’s something that’s resonated with me since I’ve come back to Penn State: is how important the entire experience is for Penn Staters,” Franklin continued. “For our lettermen, for the people in the community, the type of young men we recruit, the families that we joined with — all of those things are important. So, the feedback from the lettermen and things like that has been really good.”

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Giving Themselves A Chance

Micah Shrewsberry and the Nittany Lions men’s hoops team battled LSU on Friday night in the Emerald Coast Classic. The four-team tournament’s taking place in Northwest Florida State’s gym, with Penn State pushing LSU to overtime with a buzzer-beating basket before falling 68-63. Photo credit: Penn State Men’s Basketball.

Micah Shrewsberry sounds confident. The way his team plays explains why he feels that way.

Penn State men’s basketball is spending the holidays in Northwest Florida, as part of the four-team Emerald Coast Classic. The Nittany Lions will spend some extra time together, staying several days as opposed to the typical overnight trips for a standard game on the schedule. Along with team bonding, these games often serve as guideposts for how the team will fare in conference competition.

Based on Friday night, Shrewsberry will have his team ready.

The Nittany Lions’ first opponent was LSU, which finished 19-10 and won an NCAA Tournament game last season. The Tigers were 8-point favorites, though entered the locker room at halftime facing a 32-29 deficit. In a game with plenty of crucial possessions, Penn State didn’t flinch, sending the game to overtime at the buzzer after Seth Lundy caught a carom in midair and scored on a put-back with one-tenth of a second left.

Lundy was one of four Nittany Lions to score eight-plus points, with Jalen Pickett (14), Sam Sessoms (13), Myles Dread (13), and Lundy (8) the top scorers for Penn State.

“If you look at this game, how LSU wants to play, if you look at the scores that they’ve had, you look at what they do, we turned this into a Big Ten game. That’s what we do with our defense,” Shrewsberry said after the game on a media call. “If we defend like this, you give yourself a chance every single night, and this is going to be the Big Ten. … So this is great preparation for us.”

To Shrewsberry’s point, the over/under for this game (the expected number of points scored for both teams) was 141.5. If you’re wondering how it’s possible to score a half-point, that’s purely for betting purposes. Even with the extra period, Penn State and LSU scored 10 less points combined than expected.

That’s what Shrewsberry was talking about when he said Penn State turned this into a Big Ten game. In LSU’s first five games, the Tigers scored at least 74 every time out, including 101 in their season opener. Overall, LSU averaged 85.4 points coming into Friday night’s contest. Penn State held LSU to 58 points in regulation, 27 points below the Tigers’ season average.

Pretty darn impressive. You can check out Lundy’s buzzer-beater and the team’s game graphic below. We’ve also included our full Q&A exchange with Shrewsberry, so you can see the entire context.

Q: Micah, I ask this question especially within the context that the Big Ten now plays a couple conference games in December: When you have a game like tonight where there are so many crucial possessions, how much does that prepare the guys for the upcoming Big Ten season?

A: “You know what, for us, if you look at this game, how LSU wants to play, if you look at the scores that they’ve had, you look at what they do, we turned this into a Big Ten game. That’s what we do with our defense. If we defend like this, you give yourself a chance every single night, and this is going to be the Big Ten. These are going to be the wars like this in the Big Ten, so this is great preparation for us. Who’s going to go to the glass as hard as these guys? Well, Michigan State will on Dec. 11. We’ve got to get EJ Liddell off the glass but he’s shooting 3s just like (Darius) Days was tonight. So, this was great practice for these early Big Ten games that are coming up. But the effort that we play with, what we did tonight effort-wise, what we did against Cornell the other night, effort-wise, that gives you a chance. That gives you a chance in the Big Ten, and that’s all we’re asking for. We want a chance to compete.”

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By Any Means Necessary

One way Penn State wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield connects with his players is by getting actively involved at practice. In late October, he played the role of a defender while demonstrating techniques at the Lasch Practice Fields, going up against KeAndre Lambert-Smith (13) and the receiver corps. Photo credit: John Patishnock

At a quick glance, you might’ve thought Taylor Stubblefield was one of Penn State’s receivers.

The second-year position coach and Washington (state) native dropped back and leaped for the ball, just as sophomore wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith turned back and brought in the reception beyond the outstretched arms of Stubblefield, who also doubles as Penn State’s offensive recruiting coordinator.

