In the grand scheme of life, sports might be pretty insignificant. Then again, they’re very significant.
In challenging times, sports have always been there to provide a sense of hope for me. A sense that however bad things might be in “the real world,” at least I’ve got a sport to play or a sport to watch. I’d imagine that’s the way it is for a lot of people around the country.
As the difficult circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus continue and more sports leagues — professional and amateur — continue to suspend, postpone or cancel their season, it’s hard to fathom that sports, at least for a little while, won’t be there to help us get through the tough times.
When news broke yesterday that the NCAA was canceling all of its remaining winter and spring sports — including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sadness.
It was a tough decision, but probably the right decision. The seriousness of this pandemic, obviously, takes precedent. The health of the public is always going to be the top priority.
That doesn’t make the pause on sports easier to stomach.
I’m sad, above all, for the players, particularly senior student-athletes who will miss out on a proper conclusion to their college careers — for many of them, their athletic careers as a whole.
As someone who was an athlete in high school, the end of my playing days were tough to take, but at the very least I got to end it on the basketball court and in the locker room with my teammates.
It’s unfortunate, unfair really, that players like Lamar Stevens won’t get the ending they deserve.
Stevens ends his time in Happy Valley just seven points shy of passing Talor Battle to become the program’s all-time leading scorer, a feat he would have undoubtedly passed in the team’s scheduled Big Ten Tournament game against Indiana.
“Not having any control over it was tough,” Stevens continued on Goodman’s podcast. “Being seven points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, my heart broke, honestly. I felt like I gave everything I had for this program and this school to get to that point.”
“I wanted to experience that with my teammates and our coaches. Have the Penn State community rally around us for something we haven’t done for nine years. I had a lot of excitement for that. It was something I was really proud of. To see it all end this way, it really hurts.”
As Stevens alluded to, he and the rest of the team miss out on hearing Penn State’s name pop up on CBS on Selection Sunday. The signal that the program’s near decade-long NCAA Tournament drought would be over.
I think about senior members of the Penn State Wrestling team — the moments that Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall delivered on the mat in Rec Hall or at the Big Ten Championships or at the NCAA Championships.
Joseph leaves a two-time NCAA Champion and three-time NCAA finalist. His thrilling upset as a freshman over No. 1 ranked Isaiah Martinez in 2017 ( he pinned the heavily favored Illini wrestler) is a signature moment in the already storied history of Penn State Wrestling.
Hall ends his career a three-time Big Ten Champion, three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 NCAA National Champion at 174 pounds.
They both miss out on their shots to become national champions once more in 2020.
There’s senior members of the Penn State Men’s Hockey team, who have helped turn the program from Division I upstart to a Big Ten contender.
Senior Liam Folkes delivered perhaps the greatest moment in the team’s young history. In 2017, he scored the game-winning breakaway goal against Wisconsin in double overtime of the Big Ten Tournament title game.
The 10-man senior class of Brandon Biro, Folkes, Blake Gober, James Gobetz, Will Holtfoster, Peyton Jones, Kris Myllari, Nikita Pavylchev, Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese, at the very least ended their college careers by capturing the Big Ten regular season title.
But they won’t get the chance to capture another tournament crown or compete for Penn State’s first Frozen Four appearance.
Despite a few early losses, the Men’s Lacrosse team had the talent and firepower to get back to the Final Four and win a national championship. Seniors like Grant Ament, Dylan Foulds and Mac O’Keefe are robbed of that opportunity.
There are names I didn’t mention from the other Penn State winter and spring sports. For the sake of time, I can’t highlight them all specifically here, but there’s no diminishing their impact. They all made their mark in Penn State history.
We will go on. Sports at Penn State and across the globe will resume sometime in the future.
For the time being, though, we must get through all of this without sports to provide us that joy, provide us the hope.
We won’t have the power of Stevens driving to the hoop for a basket or the energy of Hall driving his opponent to the mat for a fall to take us away from the struggles.
More importantly, the players themselves won’t ever get those kinds of experiences again in a Penn State uniform.
The grind of the countless hours, days and even years that they’ve put in for their sport. For many of them, the chance to compete for a conference or national championship is the culmination of all of that hard work. The reward for the effort.
It didn’t end on their terms.
That’s the hardest part to swallow. The abrupt finality of it all. A tough way to be reminded of the significance of sports in difficult times.
As far as the Penn State experience goes, it’s hard to top getting the opportunity to dance at Penn State THON for 46 hours.
Likewise, it doesn’t get much better than running through the stone-surrounded tunnel of Beaver Stadium and onto the field with 107,000 fans cheering you on.
Letterman Charlie Shuman ’18, ’19g is one of the few Penn Staters to have experienced both.
He played for coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions from 2014-18. He danced in THON not once, but twice as a student in 2017 and 2018.
“They’re two different things, but at the same time they both bring these emotions out of you,” Shuman said.
It was always Shuman’s dream to play football at Penn State.
