Social Media Superstar

Penn State graduate and Super Bowl champion Jill Beckman has kept fans connected to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since she joined the organization as a digital and social media intern in July 2018. Seven months later, she was promoted to her current role: Bucs’ social media coordinator. Photo credit: Logan Bowles/NFL

When Penn Staters think of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they have a connection with Super Bowl champions such as Chris Godwin, A.Q. Shipley, and Donovan Smith, among other Nittany Lions.

Jill Beckman should be included on that list, too.

Graduating in 2018, Beckman covered the Penn State football team for The Daily Collegian as a student, and then for the Philadelphia Media Network (Philly.com, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Daily News). She also spent a summer interning for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, covering the city’s three major sports teams.

She’s continued to build an impressive career, now serving as social media coordinator for the Buccaneers. She joined the organization in July 2018 as a digital and social media intern and was promoted seven months later to her current role.

Beckman has fond memories of her time at Penn State, both as a student and covering the football team. One example: her Twitter cover photo features the Nittany Lions singing the alma mater at Beaver Stadium.

We figured since we’re in town for the Outback Bowl, now’s a good time to catch up with Beckman. Check out her Q&A to learn how she captures those special Penn Staters-in-the-NFL moments, hear her perspective on taking care of your mental health, and more.

The Football Letter: Jersey swaps between players from the same school have become popular over the years, and you’ve captured plenty of those pictures. Do you coordinate that before the game, or ask afterward? Also, what’s the on-field vibe like when Nittany Lions can meet in the NFL and share a few minutes together? Any favorite memories from those occasions?

Jill Beckman: The Nittany Lions always seem to find each other after the game, and I’m just there to capture the moment along with other members of our media team! There is usually no coordination on my end — except for when we played the Dolphins this year and I had to chase down Donovan Smith to get in the photo with Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki. Each game, I go down to the field from the press box with a few minutes left on the clock when it looks like we’re going to win, which has thankfully been a lot lately, and I capture celebration content, which includes jersey swaps from many different players. If I know there are a good number of Penn Staters on the opposing team, or if it’s someone who played with one of our guys, I’ll keep that in mind and make sure to keep an eye out for that moment. It always seems to be the same few schools that have a ton of players in the NFL, Penn State being one of them.

TFL: From a mental health perspective: Whether it’s on a bye week or during a hectic Sunday in the NFL, how do you find a few moments for yourself to take a breather, relax, and refocus? Any lessons you’ve learned over the years that’s helped?

JB: This is something that’s very important to me because no one can perform at their best if they’re burnt out. Social media is 24/7, so we need someone on call every day, including holidays and weekends, and that can’t be all one person. It’s important to have a team you can trust so you can take time off, because social media will continue whether you’re working or not. When I have a day off, I turn off all my notifications so I’m not tempted to check anything. Also, whenever my Apple Watch tells me to breath, I’ve been trying to actually do that for one minute instead of getting rid of the notification! Things like that and meditation are key.

TFL: How did your time covering Penn State football in school help prepare you for your career path?

JB: I had never worked for a team before the Buccaneers, but I had all the experience and qualifications I needed from covering Penn State football and other Penn State sports for news outlets during my time in college. When I attended Penn State as a print and digital journalism major, I didn’t even know doing social media for a team was an option. But many of my skills from journalism transferred to this role. I’m still covering the team, taking videos on the field, live tweeting and writing copy all day, just for shorter posts instead of articles. My time at Penn State could not have prepared me more for my career in sports.

TFL: When you’re on the field (at a practice or during a game), what’s your approach to getting the best and most genuine moments you can? How do you cultivate relationships and trust with the players?

JB: I look for fun moments or anything I think fans would be interested in seeing. When working on the club media side, you still have to work to cultivate relationships, but you get the advantage of being in the building. Knowing the players’ No. 1 priority is not media (hint: it’s football) and being understanding of that goes a long way. It also helps that this is my fourth season with the team, so I’ve cultivated relationships over the years just like you do with any other co-workers. During the pandemic, our access to the team has been restricted, so it has definitely helped having that solid foundation.

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Lifelong Service to Penn State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Success With Honor Exemplified

In the past few days, two Penn Staters were recognized for contributions that go beyond the playing field, exemplifying Success With Honor.

On Tuesday, former Penn State linebacker and current Detroit Lions fullback Jason Cabinda was nominated by his organization for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The honor recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities, in addition to their success on the field.

“Guys like Jason Cabinda can change the world,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said in a statement released by the team. “He is a man of principle who sets such a positive example for our entire locker room. Since the day I met him, he has embodied what it means to be a leader on and off the field. With our platform in today’s NFL, it is our duty to help lift up the lives of others, and Jason carries this responsibility with dignity and honor.”

