More Than Just Football

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

While football — practices, games, film study, etc. — is obviously a large part of the college experience for Penn State players, there’s more to that experience than just the football.

Like any other college student, they have interests and hobbies away from the field. They have aspects of Penn State specifically that they love, besides suiting up on Saturdays during the fall or attending an 8 a.m. class in the Thomas Building.

We caught up with a few Nittany Lions to see what other areas they enjoy most about the Penn State experience.  

For linebacker Micah Parsons, his favorite non-football aspect of Penn State is the opportunity to get an up-close look at the Nittany Lions’ dominant wrestling program, which won an NCAA title in Parsons’ first year on campus and has captured eight of the past nine championships overall. 

“Being able to go to those wrestling matches for free is crazy,” Parsons said. “To be able to see Cael (Sanderson) and them do what they do best, it’s an awesome feeling.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Parsons is a regular at nearly every home wrestling dual for Penn State, and doesn’t shy away from his support on Twitter, particularly when the Nittany Lions are competing on the mat at the Big Ten Championships or for an NCAA title. 

“If I could play any other sport here it’d definitely be wrestling,” he said. “They have like a mini college football experience and atmosphere in Rec Hall or the BJC. It’s loud, insane and intense. It’s amazing to watch it as a fan.”

Running backs Nick Eury and Ricky Slade agreed the support of Penn State fans and alumni is unrivaled.

When the team travels for away games, Eury and Slade are accustomed to seeing Penn States invade the opposing team’s stadium. 

“With Penn Staters, no matter who it is and even if you’ve never met them before, they make you feel like family,” Slade said. “I like it. It’s a home away from home type feeling when you’re around other Penn Staters.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Eury said he’s even interacted with Penn State fans on vacation, who approach him in his blue and white gear and strike up a conversation, talking to him as if they’ve known him for his whole life when they only just met a few minutes before then. 

That Penn State connection doesn’t really ever end. 

“Wherever you go if you’re wearing a Penn State hat or shirt, they’re excited to talk about it and you’re excited to talk about it. That’s such a cool thing,” Eury said. “Wherever you go, there’s going to be a Penn State fan and they’re going to love you for going to Penn State. The Penn State brand is incredible.” 

Eury might be getting a little bit more attention from Penn State fans. You might remember his incredible touchdown run in the season opener against Idaho, in which he dragged three Vandal defenders into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Defensive tackle Antonio Shelton couldn’t narrow his favorite Penn State trait outside of football. 

There a few things that will stick with him long after his playing career is over. First, he said he was thankful for the opportunity to join a fraternity at Penn State. 

Second, the bonding and relationships built with his teammates.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“I love them to death. It’s one of my favorite parts of being here, being in college, Shelton said. “We get each other through things. Friendships for life.” 

And lastly?

“That Penn State education, man. I’m getting a degree that’s going to be extremely valuable in getting my foot in the door in my profession,” Shelton, who is majoring in journalism, said.  “Getting a high-class education is so important to me.”

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)


The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Saturday’s meeting between No. 13 Penn State and Pittsburgh — the 100th meeting between the two Power 5 programs in the Commonwealth — had an old-school feel to it at times. Both defenses controlled most of the game, with neither offense able to get into much of a flow. 

A 13-play, 88-yard drive in the third quarter by the Nittany Lions offense, coupled with a goal line stand in the fourth quarter for their defense (aided by the puzzling decision by Panthers coach to kick a field goal from the one-yard line) was enough to see Penn State come away with the 17-10 win. 