Originally committed to Old Dominion, the 6-foot-8 offensive lineman elected to instead join the Nittany Lions as a walk-on, becoming a part of James Franklin’s first recruiting class in 2014.
“Running out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium on gameday for the first time, that was a dream come true for me,” Shuman said. “To put on the Penn State uniform, run through that tunnel to 107,000 screaming fans cheering for you, it’s special.”
Shuman’s other Penn State dream was to dance at THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer.
He first got involved with the organization his freshman year at University Park, joining the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board’s (SAAB) THON committee, later serving as the committee’s fundraising chair.
As his role grew with the THON committee, so too did that desire to become a dancer.
In 2017, he finally realized the dream, representing SAAB on the dance floor with fellow members Carly Celkos (field hockey), Jessica O’Neill-Lyublinsky (women’s fencing) and Megan Schafer (women’s soccer).
“Being down on the dance floor is just absolutely incredible. It’s indescribable to people that are outside of Penn State that don’t really know what THON is,” Shuman said. “You take away the memories you had with the other dancers that were down on the floor with you, spending 46 hours with. That group of people that were my dancing partners, it’s something that will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Because the annual dance marathon takes place during winter workouts, Shuman had to coordinate his involvement as a dancer with his responsibilities as a football player.
Not that he needed permission from Franklin and the other coaches in order to dance, but Shuman wanted to make sure the Penn State staff were cool with his involvement with THON and the rearranged schedule that came with it.
There wasn’t any hesitation in Franklin’s support for Shuman.
“He was incredible with (his support),” Shuman said. “We’re going through the middle of winter workouts during THON, so some of our toughest offseason workouts. He was like ‘Absolutely. That’s an incredible opportunity. Take a day off or two here and there if you need to.’ And at the same time, he still wanted me to be around the (Lasch) Building when I could and still be a part of the workouts. He and the staff were just tremendous with their support.”
The entire week leading up to THON in 2017 and 2018, Shuman said Franklin, the staff and other players were constantly checking in on him to send messages of encouragement.
Ahead of THON 2018, team members also sent over words of encouragement to Nick Scott ’19, Shuman’s teammate who was preparing to dance at THON for the first time.
The dance floor experience was made that much better for Shuman, knowing a teammate would be right there beside him for the 46 hours.
“It was a blast. I love Nick. Still today, we talk about that experience of dancing together,” Shuman said. “Obviously, when we danced together I had gone through it once before. It was my second time and his first time. So, I’d joke with him a little bit and rip on him to see if he could do some things better than I did. We had a blast down there. It’s cool to have a teammate down there, a guy you spend so much time with.”
Before he graduated in December of 2018, Shuman helped make one more THON-related impact at Penn State.
Through an initiative taken with Shuman, Scott and quarterback Trace McSorley ’18, Penn State football decided to make a change to the players’ iconic uniforms with the addition of the THON logo on the team helmets for a game with the Wisconsin Badgers in November of that year.
The THON logo sticker was once again featured on the helmets during the 2019 season in a game against the Buffalo Bulls.
“We wrote a letter to (Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics) Sandy Barbour and Coach Franklin. They were completely on board with it,” Shuman said. “You know, that’s a tough thing to navigate. Changing any part of the uniform can be difficult, especially at Penn State. They were completely on board with it, though, because it’s something Penn State students and student-athletes are passionate about.”
Ahead of the game against the Badgers in 2018, ESPN ran a segment on the decal and THON itself, something Shuman was particularly proud of because it spread the THON message to a larger audience.
“To put that out there on a national stage like that, it’s the attention that THON deserves, really,” Shuman said. “The 40-odd years it’s been around, it deserves something like that. And hopefully it can keep growing.”
With his athletic career — and THON dancing days over — Shuman has since returned home to New York where he’s working on his doctorate in physical therapy at Nazareth College.
He’s also helping coach varsity football at Pittsford Sutherland, his high school alma mater, keeping those football juices flowing as best he can now that he’s no longer suit up himself on Saturdays.
The student experience at Nazareth isn’t quite the experience he got at Penn State. Nor is the experience of coaching football the same as running out of that Beaver Stadium tunnel as a player.
“People outside of Penn State in general, I don’t think they realize how special it is,” Shuman said.
“They don’t understand that atmosphere at Beaver Stadium. They don’t realize all of the incredible things that we get to experience as students. THON Weekend, especially. It’s something that’s about so much bigger than Penn State and to try and share that with the rest of the country is so important.”
Shuman will be returning to Happy Valley for THON Weekend 2020, supporting a friend of his who will now be dancing in THON for a third time.
This past weekend, he also decided that he will shave his head and his beard if he can raise $1,000 dollars in THON donations by the time THON concludes on Sunday, Feb. 23, keeping that THON spirit alive even as an alumnus.
“I haven’t shaved my face since probably my junior year of college,” Shuman said laughing. “We’ll see if I get there.”
Penn State baseball’s First Pitch Dinner and Silent Auction always represent a special night for the program.