As a Nittany Lion, Cabinda totaled 283 tackles as a reliable linebacker from 2014-17. He stood out during his senior season in Happy Valley by making 88 total tackles, forcing two fumbles, and grabbing 6.5 tackles for loss.

Since joining Detroit in 2019, Cabinda has been devoted to the youth and community in Detroit through his various efforts with Davison Elementary School. This August, he hosted a Back to School Book Drive where he gave out more than 800 books in addition to school supplies for students to take home. Cabinda also held virtual weekly reading comprehension sessions with Davison students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of eradicating childhood illiteracy.

Incentivizing students to invest in their education, he established the “Jason Cabinda Attendance Award,” given to students that maintain 100 percent attendance during the school year. His programming at Davison Elementary has garnered funding from the Ford Motor Co. Fund, Athletes for Charity and other donors.

“Walter Payton’s legacy embodies so many things. He was one of the greatest running backs on the field, and he truly looked out for people that didn’t have a voice and gave them a voice. I think within my character, I hope to embody Walter Payton in the sense of wanting to look out for others and wanting to be somebody who gives back and be somebody who remembers their roots and where they came from,” Cabinda said in the release from the team. “When you’re in this position, you can have such an impact on these communities. You can have an impact knowing that the person that is standing in front of them is a person that has been in their shoes and has been sitting in their seats.”


A current Nittany Lion also received recognition on Tuesday, as Penn State men’s basketball senior forward John Harrar was named a top 30 candidate for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award.

To be eligible for the award, a player must be classified as senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages athletes to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

From the list of 30 candidates, a committee will select 10 finalists in February. Those 10 names will then be placed on the official ballot for a nationwide vote. Fan balloting will be coupled with votes from coaches and media to determine the recipient of the award.

Harrar has been actively involved in several community service initiatives throughout his time in Happy Valley, including the State College Area Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk, Coaches vs. Cancer-Penn State initiatives, and volunteering at the Centre County United Way Day of Caring where he and the Nittany Lions have served breakfasts to the 1,500 volunteers.

Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry had this to say about Harrar in a recent press conference: “What that kid does every day – in practice, in the film room, in the locker room, on the court – that’s Penn State. When I got here and people started telling me about it –  I’ve got people on my staff from Penn State, and people in the community tell me about Penn State – what I hear that Penn State is, I see it every day and I see it in John and what he does and who he is.”

In addition to his success on the court (he is currently in the top 10 in the country in rebounding), Harrar is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in management and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in management and organizational leadership from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.

Harrar is the well-documented leader for Penn State basketball. He was named a recipient of the 2021 Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, one of just 28 recipients amongst all Big Ten student-athletes in every sport. He is known for consistently bringing a strong leadership presence and outstanding work ethic that has been praised by opposing coaches and national media alike.

Harrar is also a two-time recipient of Big Ten Sportsmanship Award that is awarded to one member of each Big Ten team.

With players granted an extra year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 pandemic, returning to Penn State for an extra season was never a hard decision for the sixth-year forward, even with the possibility of transferring elsewhere on the table.
 
“I have no regrets coming back,” said Harrar. “This is home for sure.”

Officially Official

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

James Franklin isn’t going anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building Momentum

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

James Franklin remembers how things used to be.

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

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

Times have since changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Staying Involved

Journey Brown (right) talked with teammate Noah Cain on Wednesday afternoon at the Lasch practice fields. Although a medical retirement ended his playing days, Brown still regularly attends practice and continues his academic studies. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Scanning the Lasch practice fields Wednesday afternoon, somebody stood out.

It wasn’t because of a laser throw, or an acrobatic catch, or even a lightning-quick burst on either side of the ball. In fact, the guy wasn’t even in pads. He was wearing sweats. Still, what he was doing was impressive. Mainly, continuing to be a leader and supportive presence for his teammates.

Running back Journey Brown had one of the most legendary bowl performances in Penn State history in the Nittany Lions’ largely entertaining 53-39 victory over Memphis in the 2019 Cotton Bowl. He broke tackles, bowled over defenders, and provided plenty of clutch plays during a game that seesawed throughout.

The performance was incredible. It also marked the last time Brown will ever play competitive football again.

In November 2020, Brown announced a medical retirement from football due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition which thickens the walls of the heart chamber and makes it hard for the heart to pump blood. You can read more about Brown’s retirement on Athletics’ website. Immediately, Brown received an outpouring of support from coaches, teammates, alumni, and fans.

That support continues to this day, and you can check out our two videos below that show both head coach James Franklin and offensive lineman Juice Scruggs talking about Brown’s impact. Particularly noteworthy is Franklin emphasizing the importance of Brown graduating, along with additional players who’ve had to medically retire.