Looking Back

Star of The Game: LB Micah Parsons

This was the kind of performance Penn State fans envisioned from Micah Parsons when James Franklin and his staff secured his 5-star commitment as a recruit in December of 2017. Parsons was all over the field on Saturday, despite missing a few snaps to get checked on in the injury tent in the fourth quarter. He led the team with nine tackles and played a key role in setting the tone early for the defense. The scary part in all of this? This is only Parsons’ second season of playing linebacker. He’s only going to get better. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: K Jordan Stout sets a program record

With Pitt just having taken a 10-7 lead in the waning minutes of the first half, Penn State needed any type of score it could get to go into halftime. The Nittany Lions offense moved the ball into the Panthers’ territory but the drive stalled with a few seconds left. Jordan Stout nailed the ensuing 57-yard field goal to tie the game and give Penn State some momentum to close the half. Stout’s kick broke the program record for longest field goal, previously held by Chris Bahr’s 55-yard boots in 1975 against Temple, Ohio State and Syracuse. 

Looking Ahead

Bye Week Blues

Penn State enters its first bye week of the season 3-0, but no doubt with plenty to correct between now and when it faces Maryland for a Friday night clash on Sept. 27. The Terrapins  also have a bye week this week and will look to rebound from a deflating road loss at Temple. The loss to the Owls will sting head coach Mike Locklsey after his team put together a complete performance just a week earlier in a 63-20 demolition over then-No. 21 Syracuse. 

Jackson brings stability 

When Josh Jackson transferred to Maryland from Virginia Tech in February, Terps fans hoped he would finally bring some stability to a quarterback position that had been a revolving door in the last handful of seasons. Through three games, Jackson has certainly done that, tossing 724 yards and eight touchdowns. If he can maintain that type of production the rest of the season, Maryland will almost certainly reach a bowl game. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A familiar face 

Penn State fans should be familiar with Mike Locksley. He coached the Terrapins in an interim role during the 2015 season and nearly pulled off the upset over Penn State in a 31-30 loss in Baltimore. He was also on Ron Zook’s staff at Illinois during the Fighting Illini’s best run of recent memory in the mid-2000s, and helped recruit players like Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn to Champaign. His first two games were nearly perfect back on the sidelines for the Terps on a permanent basis, though the loss at Temple has brought things back down to earth a bit.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Buffalo and Pitt

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — It was the proverbial tale of two halves in the second game of the season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions struggled in the first two quarters against a Buffalo team fresh off a 10-win season. Some fans showered the players and coaches with boos as they jogged off the field and into the locker room, not hiding their displeasure in seeing their team down 10-7. 

The second half was a completely different story, though. Penn State blew past the Bulls in dominant fashion, outscoring their MAC foe 38-3 in the second half for a 45-13 win. It was an offensive, and defensive, explosion that showed what the Nittany Lions can become when they’re clicking. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look back at Saturday’s win before looking ahead to Week 3 opponent Pittsburgh. 

Looking Back

Star Of The Game: TE Pat Freiermuth  

After being held to a single catch for negative yardage in the first half, Pat Freiermuth rebounded for a seven-catch, 99-yard performance in the second frame. He said he asked offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and tight ends coach Tyler Bowen to throw his way more in the second half, and they seemingly obliged. It wasn’t so much he was frustrated with his lack of targets, and more so he felt he was someone the team could lean on to get a spark on offense. The second play of the third quarter saw Clifford connect with Freiermuth for 17 yards to the Buffalo 48-yard line. On Penn State’s second drive, after a John Reid interception return for a touchdown and a punt from Buffalo, Clifford flicked a throw over the middle and Freiermuth did the rest, racing past the safety and into the end zone. In a flash, the Nittany Lions were back in control, 21-10. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: John Reid’s pick six

Following a Ricky Slade fumble on the Nittany Lions’ opening possession of the third quarter, the Bulls were back on offense, looking to extend their unexpected lead. John Reid wasn’t having it. The fifth-year cornerback read the eyes of Buffalo quarterback Matt Myers perfectly as he threw an out route to his receiver. Reid jumped the route, snagged Myers’ pass and jetted to the end zone. It was exactly the jolt the team, and Beaver Stadium, needed to spring back into life. The boos became cheers and chants. The Nittany Lions never looked back.