The banquet includes a dinner, silent auction for alumni, fans, families and friends in attendance, and is the first official introduction of the team ahead of a new season.
In seasons past, former players would attend with a tradition of presenting the current team with their jerseys.
This year, the banquet took on the theme of “Honoring the Decades,” recognizing members of the 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010 Penn State baseball teams. Extra recognition was given to the 2000 team, which advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals.
But this banquet took on even more of a special meaning for coach Rob Cooper.
As the 2020 team made its entrance into the room, Cooper was moved to see his players sporting pink ties with their suits, honoring Cooper’s wife Maureen ‘Mo,’ who was diagnosed with breast cancer last August.
The players also presented Maureen, who serves as the Director of Commonwealth Campus Athletics for the Office of Ethics and Compliance at Penn State, with a bouquet of flowers.
“I said at the banquet and I told my players, if there was ever a year I needed to coach this team, it was this year,” Cooper said. “I love em’. Love em’ for what they’ve done for her and for us.”
The pink ties and presentation of flowers followed a batch of great news just a few weeks earlier for the Cooper family.
On Jan. 10, she completed radiation treatment and Cooper captured the moment on Twitter when Mo rang the bell to celebrate.
“She’s doing great,” Cooper said. “She doesn’t need chemo(therapy), which is huge. The love and support from the Penn State community, the State College community has been special. And also what our coaches players have meant to my family over this time. It’s been a real emotional thing in a good way, because those guys have done a lot to help my family, help myself.”
Junior pitcher Kyle Virbitsky, who’s entering his third season playing for Cooper, said there was never any question from the team about getting behind Mo, Rob and the rest of the family.
“One of the big reasons I came to Penn State was the family atmosphere that existed,” Virbitsky said. “Both my parents went here and Coach Coop recognized that, opened his arms to us all the time. When Mo went through that, there was no question she was going to get our support. She might as well be a member of this team. She’s like our second mom. Anything we could do to help, we were absolutely going to do it.”
Cooper said coaches have offered to help the family in a number of ways, whether that be picking up his youngest son Jake from high school and baseball practices to bring him home or picking up groceries and other items the family might need.
Coaches and players alike also let Cooper know that if he wasn’t able to attend a practice or meeting, that they would be sure that things would continue to run smoothly in his absence.
The sixth-year coach tried to maintain a sense of normalcy through it all, though, spending as much time around his team as was possible.
“Well, when I’m (with the team) it’s kind of like a sanctuary,” Cooper said. “It’s definitely a chance to not worry as much for a little bit. Take your mind off things. When you have a bunch of guys that truly care about you, it makes things a bit easier to deal with. I needed a group like this to help my family and myself get through this.”
Cooper has long been a leader in the fight against cancer, even before Mo received her diagnosis.
Since Cooper arrived at Penn State for the 2014 season, the baseball team has supported the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Baseball Vs. Cancer campaign, raising nearly $50,000 as of this past December.
The program also hosts annual Vs. Cancer and Penn State THON games that have welcomed THON families and featured team members shaving their heads postgame.
The efforts have helped raise support for Penn State Children’s Hospital’s Four Diamonds and its mission to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children and their families through superior care, comprehensive support and innovative research.
In December, Cooper was named an inaugural Baseball Vs. Cancer ambassador. Consisting of current and former coaches, players and members of the media, Baseball Vs. Cancer ambassadors represent the athletic community’s shared resolve to raise awareness and funds for a world without childhood brain tumors.
“It’s a very high honor,” Cooper said. “It’s something that means a great deal to me. Regardless of what my wife has been through, I would have done it, because of what it means to me personally. Now, this year, it obviously hits a lot closer to home.”
Trips to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center had a profound effect on Cooper, before and during trips there with his wife for her treatment.
“You look around and you see these kids there. They’re six, seven, eight years old,” Cooper said. “You see them in hospital beds and in hallways and they’ve got tubes in them. You just want to help give those kids a chance, man. They haven’t had a chance to experience a lot of the stuff we’ve got to experience.”
“So, this initiative and being an ambassador means a lot to me. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
Sophomore third baseman Justin Williams believes how much the players and community rallied behind Cooper and his family during Mo’s treatment is a testament to the person Cooper is beyond his role as a baseball coach, demonstrated by him being named as Vs. Cancer ambassador.
“Not only is he our coach, he’s a friend to everybody on the team,” Williams said. “We’re around him every day and we are going to do whatever we can to support him and his family. I think that speaks to the culture were building here, the culture he’s helped create.”
Virbitsky echoed Williams’ sentiment that Cooper is much more than their coach.
“He’s also like our second dad. I can go to him with anything. Any problem I’ve ever needed help with, he’s 100 percent always been there for me,” Virbitsky said. “I love playing for the guy. Was more than happy to rally the troops for him and Mo just let them know ‘Hey, we’re right here behind ya.’”
Penn State closed out the season with a New Year’s Six win over the Memphis Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, marking the third time in the last four years James Franklin has led the program to an 11-win season.