To clarify, Stubblefield is a receiver. One of the best in the history of the Big Ten, in fact. Stubblefield played for Purdue from 2001-04, when he amassed a mind-boggling 325 catches for 3,639 yards and 21 touchdowns. He caught 16 scores in his senior season alone. At the time when he graduated, he held the record for most receptions in the history of college football. Currently, his receptions mark ranks his sixth. His career yards were (and still are) second all time at Purdue and in the Big Ten.

In other words, Stubblefield knows what it takes to come down with a catch.

At Purdue, Stubblefield was a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, as a senior in 2004. Photo credit: John Patishnock

The scene we described above took place in late October at the Lasch Practice Fields, and Stubblefield recalled the workout when asked about it last week on a media call. Earlier in the day, before that evening’s practice, Stubblefield said he was thinking about what he wanted he and the receivers to accomplish during individual time with his position group.

There’s a “by any means necessary” mantra that the receivers use, Stubblefield said. That’s a mentality, though there’s also technique involved. And if he can get out on the field and let his receivers see in addition to hearing, there’s inherent value in that approach.

“The wide receiver position is a very demonstrable position,” Stubblefield said. “As a coach, the more that you’re able to demonstrate some things along with the talking, I think is very beneficial.”

He explained that when you look at NFL receivers who have an extremely high contested-catch percentage, subtle (or not so subtle) factors, are crucial. And speaking of the NFL: Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss became known for incorporating this approach, one where you outmaneuver the defender by technique, by motivation, or even by getting inside the defender’s head.

Tight end Tyler Warren (44) leaps for the ball as Stubblefield oversees a drill in late October. Photo credit: John Patishnock

“We have a phrase — ‘by any means necessary’ — when that ball is in the air, by any means necessary, we need to try and go get it. It is a mentality, but there is some technique, some drill work that you can do to once again put your guys in position so that they can know how to control their bodies.

“You see across the National Football League, guys that their contested catch win percentage is extremely high, and it’s because of either the way that they go back and attack the ball, it’s the way that they catch the ball and adjust in the air its the way that they move their inside shoulder in a particular way just to give themself a little bit more space from the defender so thats what that drill was about.

“And quite frankly, it’s fun. I’ll talk a little trash while I’m doing it because I want them to say, ‘You know what, I’m about to Moss Coach Stubbs right now,’ and that’s OK.”

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Rutgers

The Football Letter editor John Black (center) was recognized during a special pregame ceremony Saturday in the press box. John’s name is included on a commemorative plaque honoring members of the press corps who have covered Penn State football for 25-plus years. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Check out this week’s Roaring 20 to see, hear, and feel what it was like to be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon for Senior Day and the Military Appreciation game against Rutgers. We’ve also embedded a few extra videos and photos for you.

1. Saturday was a special day for John Black, author of The Football Letter for the past 45 seasons. John’s name is included on a commemorative plaque that was unveiled in the press box during a pregame ceremony, and you can see a video of the recognition on our Facebook page. We’ve also got photos on our Twitter page.

2. John didn’t have any idea the recognition was happening, and his family helped facilitate the surprise. His son, Brian, secured a press box pass to ensure John was in the press box early enough, and his wife, Veda Kay, apparently told John that she was heading to McConnellsburg on Saturday. John even got up at 5 a.m. Saturday to fill up the car with gas and check the air pressure in the tires. You can see John’s surprise starting around the 45-second mark of the video.

3. It’s worth noting Football Letter creator Ridge Riley’s name is also engraved on the plaque, along with a dozen or so additional reporters.

4. Special thanks to Penn State Associate Athletics Director Kris Petersen and Associate Director Greg Kincaid for leading the ceremony and honoring John and Ridge.

5. Jahan Dotson caught his 23rd career touchdown Saturday and the first from freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux. The score places Dotson in third place all-time at Penn State, breaking a tie with Deon Butler, whose single-game record for receiving yards Dotson broke earlier in the month against Maryland.

6. After the game, Dotson said Veilleux looked poised, and “poised” is the perfect word to describe the freshman’s performance. Veilleux was solid, made the right pass at the right time, and located receivers downfield. On his 67-yard touchdown pass to Malick Meiga, Veillex confidently stepped up in the pocket, something that isn’t always a given for a first-year player.

