Legendary Perspective

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

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

For example: Dan Connor and Jack Ham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Penn State Preview: Northwestern

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

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

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

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

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

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

The line: Penn State -25.5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CB Johnny Dixon (3) lays a hit on an Auburn WR while CB Daequan Hardy (25) wraps him up in Penn State’s 41-12 win over the Tigers. Steve Manuel / The Football Letter

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

Game details: No. 14/15 Penn State (3-0) vs Central Michigan (2-1). Noon ET kickoff. Broadcast on BTN

Venue: Beaver Stadium

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): Patchy fog in the morning; otherwise, some sunshine giving way to clouds; a great afternoon for football. High of 65 degrees.

The line: Penn State -27.5

All-time series: Penn State leads 1-0

Against The MAC: The Nittany Lions hold a 10-2 all-time record against current members of the MAC.

Last week: Penn State went into Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium and dominated its SEC opponent. The 41-12 victory over the Tigers was the second-largest margin of victory for a Big Ten team in a road game against an SEC opponent, behind only Purdue’s 35-3 win over Missouri in 2017. Central Michigan got in the win column for the first time this season with a 41-0 shutout effort over Bucknell.

Last meeting (2005): It’s kind of a surprise these two programs have only met just once before given the frequency of Penn State playing MAC opposition since joining the Big Ten. The lone matchup was a blowout win for the Nittany Lions in 2005, a season full of memories for Penn State fans. Michael Robinson finished 14 for 23 for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns were to Deon Butler on strikes of 54 and 24 yards in the second quarter. The eventual 40-3 decision in favor of the Nittany Lions was the third win en route to an eventual 11-1 finish, Big Ten title and Orange Bowl win over Florida State.

The lead: Momentum is churning for Penn State as it returns home after a big win at Auburn. The Nittany Lions will look to keep things on track and avoid the upset against the Chippewas.

Count on: The Penn State secondary to shine. It’s no secret the back end of the defense was viewed as the strength of that side of the ball. Through three wins, we’ve seen nothing to dispel that notion. Auburn couldn’t generate much through the air until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. While Central Michigan enters this game 19th in the FBS in passing offense (311.0), expect the Nittany Lions secondary to continue to play well.

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s tight ends. Brenton Strange has put together a really good start to this season, leading the team in receiving yards (169). He’s also been a critical element in the run game, aiding the offensive line in opening up some holes for Nicholas Singleton and the rest of the rushing attack. Theo Washington has yet to see game action because of injury, but did dress last week against the Tigers for the first time this season. This might be a good week to get him some reps under his belt as Penn State wraps up the non-conference portion of its schedule.

Number To Know: Nicholas Singleton’s 334 rushing yards are Penn State’s most in the first three games in a season since Larry Johnson’s 362 in 2002.

1982: Penn State is set to honor the 1982 National Championship team at halftime of Saturday’s game.

Other Big Ten Games This Week:
– Chattanooga at Illinois (Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Maryland at No. 4/4 Michigan (Saturday, Noon ET. FOX)
– Minnesota at Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Indiana at Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET. ESPN2)
– Iowa at Rutgers (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. FS1)
– Wisconsin at No. 3 Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET. ABC)
– Miami (OH) at Northwestern (7:30 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Florida Atlantic at Purdue (7:30 p.m. ET. BTN)

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Penn State Preview: Auburn

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

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

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

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

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

The line: Penn State -3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Penn State Preview: Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

The line: Penn State -25.

All-time series: Penn State leads 5-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The Archives Penn State V. Ohio (1969)

All-time great linebacker Jack Ham (33) was a standout player for the 1969 Penn State Football team / Photo Credit: The Daily Collegian

The 1969 Penn State Football season will go down as one of the best in Penn State history, regardless of the controversy that surrounded its culmination.

The Nittany Lions finished 11-0, marking the second-consecutive unbeaten and untied season for Joe Paterno’s program.

Penn State was led by captains Tom Jackson, Mike Reid and Steve Smear, alongside standout linebacker Jack Ham and a trio of excellent rushing threats in Charlie Pittman, Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell.

One of those 11 wins came against the Ohio Bobcats, with the Nittany Lions pummeling their MAC opponent, 42-3 in front of a sold-out crowd of 49,069 at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 25.

There were also wins over Navy, Colorado, Kansas State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Pitt and NC State.