It was a season full of memorable moments and some terrific individual plays. So, I took a crack at completing the difficult task of ranking the top 10 plays of the season.
No. 10: Sean Clifford drops a dime to Pat Freiermuth (Michigan State)
This was one of Sean Clifford’s more impressive throws of the season, his first as the starting quarterback. He got the perfect amount of distance and touch on this connection with Freiermuth, all the while he had pressure in his face forcing him to throw off his back foot.
No. 9: Shaka Toney Blocks Field Goal With His Helmet (Michigan State)
This isn’t something you see every day. Penn State’s special teams was vastly improved from a season ago. For Toney, he has grown a lot every season he’s been with the program. When he first saw the field he was more of a pass rush specialist. He’s since developed into a much more well-rounded defensive end that can handle his own against the run and pass. He’s expected to be back next year and will be a key leader for Brent Pry’s defense.
No. 8: Goal-Line Stand Seals Win Over Wolverines (Michigan)
This is a collection of plays rather than one, but it was a huge moment in Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions defense held their ground with their backs against the wall and preserved a big White Out win over Michigan.
No. 7: John Reid’s Pick Six(Buffalo)
Another game early in the season where the Nittany Lion offense was pretty lifeless in the opening half. John Reid used his terrific football IQ to read the quarterback’s eyes and make a break on the ball. It was the kind of spark Penn State needed to pull away from Buffalo.
No. 6 Pat Freiermuth Runs Over Defensive Back(Memphis)
You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, but yeah, it’s easy to see why Pat Freiermuth is nicknamed “Baby Gronk.” Just flat out levels the defender here. It was a huge boost that he announced his return to the program for 2020. He could have easily been a first round draft pick in the NFL draft in a few months time.
No. 5: Jordan Stout Sets A Record(Pitt)
On a day when the Penn State offense was largely unproductive, Jordan Stout supplied a bit of momentum heading into halftime with this school-record boot. His big leg was a great addition to the special teams unit.
No. 4: Micah Parsons Forces Fumble, Garrett Taylor Scores (Memphis)
Penn State and Memphis continued to go back and forth late into the third quarter in the Cotton Bowl, but this play proved to be a huge momentum shift with the Nittany Lions clinging to a two-point lead. Micah Parsons was all over the field in this game and this play was a great example of why he enters the 2020 season with some Heisman buzz. Also, a big credit to senior Garrett Taylor for being in the right place at the right time to return the ball to the end zone.
No. 3: Nick Eury Plows Into The End Zone (Idaho)
There were more important touchdowns in the grand scheme of Penn State’s season, but there weren’t many as special as this. This was a really cool moment for one of the hardest working players on the team. Nick Eury scored the only touchdown of his career with this tremendous effort. One of the team’s walk-ons, he was later awarded a scholarship in December. It’s what college football is all about.
There’s a reason KJ Hamler’s nickname is “The Human Joystick.” The way he can evade defenders in the open when it seems they got a beat on him is ridiculous. His highlight reel from just two seasons of action in Happy Valley will go down with the best of them.
No. 1: Journey Brown Goes Beast Mode (Memphis)
Journey Brown set a new bowl record for Penn State with 202 rushing yards in the win over the Tigers. No run was more impressive than this one, though, in which he did his best Marshawn Lynch impression. I count four broken tackles on his way to the end zone, including the final one in which he literally drags the defender four yards for the score.
What was your favorite play of the season? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading along with us all throughout the 2019 season. And stay tuned for some more content throughout the spring leading up to the Blue-White Game in April.
From the Philadelphia Eagles to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Penn Staters are shining everywhere in the National Football League this season. And it’s not just rookie sensation Miles Sanders or emerging superstar Chris Godwin demonstrating the star potential of Penn Staters, either.
These Nittany Lions are a bit more behind the scenes in the NFL set-up.
More specifically, they’re running the social media accounts of NFL franchises. Working long hours to bring their teams closer to their respective fanbases. There’s really no such thing as an offseason.
In fact, six Penn Staters oversee or help oversee NFL team accounts for the 2019 season.
We caught up with Julie Bacanskas ’15 (Philadelphia Eagles), Jill Beckman ’18 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Darnell Brady ’14 (Jacksonville Jaguars), Dana Byrnes ’16 (Dallas Cowboys), Kevin Kline ’11 (New York Jets) and Meghan Loder ’16 (Washington Redskins).
They discussed what their Penn State experiences were like, how they landed their positions, what it’s like working for an NFL team, and much more.
A Lifelong Fan
Julie Bacanskas, ’15 Advertising/Public Relations Digital Platform Manager Philadelphia Eagles
A lot of times, when someone takes a job working in the NFL, doing communications work or otherwise, they’ve got to put their previous rooting interests aside.
Someone who grew up a Tennessee Titans fan isn’t likely to continue cheering them on (at least not publicly) if they land a role with say, the Houston Texans.
For Julie Bacanskas, that wasn’t an issue at all when she joined the digital department with the Philadelphia Eagles in August of 2015, just a few months after she graduated from Penn State.