7. Going back to Dotson, he celebrated with fans afterward, with some encouragement from James Franklin. We captured the entire sequence, and there’s something about those tunnel lights that make the footage pop.

8. Watch the latest clip to the end to see Sean Clifford embracing both Dotson and Franklin. Clifford was among the group of nearly three dozen players who caught a virus this week, and he came out of the game after the offense’s first few series. Speaking to the media after the game, Franklin said he went to Clifford and said he was pulling him for Veilleux, and Clifford responded by saying he understood. Tough week and a tough season for Clifford, who hasn’t backed down at all. Hopefully, he’ll be healthy enough to go Saturday against Michigan State.

9. Undoubtedly, one of the best stories this season for Penn State is Arnold Ebiketie. The senior transfer from Temple has become a defensive force and fan favorite for the Nittany Lions. Ebiketie’s recorded a tackle for loss in seven straight games, and he increased his team-high sack total to 9.5 on Saturday.

10. Following the alma mater, Ebiketie celebrated with fans and autographed the sign that members of Nittanyville had made for him this season. You can check out that sequence on our Twitter page.

11. We also spoke with Ebiketie after the game, and you can see that video on YouTube. Ebiketie discussed his emotions on Senior Day and that shortened clip is available on our Twitter page.

12. Experience the sights from game day by seeing the alma mater, team entrance, and James Franklin ringing the Victory Bell.

13. For the clip with Franklin, we again encourage you to watch until the end. The guy’s got hops.

14. Malick Meiga and Parker Washington have the very real potential to provide one heck of a 1-2 receiving combo in the years to come. Meiga is 6-foot-4, and Washington has made tough catches in clutch situations all season. Those two will be a lot of fun to watch next season.

15. The announced attendance Saturday exceeded 106,000, which helped Penn State averaged 106,799 fans in seven home games this season. That mark is the seventh-highest average in program history and best season average since 2009, per Penn State Athletics. A year removed from no fans at Beaver Stadium, and the economics, social, and community impact of those numbers can’t be emphasized enough.

Shoutout to the tailgating crew across from parking space No. 5219. Pictured are: David, Ashley, Mallory, Mark, Juli, Matt, and Rebecca.

16. Last week, I mentioned the tailgating group right across from me. I chatted with them again Saturday, and the photo above shows the entire crew. They asked me to take a group photo of them, which I was happy to do. They’re moving to a new lot next year, though they’ll still be within easy walking distance. I may have to make my way over sometime next season and take them up on their offerings of food and conversation.

17. Penn State letterman and former NFL standout Garry Gilliam joined us last week on Football Letter Live, and here’s the episode link. Gilliam’s appearance is right after we speak with Bruce Apgar, president of our Naval ROTC Alumni Interest Group. The conversation was so good, the hour flew by. I looked at the time, thinking we had at least another half hour, and instead, we had less than 10 minutes left. That’s when you can tell the show is going well. Thanks to everyone who continues to tune in Thursday nights at 7.

18. We want to make sure we mention the passing of former Penn State and NFL fullback Steve, Smith, who died over the weekend after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Raiders, with whom Smith played seven seasons, announced his passing Saturday, calling Smith an inspiration. Smith was drafted in the third round by the Raiders in 1987 after starring at Penn State, where he helped the Nittany Lions win their last national championship in the 1986 season. You can read more on ESPN.com.

19. For anyone attending Saturday’s pep rally at Michigan State, you’ll hear from Detroit Lions linebacker and fullback Jason Cabinda. The Nittany Lion standout will attend, and he’ll be part of the livestream that we’ll share. Tune in on Facebook on Saturday starting around 1:30 p.m.

20.  Go State. Beat the Spartans.

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Back Home in Happy Valley

Anthony “Spice” Adams (left) and Deon Butler were part of a large contingent of lettermen who returned to Beaver Stadium last Saturday. Photo credit: John Patishnock

During a typical home game, the sidelines at Beaver Stadium are filled with All-Americans, all-conference selections, record holders, and even Hall of Famers.

The White Out against Auburn? Every time you turned around, you bumped into a Nittany Lion legend.

As a blue blood program, Penn State has more than its fair share of icons. What distinguishes the Nittany Lion letterman, though, is their motivation to return to campus whenever possible. A lot of them do, even on a regular basis. For some lettermen, however, the time between visits can be many years.