Somehow, that undefeated mark and a 10-3 Orange Bowl win over No. 6 Missouri were not enough for Penn State to even be considered for a national championship in the eyes of then U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The president had remarked ahead of the Dec. 6 matchup between Texas and Arkansas — for which he would be in attendance — that he would award the winner of the game with a special plaque and the designation of national champions. The Longhorns would win the contest, 15-14, thus earning that designation from Nixon.

In line with the president’s proclamation, college football’s voting pool at the time named Texas the unanimous national champs less than a month later after the Longhorns defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

While Penn State was named co-national champions by the Foundation for the Analysis of Competitions and Tournaments (FACT) and the Sagarin Ratings, it’s hard to feel like the Nittany Lions were unjustly wiggled out of the consensus national title race.

Paterno later famously at Penn State’s 1973 commencement ceremony that “I’ve wondered how President Nixon could know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so much about college football in 1969.”

You can watch more on this unique event in college football history through the 2014 ESPN Documentary: “Nixon’s National Champs,” which took a closer look at Nixon’s decision to award Texas the national champion honor. The documentary can be found on WatchESPN.

Penn State Preview: Purdue

Penn State begins its 2022 campaign on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Purdue. Photo Credit: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

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

Welcome to this week’s game preview for the 2022 season opener against Purdue.

Game Details: Penn State vs. Purdue. Thursday, Sept. 1. 8 p.m. ET. FOX

Venue: Ross-Ade Stadium

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): Evening temperatures around 64 degrees with clear skies.

The Line: Penn State -3.5 (via Action Network)

All-Time Series: Penn State leads 15-3-3.

Last Meeting: Penn State won during the 2019 season, 35-7.

Last Week: This is the season opener for both teams.

Other Big Ten Games This Week:
– New Mexico State at Minnesota (Thursday, 9 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Western Michigan at No. 15 Michigan State (Friday, 7 p.m. ET. ESPN)
– Illinois at Indiana (Friday, 8 p.m. ET. FS1)
– Colorado State at No. 8 Michigan (Saturday, Noon ET. ABC)
– South Dakota State at Iowa (Saturday, Noon ET. FS1)
– Buffalo at Maryland (Saturday, Noon ET. BTN)
– Rutgers at Boston College (Saturday, Noon ET. ACC Network)
– North Dakota at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Illinois State at No. 18 Wisconsin (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. FS1)
– No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET. ABC)

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

The Lead: It’s hard to believe another season of Penn State Football is here. The Nittany Lions get their 2022 campaign started under the lights for a midweek matchup at Purdue. This will be the 12th time in the last 13 seasons Penn State begins Big Ten play on the road. This Boilermakers squad coming off a nine-win season that saw them beat Tennessee in their own backyard in a bowl game will represent another significant season-opening test for James Franklin and his team.

Penn State Wins If: The offensive line protects Sean Clifford and opens up running lanes for Penn State’s halfbacks. This will be a significant theme for the season as a whole. Last season, this unit struggled mightily keeping its quarterback upright and creating holes for running backs. Purdue loses First Team-All Big Ten and Third-Team All American selection George Karlaftis, but do bring back three other starters from last year’s defensive line. The Nittany Lions offensive line must give Clifford time to find Penn State’s plethora of playmakers. If they can, the blue and white can walk out of West Lafayette with a big Week 1 win.

Purdue Wins If: An experienced defense harasses Sean Clifford consistently. As a whole, Purdue’s defense returns nine starters from last year. We saw Penn State’s offense struggle last year in the second half of the season as Clifford got hit way more than any quarterback should. The Nittany Lions cannot afford for their sixth-year quarterback to be under a lot of pressure and the offense to get bogged down.

Key Penn State Returnees:
– Sean Clifford, Sr., QB
– Parker Washington, So., WR
– Juice Scruggs, Sr., C
– PJ Mustipher, Sr., DT
– Curtis Jacobs, So., OLB
– Joey Porter Jr., Jr., CB
– Ji’Ayir Brown, Sr., S

Photo Credit: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Keep An Eye On: Parker Washington. With Jahan Dotson off to the NFL after a historic 2021 season, Parker Washington enters the spotlight at WR No. 1. He finished second on the team behind Dotson in catches each of the past two seasons and will now look to take over as Sean Clifford’s top target.