A native to the Philadelphia area, she was an Eagles fan to the core growing up.
“I was watching every Sunday. Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, all those guys, I was watching on TV,” Bacanskas said. “It’s kind of one of those things when I started working for the Eagles, it was surreal. But now, I’m in season five and it’s all kind of normal now.”
Landing The Job “I was like freaking out, sure it wasn’t going to work out for me. Pretty much what everyone kind of goes through right out of school, they overthink it! I got a LinkedIn message from the Eagles’ PR person, and they asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for a post-grad internship. I lept at the chance to do that. Timing wise, it worked out so well. Someone else in the digital department had put in their two-week notice and they were leaving, and it was around December of 2015 when they hired me on full-time as a content coordinator.”
The Penn State Experience “I had a different Penn State experience than most. My freshman year was the Jerry Sandusky Scandal year, so I saw all the chaos that went around Penn State at the time. But overall, my experience was awesome. I wrote blogs for the GoPSUSports site, covering different Penn State teams. I think that internship really help me further my career in sports. That helped me in between my junior and senior year land an internship with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was also a big help in landing my job with the Eagles.”
Super Bowl Dreams *Bacanskaswas working for the Eagles in 2018 when they won the franchises’ first Super Bowl over the New England Patriots*
“It was a whirlwind. I was in Minnesota with the team. I can honestly tell you, I don’t think I remember any of the game. I do remember as soon as the celebrations started I just looked over at my co-worker and was like ‘Did that just happen? Is this forreal?’ That whole season was a rollercoaster with emotions, given all the injuries we had. Looking back on it now, it was probably the most fun few months of my life.”
Most Rewarding Aspects “I think it’s a lot of fun to connect to Eagles fans. We want to bring them content that they can’t see anywhere else. Our fans are definitely some of the most passionate. They always have an opinion on the things we are posting or how the team’s performing. It’s rewarding when you get to interact with Eagles fans that are all across the country, all across the world.”
Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media “It’s kind of funny, I really had no idea there were six of us until we all went to the NFL social media meeting. It was one of those things where I just started to talk to different people there and we started to realize how many of us were Penn Staters. I didn’t know it before we were all talking about it. It’s really cool. It shows how successful Penn Staters are in this field.”
The Dream Job
Jill Beckman, ’18 Journalism Social Media Coordinator Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s safe to say that there weren’t many dull moments during Jill Beckman’s Penn State days.
She was a member of The Daily Collegian for almost her entire time at University Park, including serving as the paper’s sports editor as a junior. She also covered Penn State football as an intern for two different internships and interned with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Beckman served as the vice president of the Penn State chapter of AWSM (Association for Women in Sports Media), was a communications committee member for THON and got to cover two NFL London Games for an in-depth story on British fans of American Football for a class through the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.
She turned the skills and lessons learned through all of that in to what she calls “a dream job.”
“I wouldn’t have landed the internship in the Buccaneers’ digital and social media department right after graduation if I hadn’t had those experiences at Penn State,” Beckman said. “I really believe I wouldn’t have gotten those same opportunities at another school.”
Joining The Bucs “After working at the Super Bowl in 2018 (as a communications staff member), I kept in touch with my contacts from all the NFL teams, so I interviewed several different places, some for PR internships and some for social/digital ones. But when I got the offer from the Bucs, I knew that’s where I was meant to be. My internship ended in January of 2019, and three weeks later, a full time position opened up and I returned as the social media coordinator.”
The Day-to-Day Grind “We try to be as engaging as possible while promoting our brand. We want to get news or fun content out to our fans in a way that gets them excited about our team.
Our creative team sends my department videos/photos/graphics, and it’s my job to post the content that comes in on a daily basis. On a typical game day, I post some content in the morning to get our fans hyped up, then I head over to the stadium and get video clips on my phone of the team arrival, then do the same with pre-game warmups, and during the game I’m up in the press box live tweeting. After the game, I’ll head down to the field to get some post-game content as well, and hopefully some good winning content!”
More Than Tweeting “Some people may think all a social media coordinator does is tweet, but a lot more goes on behind the scenes. We are constantly communicating with different departments in the organization to be sure we’re getting our message across accurately and paying close attention to detail. There isn’t much room for error when you’re putting something out for thousands of people to see.”
Penn State Connections “I’m the biggest Penn State homer out there, and my co-workers always make fun of me since I’m always posting about the Penn State-NFL connections. It was great reuniting with more Penn Staters on opposing teams this season.”
Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media “There aren’t many people who do our job in the first place, so to know there are several Penn State alumni who share that in common makes it feel like a little community. ”
Remember The Moments
Darnell Brady, ’14 Telecommunications Social Media Manager Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars had just lost a gut-wrenching 24-20 decision to the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game.
To add further spoils to the day – the bus designated for Darnell Brady and other staff members broke down before it even made it out of the parking lot of Gillette Stadium. So, Brady, on the Jaguars’ social media team, and others had to board one of the four remaining busses.