Earlier this month, I noticed that Micah Parsons has Brown included in his Twitter cover photo, and it inspired us to share some photos of Brown. Both he and Parsons propelled Penn State to that victory in the Cotton Bowl, with Parsons’ cover photo showing both of them — and their respective trophies for outstanding offensive and defensive player — at a media availability after the game.

Parsons is the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and his Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-1 record, so it says a lot that he still chooses to highlight his days at Penn State and include Brown. You can see the photos we posted below, and from reading the replies, Brown still has fans cheering him in his post-playing days.

Count us at The Football Letter among those cheering for him, both at Penn State and in whatever he chooses to do after graduating.

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Social Media Milestone

Penn Staters packed Old Main Lawn when ESPN’s College Game Day visited in September for the White Out against Auburn. Having the wildly popular show broadcast from University Park provided multiple opportunities to capture and share enduring moments on The Football Letter’s platforms. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Something cool happened the other day.

I was looking at the analytics for our Football Letter Twitter account, and I saw that for September, we surpassed a million impressions in the month.

“We” is the appropriate word here, as I’m fortunate to work with an inspiring and impressive group of colleagues. Between a team of writers, graphic designers, and website gurus — that’s not an official title, though I’ve learned it’s an apt description, as it seems like whenever an obstacle arises, a solution follows soon after — there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. 

And of course, John Black and Steve Manuel continue to provide coverage as only they can. 

What’s posted to our Twitter account is the final step of a lot of planning, working, editing, and sometimes traveling. Whenever we arrive at a hotel, my first two questions are always, “What’s the WiFi password?” and “How strong is the connection?”

As alumni know, we’ve expanded The Football Letter in the last year, airing a live, weekly online show — Football Letter Live — and sending a game day email that’s packed with videos, photos, and stories. Add in our video coverage, and there are now more ways for Penn Staters to stay connected to the football program through The Football Letter than ever before.

Sharing videos that transport Penn Staters onto the field at Beaver Stadium is one way that The Football Letter continues the original vision of Ridge Riley — and continued by John Black — to be the eyes and ears for alumni at games.

Of course, there’s another group that I need to mention: our Penn State alumni audience. We don’t reach that number without alumni and friends following us and sharing our posts. 

Above all, we hope you find value in our coverage. If you’re not at Beaver Stadium on game day, we want to make you feel like you were. If you’re in the stands, we want to make you feel like you were on the field

It’s all about recording and sharing enduring moments. Sometimes that’s in the form of videos, other times with photos, and still other times with John Black’s historic perspective. Through our twice-weekly emails, we combine all these aspects and add in some sharp graphics and features on our blog that readers hopefully find compelling. And it’s delivered right to your inbox, with no need to go searching.

We also updated our Football Letter landing page, which shares historical information on the publication, along with details on how to access past issues, another member benefit.

James Franklin rocking a fedora while celebrating with fans after a season-opening win at Wisconsin is just one example of the types of enduring moments we aim to share with Penn Staters.

Again, thank you for watching, reading, listening, and sharing. We hope to continue to grow our audience, and current Penn Staters who enjoy The Football Letter will play a pivotal role. If you know somebody who likes Penn State football — and we have a feeling that you do — go ahead and encourage them to give us a follow on Twitter or visit our landing page to learn more.

Of course, our audience grows simultaneously with our membership. If you’re not a member of the Alumni Association, you’re always welcome to visit alumni.psu.edu/join to become part of the Pride anytime you like. You’ll receive 30-plus benefits, including all The Football Letter emails throughout the season, and a whole lot more.

Lastly, if you have a story idea or know of a letterman or alumni volunteer who embodies the Success With Honor mantra, let me know at jmp411@psu.edu. We’re always happy to hear stories of Penn State alumni, and we look forward to sharing lots more this season and beyond. 

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Making An Entrance

Thousands of Penn Staters routinely welcome James Franklin and the Nittany Lions prior to each home game at Beaver Stadium. If you want to attend team arrival this season, it’s usually 2.5 hours before kickoff and features performances from the Blue Band, Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes. Photo credit: John Patishnock

For a moment, James Franklin morphed into Bil Keane.

If the latter name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s for good reason. Keane was a cartoonist best known for his drawings of The Family Circus. The comic strip debuted in 1960 and remains in circulation to this day, with Keane’s son, Jeff, continuing the series. According to the comic’s publisher, The Family Circus is the most widely circulated comic in the world, appearing in over 1,500 newspapers.

OK, so what does all this have to do with Franklin and Penn State football?

Turns out, there is a connection. Sort of. Kind of. Just stick with me for a moment (please).

In a popular recurring theme of the comic strip, one of the children, Billy, takes a circuitous path to go a short distance, with a dotted line detailing his route. You can see one example in this NPR article.