Too long” is how all-time great linebacker Paul Posluszny described how long it had been since he was on campus, during his appearance on Football Letter Live earlier this fall. Posluszny changed all that over the weekend, returning to State College and serving as honorary captain for Saturday’s game. In that role, he accompanied the Nittany Lion captains to midfield for the pregame coin flip and was announced to the crowd, giving him a much-deserve chance to be recognized.

“What an unbelievable example that guy is of what you can do at Penn State and where Penn State can take you, obviously, after you get done playing,” head coach James Franklin said of Posluszny. The two spent some time together during the linebacker’s visit and exchanged messages afterward.

The morning after the game, Adams stopped by the head coach’s office. “I’ve developed a really strong relationship with Spice, got a ton of respect for him, for what he’s been able to do throughout his career,” Franklin said.

One of the main challenges or opportunities (you can look at it either way) for Franklin is to honor Penn State’s storied past while embracing a modern approach that resonates with current recruits and players. To say that’s difficult is putting it lightly. However, Franklin’s struck that balance with lettermen, with Adams and Posluszny only two examples of players from previous generations with whom Franklin’s connected. Adam Taliaferro is another letterman that jumps to mind. There are others.

Franklin’s often said that he wants players to stay connected to the program even after they graduate (a timely topic since Saturday is Senior Day), and the head coach said that conversation occurs as early as the recruiting process and continues while the players are on campus.

It’s one thing to instill that message with players who you’ve personally recruited to campus. It’s another to share that message with lettermen who have a strong connection to the past but may see you “as the new guy.” Any initial awkwardness that might’ve existed has been overcome. As one example, it’s worth noting Franklin called Adams and Posluszny, “Spice” and “Poz,” using their more informal nicknames, indicating a level of familiarity with both of them.

“For us, obviously with a coaching staff coming in after the same coaching staff being here for a really long time, we’ve had to work really hard at building those relationships and getting those guys back because it’s just different,” Franklin said. “It’s just different for them to come back after 50 years of it being pretty much the same.”

You can see more photos below of some of the lettermen who were at the game Saturday, with years and position listed below.

Paul Posluszny, 2003-06, linebacker
Left photo: Anthony “Spice” Adams, defensive tackle, 1999-2002; Deon Butler, wide receiver 2005-08. Right photo: Daryll Clark, quarterback, 2006-09; Butler.
Left photo: Chaz Powell, wide receiver, 2008-11; Clark; Derek Moye, wide receiver, 2008-11. Right photo: Adams.


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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Michigan

The Penn State Cheerleaders joined in the celebration after Penn State scored on a Tyler Warren touchdown catch and Jahan Dotson 2-point conversion reception to tie the game at 14 in the fourth quarter against Michigan. The Wolverines notched a late touchdown to escape with a 21-17 win. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Check out this week’s Roaring 20 to see, hear, and feel what it was like to be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the Big Ten clash against Michigan. We’ve also embedded a few extra videos and photos for you.

1. On a defense full of superstars, Arnold Ebiketie might be the most valuable. If he’s not at the top of the list, he’s definitely in the top two or three. He not only makes plays, he also makes them at the most clutch moments. His sack and forced fumble on Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara late in the fourth quarter put Penn State in a position to seize a 17-14 lead.

James Franklin leads the Nittany Lions onto the field at Beaver Stadium. You can see the entire sequence on our Twitter page. Photo credit: John Patishnock

2. Linebacker Ellis Brooks tallied a career-high 16 tackles Saturday, boosting his team-leading season mark to 85. Brooks also led the Nittany Lions last season with 60 stops during the shortened schedule.

3. Tyler Warren’s touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was clutch and came with Michigan defensive back DJ Turner’s left hand around his waist. Not sure if it was interference (no penalty was called), though either way, that might’ve been Sean Clifford’s best throw of the day into tight coverage. And credit Warren, a freshman tight end, for stepping up when needed.

4. After the game, we spoke with Ebiketie and Warren. You can see both videos on our 2021 YouTube playlist.

“Don’t drop the Lion!” The Nittany Lion jumped into the stands for some afternoon crowd surfing. Students were happy to pass the Lion — and he wasn’t dropped. Photo credit: John Patishnock

5. Senior receiver Jahan Dotson shows up to play every single week. It’s impossible (and a little silly) to try and compare players from different eras, though two players who jump to mind when thinking of Dotson are both Bobby Engram and Deon Butler. More on Butler shortly.