He found a seat next to linebacker Paul Posluszny, a standout player at Penn State in the 2000s.
The two had never really interacted much before. Scrolling through the news of the day on social media, Brady caught word that the widely popular Rathskeller (bar) in State College was closing.
He instinctively turned to Posluszny and exclaimed, “Hey, did you see Skeller is closing?”
“(Posluszny) looks at me and he goes, ‘How do you know about the Skeller?’ I told him I went to Penn State and had just graduated three, four years ago,” Brady said. “He goes ‘You’ve been here the whole year. This whole season. And you haven’t once told me you’re a Penn Stater.’ I was just like ‘Well, I just never really had the opportunity to tell you.”
“Next thing you know, the next 30 minutes of the bus ride we’re talking all about Penn State and all the experiences we had. He ended up retiring a few months later. So, that ended up being his final post-game bus ride of his NFL career. That’s probably one of my favorite moments, even though we had just lost the AFC Championship Game. It really tied my Penn State background with my current job. It’s something I’ll always remembered. It’s moments like those that make it rewarding.”
Penn State At His Heart “(That) goes back to when I was in kindergarten, pre-school even. My dad was in the Air Force, so they wanted to send him to get his Ph.D. in supply chain management, so that he could teach at their graduate school. They sent him to Penn State for two years. That was pre-school, kindergarten and first grade for me, so an influential time. I was just in love with Penn State, with the (Berkey Creamery) ice cream a bit too much.”
The Penn State Experience “There were just so many opportunities for involvement. I can’t put a value on how valuable those experiences were. Homecoming, Nittany Nation, Nittanyville, interning for THON, interning for Penn State baseball and Penn State Athletics as a whole. That’s all helped me understand how athletic departments work and how effective marketing works. It helped me understand how game days work for various teams work, understanding how to effectively communicate. All of that.”
Meeting His Wife *Darnell met his wife Brittany (Jones) Brady at Penn State. The two married this past summer*
“I think we bumped into each other when I was a Homecoming captain and she was on photography committee. But we really got to know each other more when I was on the executive committee, like in charge of distribution management, and she was on the production committee. We were both all about Penn State. That’s my true love of Penn State. We even had a bunch of Penn State stuff at our wedding.”
Working For the Jags “It’s been an amazing experience. It’s been extremely demanding, but rewarding at the same time. There’s definitely days where I’m working from 5 a.m. to midnight, especially on game days where I’m making sure my final preparations are set. I get to the stadium early to capture the locker room being ready or the field being painted and stuff like that. I can be there until midnight after a game as well, scheduling posts for the next day or working on a highlight video to share.”
Working With NFL Players “I do work with them directly quite a bit. They’re normal people. There are guys that are awesome to work with and they’re happy to help with whatever we’re trying to do from a social perspective. And then there are guys who aren’t really interested in social media. That’s perfectly fine. They do their thing and they want to stay solely focused on their job. You can respect that. Other guys, that’s part of their careers in their eyes, is to build their brand on social media.”
Grateful For The Opportunity
Dana Byrnes, ’16 Advertising/Public Relations Social Media Coordinator Dallas Cowboys
Working on a THON committee as an undergrad, there was one introductory meeting that sticks with Dana Byrnes, even today.
Each member had to give a short presentation on their career goals. Share what they wanted to do, what they wanted to accomplish.
But what did Byrnes want to do?
Pretty much what she’s doing right now.
“I said I wanted to work for a professional sports team,” Byrnes recalls while laughing. “It’s funny how it worked out. I’m now in my second season with the Cowboys. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Path To The Cowboys “Right out of college I was working for Princeton football, doing social media, marketing and some small operations stuff. I then applied for a job at North Carolina with its football team and ended up getting a social media position there in October of 2016. I worked for the football team for about two years. It was the first time they had someone specifically on staff doing social media. Before, it had been their recruiting coordinator doing social media. They saw the need to have a social media position. I did a lot of different things for them, doing a lot of graphics, taking photos for social and putting together mailers again for recruits.
I ended up applying to the Cowboys, and ended up getting the job. I just took a chance on applying and it ended up working out. I’m so grateful. I can’t really believe where I am. I’m now in my second season with the team, so I’ve been here a year and a couple months. We have a larger social media staff. You can be really collaborative and work as a group. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Game Day Responsibilities “I’m in charge of on-site coverage for game day and any team events that we might have. I travel with the team anywhere they go, home or away. Before kick-off I post to Instagram stories and share photos from the team photographer. During the game, I’m live tweeting from the press box.”
Favorite Part Of This Role “The biggest thing that always stands out to me is when a player on the team comes up to me and says ‘Wow you guys have been doing an awesome job’ or ‘That video you guys posted was cool.’ When you get a compliment, thinking maybe the players don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff, you know they recognize your job and it’s really rewarding.”