Looking Ahead

Mixed bag for Pitt’s Pickett through two weeks

Pitt dropped its season opener to Virginia, 30-14. Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett was under duress all game long behind a Panthers offensive line that is breaking in four new starters. Pickett attempted 41 passes against the Cavaliers, but completed just 21 of them for 185 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Things were much better in the Week Two win over Ohio, with Pickett throwing a career-high 321 yards and a touchdown. He was also much better protected, with the Panthers only surrendering a single sack. 

Injuries to the Pitt defensive front

The Panthers will be without two key pieces when they face the Nittany Lions. Junior defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, who injured his knee in the season opener, has been ruled out for the season. So to has junior defensive end Rashad Weaver, who went down with a knee injury during training camp.

Coming to an end

Saturday’s game between Penn State and Pitt is the last scheduled meeting between the two Commonwealth rivals. There are no immediate plans to renew the series after the latest four-game matchup. Pitt won in dramatic fashion in 2016. The Nittany Lions have dominated the past two games, though, beating the Panthers by a combined score of 84-20. Penn State is looking to make it three wins in a row over the Panthers, and claim its 53rd win in the series.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — In a brand new series with the The Football Letter blog, we will take a quick look back at the previous Penn State football game before turning the page with a look ahead to the Nittany Lions’ next opponent. 

In this week’s edition, we recap the dominant 79-7 win over Idaho in the season opener and then offer fans a short glimpse of what they can expect from Week 2 opponent Buffalo.  

Looking Back

Star Of The Game: RB Devyn Ford  

KJ Hamler could have easily been the choice here, accumulating 115 yards on just four catches, two of which went for touchdowns. Penn State fans should be really excited about the connection between Hamler and his new quarterback, Sean Clifford. My pick for the star of the Idaho game, though, is freshman tailback Devyn Ford. Ford wowed the Beaver Stadium crowd with an 81-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, when he split a crease on the right side of Penn State’s offensive line turned up field and raced his way to the end zone in a flash. He finished the day with 107 yards on six carries. Not bad for a true freshman making his first in-game appearance at the college level. 

Moment of Magic: Walk-on Nick Eury powers his way into the end zone 

Fans that turned off the game in its dwindling minutes or left Beaver Stadium early to beat the post-game traffic missed the highlight of the day — at least in this writer’s opinion. Even with Penn State ahead 71-7 with just over two minutes to go, walk-on Nick Eury provided a moment of magic. The Shavertown, Pennsylvania, native took a handoff in the red zone from quarterback Michael Shuster and bulldozed his way through one defender before dragging another two defenders two yards and stretched across the goal line for a touchdown. He was not going to be denied. For a player that works so hard week in and week out, knowing he’s probably not going to see much action as the season progresses, I’m sure it meant a lot for him. It was an example of what makes college football so great. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Buffalo’s 2018 At A Glance

The 2018 campaign proved to be one of the best in team history for the Bulls. Head coach Lance Leipold helped guide Buffalo to a 10-4 finish, breaking the previous program record for wins in a single season (8). The Bulls won the MAC East Division crown but fell to West Division champs Northern Illinois in the conference title game in Detroit 30-29. Buffalo then earned a trip to Mobile, Alabama for the Dollar General Bowl, but fell short there as well, losing 42-32 to Troy. 

Running With The Bulls

Like Penn State, Buffalo started its season with a win over an FCS foe, topping Robert Morris 38-10. The Bulls ran their way over the Colonials, gaining 285 yards on the ground. Of the Bulls’ 57 offensive snaps in the game, 47 of them were run plays. 

Names To Remember  

Buffalo running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks picked up where they left off a season ago, which saw the former named Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. Patterson finished Saturday’s win with 90 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts. Marks had 13 rushes for 75 yards. While the Bulls used five different backs against the Colonials, Patterson and Marks will surely get the bulk of the carries against Penn State. It will be interesting to see how the duo and the Bulls’ offensive line hold up against that vaunted Nittany Lions front seven.