That’s the image that sprung to mind as Franklin explained how exactly the Nittany Lions get to the stadium for team arrival after leaving the hotel. To hear Franklin’s description, you can watch today’s press conference. Jump to the 31:40 mark to hear my question — which focused on the moment when the Blue Buses pulled up the stadium — and Franklin’s response.

Listening to Franklin’s explanation is the best way to get the whole story, and here are a few notes:

— the team buses wind through campus, and the route is much longer than I previously thought;

— there’s a tailgating crew that Franklin sees each home game on the way to the stadium, with him saying, “They’re playing corn hole and having a good time, and they usually give us a big cheer when we go by.”

— in describing the the buses’ path, Franklin acknowledged: “to be honest, I don’t know any names of streets in State College”; it was a somewhat funny moment, and you’ll want to check it out, as the team’s media staff helped the head coach name the streets on the fly.

Starting at the beginning — like Franklin did with his response — makes sense, because by doing so, you gain full appreciation for what the moment is like when the team arrives at the stadium, where the area’s packed with family, friends, and alumni.

 “It’s another opportunity for our players to see their parents one more time, their loved ones, before we go in,” Franklin said. “They usually have the stage set up there, and the band and cheerleaders, and it’s really cool. Then, I do my lap.

“I think it’s a great way to start the game experience, and you get a pretty good sense pretty early on from the time we leave the hotel of what type of environment it’s going to be in Beaver Stadium.”

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‘First-class product’

The enhancements stood out immediately.

The blue concert-like directional lighting. The glistening new paint job. The rather enormous 1-0 banner. They all smack you in the face, metaphorically speaking. All these changes (i.e., improvements) were installed in the Beaver Stadium south tunnel before the Nittany Lions’ home opener against Ball State on Sept. 11.

The south tunnel is off-limits to nearly all fans, though it doubles as one of the most prime pieces of real estate in the entire stadium.

Why?

For one: every single recruit who has field access passes through the tunnel. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that each of them is imagining what it’d be like to run through that tunnel on game day when they’re playing college ball. In James Franklin’s best-case scenario, those recruits are playing for Penn State.

Another reason: The upgrades make for pretty darn good television. Franklin mentioned ESPN and ABC when discussing the enhancements, saying the team wanted to clean up those images a bit. Not that the images looked bad before, but slapping on a new coat of paint and installing those lights adds a ton of production value. You can see an up-close view with the above video, which shows Franklin and the team heading toward the field prior to kickoff Saturday night.

And going back to the recruits. Nearly all of them — and most of their family members — are holding up a phone recording the action. Whether it’s a visiting high school player, a returning letterman, someone watching on television, or a current player or coach, the visual impact hits.

“We just want to make sure that everything we do, we’re presenting Penn State in a way that everybody looks at and says, ‘That’s first class and that’s sharp and that’s impressive,’ and that was another opportunity to do it that way,” Franklin said. “So when the eyes of the world — specifically the sports world — are on us, that everything that people see and associate with Penn State is first class and creative and fun and represents our brand the right way. I feel like that does right now.” 

Franklin continued:

“For our players, it’s a very short walk but I think they feel it too, they sense it as well. We want a first-class product. We want to make sure that we’re treating everybody in a first-class way on the front end, and I think we probably have more alignment with those types of things than we’ve ever had.”

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Weekend Party

Penn State football All-American linebacker Brandon Short enjoyed the sights with his family Friday evening in downtown State College. The two-time team captain and current member of the Penn State Board of Trustees welcomed the crowd of Penn Staters at a welcome pep rally on Fraser Street ahead of tomorrow’s home opener against Ball State, telling the alumni and fans in attendance that their support during games and year-round truly makes a difference. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Ah yes, this feels familiar.

Friday evening in downtown State College. In the fall. Ahead of the football home opener.

Has it really only been 18 months? It feels longer. No difference, that’s not important. What is important is that we’re less than 24 hours away from a fresh season of Penn State football, and along with it, the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, 107,000-plus fans roaring at Beaver Stadium, and so much more.

The aforementioned spirit teams kicked off the weekend in style, dazzling Penn Staters on Fraser Street during an early-evening pep rally. I can’t recall if this is something new or if the Friday downtown pep rally was done before, though if it becomes a tradition ahead of every home game, that’s just fine with me.

In addition to men’s and women’s hoops coaches Micah Shrewsberry and Carolyn Kieger, Penn State football All-American linebacker Brandon Short also welcomed the crowd. He and his family are back living in Happy Valley, where he remains committed to Penn State by serving on the University’s Board of Trustees.

Before the cheer teams performed at the pep rally, they greeted visitors and drivers along College Avenue. Horns honked, cheers were heard, and the Nittany Lion delighted pretty much anyone nearby. Check out the photos and videos below. They tell the story best.

For everyone in town this weekend: safe travels, enjoy the game, and let’s also enjoy celebrating being in Happy Valley together once again. It’s been far too long.

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