When The Team Hits A Rough Patch “As a social media team we can’t, obviously, control anything that happens on the field. So, you just gotta roll with things sometimes. You have to do the best you can. If you’re in a losing streak, you can’t just pretend nothing is going on and stop tweeting. A great example is when we’re going into the next game, even after a loss or a couple of losses, we do hype videos. And the best way to address the losses is to just include them. Put it out there front and center.”
A Crazy, Awesome Job “I’m so happy to be here, because that was my goal when I was graduating. I don’t wake up and say ‘Oh man, I have to go to work.’ I look forward to going to the office every day. What people might not realize, though, is how crazy and busy it is. Once the season starts up with training camp, there are so few off days between then and the start of the offseason. And even then, it’s not really an offseason. A lot of travel. You have to love your position. As cool as it is, and it is really cool, it’s a lot of work. You have to put the time and energy into it.”
Empire State Of Social Media
Kevin Kline, ’11 Journalism Manager of Social Media New York Jets
When Kevin Kline joined the New York Jets in 2014, the team had a social media presence, but it was far different than what it is today.
Social media was popular then, but still growing into the mainstream news and connectivity behemoth it is today.
In fact, when he was hired, he was the first person to be employed by the organization with the words “social media” in their official job title.
“I think right around then, especially in the NFL, pro sports teams really started hiring full-time social media employees,” Kline reflected. “It was a growth opportunity for me and for the team.”
Now, social media is a huge part of the communications strategy of the Jets and all 31 other NFL franchises.
“Social media, people wake up in the morning and check social media before they check their emails,” Kline said. “That says a lot. They’re constantly going to their phones or computers all day to look at social media. It’s fun to figure out the best ways to get on the feeds and connect with fans.”
That New York Market “I love being in the New York market. I love the idea that people are looking at us a lot. We are the biggest market in the country. People, win or lose, they want to know what’s up with the Jets. What’s going on with this team. I think that’s awesome. For us, I feel like there’s always a lot of eyes on us no matter how the team might be performing. I love that.”
Keeping Up With Penn State Football “I still watch every game. I’m all about it. That hasn’t changed, probably won’t ever change. Even more so now than I ever have been. Whenever the Jets schedule comes out before the season, I always look at the Penn State schedule and cross-reference it to see which Saturdays we are travelling to road games. If we are travelling at the time of the game, I’ll be watching on my phone or follow on my phone and all that.”
Role With the Jets “I oversee all social media strategy and execution. It’s myself and a full-time employee working under me. He oversees the day-to-day to aspects. He’s posting and operating that way. I’m more in charge of making sure we’re steering the boat in the right direction, doing things we need to do to have success. I have to make sure we’re executing our sponsorship deals, that we’ve got the right messaging and promoting our internal initiatives. All that kind of stuff.”
When The Team Hits A Rough Patch “Our big thing is we definitely want to listen to what the fans are saying. We want to understand how they feel. We’re not going to be tone deaf in the types of stuff we put out when we’re losing. There will always be opportunities to have fun and do a lot of creative stuff when you win. But when you lose, the fans don’t want to hear much from you. And when you do engage with them, they want you to be straight up with them. You don’t want to sugarcoat anything. You have to be honest about the struggles your going through as a team.”
Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media “It’s awesome. I think it’s a testament to Penn State and the real-world experience you get there. In a lot of ways, Penn State and Penn State football is like a big city or NFL environment on game day. It’s a professional team in how we, as fans, treat it and how the media covers it. You don’t necessarily get that at every school. That’s probably helped each of us have success with our jobs. These careers in professional sports, we probably weren’t as wide-eyed as other people when we just started out. We were prepared for it. We were used to that environment.”
Share Who The Players Really Are
Meghan Loder, ’16 Journalism and English Social Media Manager Washington Redskins
Meghan Loder has been working with football teams for quite a while now.
As an undergrad at Penn State, she worked on “Unrivaled: The Penn State Football Story.” a weekly preview show that chronicles the Nittany Lions’ journey throughout a given season with exclusive video and game highlights.
Right out of school, she joined the New York Jets in their social media department – her boss was fellow alum Kevin Kline. Her role with the Jets landed her a position with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where she worked for two years.
She then joined the Washington Redskins as their social media manager this past May, and credits her experiences at Penn State for a relatively smooth transition in working in professional sports.
“I definitely use different aspects of what I learned with my degree in my job,” Loder said.
“With broadcasting, I am still editing and logging footage to create content. As an English major, it’s now using writing, editing and all that stuff all the time. I also think the Penn State environment, working around the football team, there’s an understanding of what big football is. I don’t go to an NFL stadium and feel overwhelmed, because I got to experience Penn State games.”
Knowing Your Audience “For me, coming from Pittsburgh, they’re a very rabid fanbase who eat up everything you do. Compared to Redskins fans, where they’re more waiting for success, they want success. And you have to understand the balance that’s required in what you’re posting. You can’t be too silly when the results don’t back it up on the field. But, you also have to understand, this is a business of entertainment. You want people to consume your content. You want them to engage with it. So, there’s always that fine line that you have to be aware of.”