Freshman To Watch: Nick Singleton. The true freshman running back was consensus five-star recruit out of Governor Mifflin High School in Pennsylvania, choosing Penn State over other offers from the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Tennessee. He’s been earning praise since arriving to campus in January as an early enrollee. At 6’0, 219 pounds, he’s already got the necessary physique to be an impact player in the Big Ten. With some changes in the running back room for the Nittany Lions, he can provide an immediate spark for the offense.

Trivia Tidbit: Penn State has started off seasons on the right foot more often than not in recent memory. The Nittany Lions have won 17 of their last 20 season-opening contests and five of the last six. The Lions are 111-22-2 all-time in season openers.

Membership Note: There are Nittany Lions all over the world, and the Alumni Association can help you connect with them through interest groups and geographically-based chapters. Whether you live in Philadelphia or Miami, Boston or San Diego, or somewhere in between, there’s likely an Alumni Association chapter or affiliate group nearby. Joining a chapter is a great way to connect with new people that you’ve already got something in common with—your love for Penn State!

Football Letter Live: Football Letter Live returned for its third season this past Thursday, with hosts Paul Clifford and John Patishnock joined by Penn State Vice President For Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft and Penn State Football letterman Shelly Hammonds. Football Letter Live shows how all Penn Staters can cheer on the Nitttany Lions, at home and on the road, with alumni and fans having the opportunity to attend chapter watch parties, register for Roar Tour events on the road (our pregame pep rally), and much more.

Catch the full episode here: https://youtu.be/adLMExUafoc.

The Roaring 20: 2022 Fall Semester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mindset Doesn’t Change

Jake Pinegar enters his fifth season in Happy Valley. Photo by Steven Manuel/The Football Letter

Jake Pinegar has played a lot of football for Penn State. Thirty-seven games to be exact.

Last season, he had to take a little bit of a back seat for the first time in his career.

After attempting double-digit field goals his first three seasons with the Nittany Lions, including 24 as a true freshman in 2018, Pinegar was a backup to the do-it-all Jordan Stout in 2021.

Stout, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of this past spring’s NFL Draft, assumed the lead role in all three phases of the kicking game in 2021 (field goals, kick-offs and extra points). He was was the Big Ten’s Punter of The Year.

That slid Pinegar down the pecking order, and he attempted just two field goals all season. Both came in the Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas, where he made one attempt and missed the other.

While his playing time dipped, Pinegar’s mindset, however, didn’t change.

“To me, nothing changed much,” Pinegar said at Penn State’s media day. “I’m always working to be the best version of myself. When (Jordan) kind of took that larger role last year, I didn’t take my foot off the gas. I kept working and kept striving to do as much as I could. This offseason, I think I’ve taken a a big leap and made some big strides.” 

Complacency has never set in for the Ankeny, Iowa, native.

“I’ve worked a lot on coming through the ball more, trusting my target line and swing” Pinegar said. “I’ve worked a lot on kick-offs as well. Just want to improve my range on everything so far.” 

It’s also important not to forget that despite last year’s diminished role, Pinegar has had a productive career for Penn State up to this point.

The redshirt senior ranks fourth on the program’s all-time career extra points list (138), sixth in field goal percentage (74.0), 10th in field goal attempts (51), 11th in makes (37) and is eighth on the all-time scoring list (244 points).

He’s also just the 14th Nittany Lion to ever reach at-least 200 career points and broke. the Penn State freshman scoring record in 2018 with 101 points, passing Kevin Kelly’s previous mark of 99.

That experience will come in handy as Pinegar competes in camp with redshirt freshman Sander Sahaydak for the lead field goal role.

While new Special Teams Coordinator Stacy Collins said there isn’t a specific timeline in place right now to name a starter, both Pinegar and Sahaydak have impressed so far in camp.

“It’s been a great competition,” Collins said at Saturday’s media day. “They’ve both struck the ball extremely well the last four days. We need to trend and continue to do that. That competition has been a tight one and excited to see how both those guys prepared themselves through spring. They trended extremely well through the spring and finishing through the spring game.”

Whether he wins the starting job or not, Pinegar is looked at as one of the leaders in the team.

That comes with having been around the program for five years now and the level of professionalism he’s demonstrated every day, regardless of where he’s listed on the depth chart.

“This is my fifth year, so I’ve been around this program for a long time,” Pinegar said. “There are a couple of us with the special teams unit as well that have been here a while. We’ve seen this program be successful and what it takes to reach that level, so we try to do our best to teach those younger guys what it means and what it takes to win.” 

Motivating Factors

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

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

Football student-athletes endure a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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