6. Speaking of Dotson, the team’s sports information director, Greg Kincaid, shared this impressive stat today: Dotson is the only Big Ten player ever to have at least 80 receptions, 990 yards and 9 touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season. Like we said, he shows up every single week.

7. It was nice to see all-time great Paul Posluszny back in Happy Valley to serve as honorary captain. It had been years since he’d visited Happy Valley, and as he shared earlier this fall on Football Letter Live, the wait had been too long. You can see Posluszny’s appearance on our playlist and a photo of him with James Franklin on the football team’s Twitter page.

8. Anthony “Spice” Adams, Deon Butler, and Daryll Clark were among the turnout of former players at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. You can see photos of Adams and Butler and Butler and Clark on our Twitter page.

9. We chatted with Butler for a minute or two, and he and Clark were genuinely thrilled to be reunited. Butler said he met Jahan Dotson earlier in the week and that he hoped to speak with him after the game. Earlier in the month against Maryland, Dotson broke Butler’s program record for most receiving yards in a single game (242), besting Butler’s mark (216) against Northwestern in 2006. Butler spoke to the crowd and led a “We Are” cheer. You can see the on-field scene on our Twitter page.

10. In addition to all the lettermen mentioned, we also saw Michael Mauti and Mark Rubin, both guests this season on Football Letter Live. Similar to Butler, we briefly spoke with Rubin as he was taking in the action behind the south end zone. He’s a fan favorite whose appearance this season was popular among our audience. Again, here’s the link for all the season’s episodes. Mauti, meanwhile, watched the team entrance right by the goal post at the south end zone. He said it was the best seat in the house and that he’s never seen the Nittany Lions take the field from that angle. Glad he had that opportunity Saturday.

11. One more letterman note: Chafie Fields joined us for last week’s episode of Football Letter Live. You’ll want to check it out to hear stories of what it was like playing for Joe Paterno. Fields even shares his JoePa impressions. Here’s the link for the episode, which also features Hampton Raods (Va.) Chapter Vice President Jackie Eury and Secretary Tom Forrest.

12. Keyvone Lee finished with one of the best performances by a running back this season. The sophomore from St. Petersburg, Florida, totaled 88 yards on 20 carries.

13. We captured the usual game day sights at Beaver Stadium. Visit our social channels to see the Blue Band’s pregame performance, the Nittany Lion looking cool, the alma mater, and the team entrance in slow motion.

14. When leaving the stadium, I sometimes exit out of the south tunnel doors, which I did Saturday. That’s where the players exit, and there’s usually a crowd of fans and youngsters waiting for autographs. So, every time that door handle clicks, everyone gears up with excitement to see who’s leaving. When they saw me exiting Saturday, there was an instant look of disappoint. Really can’t blame them. I’ll have to write myself a note that says to leave another way.

Very few stadiums in the world compare to Beaver Stadium and the incredible attendance numbers we have. Saturday was the latest example. Photo credit: John Patishnock

15. There’s a group of 20- and 30-somethings that park across from me in my spot, in the lot across the road from the soccer practice field. I usually arrive early — anywhere from three to four hours before kickoff — and without exception, they’re always there before me and stay after. We finally chatted for the first time a few weeks ago. And we talked against yesterday. They were nice enough to offer me some coffee and food. I politely declined (I don’t drink coffee), though I totally understand how friendships are formed and last for years or decades between people who didn’t know each other before being tailgating neighbors.

16. Each week, we ask Penn Staters to share something about their fan experience that we feature on Football Letter Live. This week, we’re asking you to share photos of your Penn State fan caves and memorabilia collections. Visit our Facebook page to be included on the show.

17. With two games left in the regular season, it’s fair to say this year hasn’t gone the way coaches and players wanted. But the Nittany Lions will stay play in a bowl game. And more immediate, the team will celebrate Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon against Rutgers.

18. Following the home tilt against Rutgers, Penn State travels to East Lansing to finish the regular season against Michigan State. The Spartans have had a much better season than anyone could’ve predicted — we doubt even their fans felt like this year’s squad would’ve been ranked in the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff rankings. But it’ll be a legitimate challenge for Penn State.