Unique Content “The NFL is a copycat league, both on the field and with social media. And that’s not a bad thing to use what works, but you have to try and come up with original thoughts and content series.”
Working With Players And Coaches “They’re very aware that I’m there to do a job. They’re there to do a job. I understand their boundaries. I’m never trying to interrupt them in any sort of way. I’m not trying to take up too much of their time. If I want to do an Instagram Live with a certain player, I always make sure to run it through the appropriate channels and PR is aware. We always explain to the player that we’re a part of the organization. We’re player first. We’re not going to put anything out there that’s going to portray them in a negative light.”
Best Part Of The Job “I think it’s being able to show the players in a different light. We can share their stories and their personalities a bit more. We can show fans things that they might not normally see. Give them an inside look into the organization. Being able to package all of that in such a way that is entertaining and informative. It’s also so much fun to be a part of an NFL organization. To be a small little part of that bigger operation is very exciting.”
More Than Tweeting “Doing what I do is very cool, and I’m forever grateful to be a part of this organization and this league. But it is a lot of work. A lot of long nights, long weekends. To stay on top of the trends 24/7, it can be a lot to take in. I love my job and working around football.”
Saturday will mark the final time Penn State’s senior class get to suit up for a game inside Beaver Stadium.
As the Nittany Lions close their chapter on the regular season, the seniors close their home careers.
Penn State will honor 16 seniors (see the full list at the bottom of this story) as part of the annual Senior Day festivities. It will undoubtedly be a bittersweet day.
“I think I’m the kind of guy who likes to think I’ll be okay, but I have really no clue when it’s going to happen, especially with my parents being down there on the field,” senior safety Garrett Taylor said when asked if or when he’s going to get emotional.
“I think that’s going to be pretty special. So, I’ll see. It’s kind of weird thinking about it, but I’m excited just to have one last chance to get out there in Beaver and play in front of 100,000-some people. It’s been a heck of a journey and I’m super appreciative of it.”
Fellow senior Cam Brown said he expects to be somewhat emotional, but he’s not going to let it affect his play.
“I’ve been thinking about it, the process, just everything going through it,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an emotional weekend for me, mentally at least, but the game of football is about containing those emotions and playing the game. That’s my biggest thing this weekend is focusing and being able to channel myself to play in this game.”
Brown has been one of the key leaders for Penn State the last few seasons.
He’s currently third on the team in total tackles with 62 and tied for first in forced fumbles with three.
More importantly, he’s been a vocal leader for the Nittany Lions, being a source to rally behind whenever the team needs a boost before or after a game.
With his Nittany Lion career now winding down, Brown said wants to be remembered as someone who played hard for his teammates all the time.
“I try to push, tried to lead this year, and granted, it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I feel like that part is going to at least stay in the locker room,” Brown said. “The guys will know that I always fought for them, even with the coaches. I fought for the coaches in the locker room, I fought for the players with the coaches, and I feel like if that’s what I can leave here with, I’m good.”
Brown, Taylor and the rest of the senior class compiled a 40-11 record to this point, becoming the first 40-win senior class at Penn State since 2009.
A win over Rutgers would tie the 1997 seniors’ 41 wins.
“We talk about being an elite program day-in and day-out, 365 days of the year and what that takes,” Taylor said of the program’s development since he first got to campus as a freshman.
“I think what’s gotten us there is the buy-in. I came in when there was a point in the program there was still some turmoil and Coach Franklin was trying to get guys to buy in. We had some guys who were. We had some guys who weren’t. And that’s no fault to them. That’s just kind of where the program was at that point.”
For Taylor, especially, it’s been quite the journey to become a starting safety for the Nittany Lions.
An injury his senior season in high school forced him to sit out his freshman year as a redshirt. He was a role-player his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, with most of his contributions coming on special teams.
It wasn’t until his junior season that he found a significant role in Brent Pry’s defense. With the departures of Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, he won a starting job at the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense.
“It wasn’t a clear-cut route. But through the support of my parents, which was huge, the support of my coaches, and just mainly the belief in myself, I was able to have the patience and have faith that my opportunity was going to come,” Taylor said.
“Thankfully, I got that opportunity, earned the starting job and never looked back. I think a lot of guys when their opportunity comes, it’s either you take it or you miss it. I think I did a really good job of capitalizing on that.”
Taylor is one of a handful of fifth-year seniors for the Nittany Lions. Players, who for one reason or another had to go through a redshirt season.
They’ve seen the program experience some incredible highs — a Big Ten title, back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls, etc. — and some rough lows.
But each of them stuck around long enough to see Penn State back in the upper echelon of college football.
“Five years ago where the program was compared to where it is now is dramatically different. And the reality is those guys and guys like them, the guys that were fifth-year seniors before that, they’re owed most of the credit,” Franklin said.
“They really are. They committed to Penn State at a time that maybe it wasn’t as easy of a decision to commit to Penn State. They’ve battled through adversity. They’ve been phenomenal. So it’s really hard to kind of sit here and put into words what they have meant to this program, what they have meant to me personally.”