The Blue Band always transforms game day at Beaver Stadium into a memorable experience. One of their several performances includes their pregame rendition of fight songs, pictured here. Photo credit: John Patishnock

19. If you’re heading to the game at East Lansing, we hope to see you at our game day pep rally. There won’t be an alumni mixer Friday night, so you can get some extra rest for Saturday.  

20. Go State. Beat Rutgers.



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Ultimate Competitor

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown called sophomore cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (9) “the ultimate competitor.” Porter ranks fourth on the team in tackles (40) and has broken up four passes this season. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

A little more than midway through the third quarter of Penn State’s clash with Ohio State last month, the Buckeyes were driving. Deep. In fact, they were only about a yard or so away from a touchdown, with the score tied at 17.

The Nittany Lions stuffed a couple runs. Then, quarterback C.J. Stroud threw to wideout Garrett Wilson, who was matched up 1-on-1 against Penn State sophomore cornerback Joey Porter, Jr. In a goal-line situation, Porter didn’t have any help. It was just him against Wilson, the guy in front of him.

Porter broke up the pass, tangling with Wilson in midair to knock the ball away. After the play, Porter jumped up and shook his head. Not in a cocky way. More confident, sure of himself. Essentially, he was saying, “You’re not going to beat me 1-on-1.”

Ohio State settled for a field goal.

This is just one example of how Porter embraces the times when he doesn’t have help in coverage.

“I love those moments,” Porter said. “Those moments are for a corner to really show what he’s about, really put it on for your team, especially when you know the play is coming to you. One-on-one, there’s nothing you can do about it but defend it. I like stepping up to the challenge, I like those 1-on-1 matchups. You really get to see who’s better, me or him. I enjoy that.”

Porter ranks seventh on the team in tackles (40) and has broken up four passes while pulling in an interception. He also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against Auburn, though the play was called back because of a penalty. Following the game in Columbus, we recorded his postgame media availability, and you can see that on our YouTube page.

“Joey Porter, he’s the ultimate competitor,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “He might be the most competitive guy on the defense. Joey, he loves to compete. He loves the 1-on-1 matchups you get. He loves going against the best. It’s a blessing to have a corner like him to be able to watch him play and watch him do the things he does very well.”

Against Maryland last Saturday, Porter recorded five tackles, one of six Nittany Lions to tally five or more. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

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D.C. Chapter Connection ‘Best Thing’ About Postgrad Move

Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter President Meghan Maffey ’17 greeted a packed room of Penn Staters in downtown D.C. this evening, with thousands of alumni and friends traveling to Maryland for the Nittany Lions’ showdown with the Terrapins on Saturday afternoon. Maffey said the mixer “is a great opportunity to bring us all together. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

So, it’s a funny story.

This is how Meghan Maffey began explaining how she became a Penn Stater. It wasn’t always a lock. It just feels that way now.

Maffey grew up in New Jersey, and she doesn’t like the cold. Don’t worry Meghan, you’re not alone there. Though after visiting the University Park campus in May, when it was still snowing — yes, that happens in State College sometimes in the spring — she was hooked. Specifically, she was wowed with the history of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the knowledge of the faculty and staff of the college, and the overall atmosphere of being on campus.

Going in, she didn’t think Penn State stood a chance. But soon, Happy Valley became the runaway favorite.

“We got in the car after the tour and I looked at my mom and said, “I’m going here.”

Fast forward to Friday night, when Maffey, a 2017 Penn State grad and communications major, greeted more than a hundred alumni and friends to downtown Washington, D.C. That’s part of her role as president of the Alumni Association’s Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter, a position she relishes considering how big of an impact Penn State’s had on her life.

“There are so many Penn Staters that are in this area,” Maffey said. “It just is a really great opportunity to bring us all together and really just shows everybody that Penn State shows up and that we are here and we are proud to be here.”

Penn State Alumni Association President Anand Ganjam ’15 (far right) joined with alumni who were thrilled to see the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lion at the Friday night mixer in downtown D.C. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Maffey immediately became involved with the Washington, D.C. Chapter after graduating. Initially, she helped with the chapter’s THON support, starting as the fundraising lead before becoming the communications chair. Then within the last year, she became president.

The crowd she greeted was diverse: recent alumni, Penn Staters of different generations and backgrounds. That’s not entirely surprising, considering Maffey correctly points out that there are a lot of Penn Staters in the D.C. area. There are nearly 25,000 Penn Staters living in Maryland, and tens of thousands more in neighboring states, still not counting Pennsylvania.

You can see an archived version of tonight’s program featuring the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lions on our Facebook page. You can view a slightly different angle of the Nittany Lion’s entrance and cowbell performance. The latter is available on our Twitter page.

Going back to Maffey, there’s a lot of substance behind her story. Her previous career stops include interning in the Washington National’s brand marketing department and National Geographic’s production and post-production management. Currently, she works for a recruiting and employment staffing agency in the area. Having a healthy Penn State network has helped her professionally. With the Nationals, Maffey’s supervisor was a Penn Stater. Same for her hiring manager with National Geographic.

She said Penn Staters love taking care of Penn Staters. Maffey would know. The transition period after graduating can be uncertain, uncomfortable, and perhaps even a little rocky. That’s perhaps to be expected. Thanks to the support Maffey received from fellow alumni, there were smooth spots to even things out.

Now, she’s in a position to give back as someone who’s both successful and familiar with the area. Now, Maffey fits right in.

“I didn’t know anybody down here, and the best thing I got out of moving to Washington D.C. is being part of the chapter,” Maffey said. “I’ve made connections, I have gotten jobs from being a part of the Alumni Association. It’s just a great experience, and I’m so happy and so thankful to be president of the chapter.”

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Building Momentum

Managing emotions plays a key role anytime the Nittany Lions travel, like they did last weekend to Columbus. Penn State hits the road again this week, with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Maryland. Photo credit: Steve Tressler.

James Franklin remembers how things used to be.

The day before a game, players and coaches would quiet down, tighten up, and get emotionally juiced 24 hours before kickoff. The idea being that you needed to be laser-focused that far ahead in advance.

This is going back to Franklin’s days playing high school football, and college ball at East Stroudsburg, and even as recently when he first became a college head coach.

Times have since changed.

Through talking with people and looking at studies, Franklin said this approach has shifted over the last 10-15 years.

“You don’t need ’em locked in mentally and emotionally and physically that long before the game, where there’s no talking on the bus ride to Maryland, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Franklin said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference. “So, what we do is we build up. You should be able to feel a difference. Say you got a Friday dinner and you’re playing a Saturday night game like we had last week — the Friday night dinner should still be focused, but guys should be enjoying themselves with their positions and going through their test and tip sheets.”

Onward State photographer Mira DiBattiste captured the scene at Ohio Stadium as Penn State football arrived.

That evolution continues the next morning, with Franklin saying team breakfast should feel different than dinner, with the intensity naturally increasing up until when the team leaves the hotel, when Franklin says the team should be totally locked in on the bus ride over to the stadium.

The speed at which the intensity rises can change depending on kickoff time. At Wisconsin, for example, kickoff was at 11 a.m. local time. That’s a difference of eight-and-a-half hours from Saturday in Columbus. Think of it this way: You act differently if you’re flying out at 6 a.m. the next morning, then if your flight leaves in the afternoon or evening.

“I’m focused and not doing too much and staying calm,” offensive lineman Rasheed Walker said of his night-time routine before a game, which includes studying the aforementioned test and tips sheet. “When I wake up the day of the game, I wake up and I’m tuned in.”

Something that James Franklin emphasizes is consistency in all areas of his program, including pregame preparation on the road. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Of course, there’s a human element at play. Looks can sometimes be deceiving, and reality may not match up with perception. It’s why they play the games, as the saying goes, which is one major reason why college football is beloved on a level rarely seen in other areas of society, at least across the entire country.

This juxtaposition can also be bewildering for coaches in charge of leading their teams onto the field. Franklin recalls speaking with fellow coaches in his profession, both new to the game and more experienced, when they’ve seen their teams appear to be too loose leading up to a game, and then the players go out and play their tails off (Franklin’s words). The exact opposite can be just as true, Penn State’s head coach said.

So, for a guy who’s a big believer in routine, what’s there to do? Stick to a familiar approach, prepare the same way, and account for the unexpected as much as possible.

“It’s kind of hard to read and there’s so many different factors that kind of go into that,” Franklin said. “That’s why we try to keep our process as consistent as we possibly can.”

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