When Penn State hosted Iowa in Week 6 of the 2007 season, it was looking to stop two separate losing streaks.
The Nittany Lions were coming off of two-straight losses to open up their Big Ten campaign to Michigan and Illinois, respectively.
Penn State had also not beaten the Hawkeyes in the past five tries, including an ugly 6-4 home loss in the previous meeting between the two teams in 2004.
Rodney Kinlaw, a fifth-year senior on that 07 team, said the Nittany Lions’ mindset heading into their matchup with the Hawkeyes was to “take care of the little things.”
“It’s all about executing,” Kinlaw said. “Play to the best of your ability and give it all on the field. Don’t stop playing until the clock reads double zeros at the end of the fourth quarter.”
As far why it seemed Iowa had Penn State’s number in recent meetings, Kinlaw said the common denominator was always the Hawkeyes’ toughness along the defensive and offensive lines.
“They’re always good in the trenches,” Kinlaw said. “That’s where the game is pretty much going to be won. If the line can’t block, you’re running back and quarterback aren’t going to be productive. Iowa always seemed to have big, tough guys up front.”
Penn State controlled the line of scrimmage, took care of the little things and snapped their duo of losing streaks, dominating Iowa 27-7.
“With the vociferous support of 108,951 fans — the largest crowd to watch a football game that Saturday — the struggling Lions were resuscitated with a 27-7 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener in Happy Valley,” editor John Black noted in The Football Letter.
For Kinlaw, his performance against the Hawkeyes was reminiscent of his college career as a whole.
He missed his freshman season in 2004 with a knee injury and was forced to redshirt. He battled his way back, but sat behind Tony Hunt on the depth chart.
By the time his senior season arrived, he was splitting carries with the likes of Evan Royster, Austin Scott and Stefon Green.
His confidence never wavered, though.
“It took a while, but I always knew I was going to get back on the field,” Kinlaw said.
Kinlaw overcame a fumble early in the game, which drew the ire of Paterno, to finish with a career-high 168 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a great feeling to have that kind of day at home in an important game for us, especially after tearing my ACL and working so hard to get back into the lineup,” Kinlaw said. “It was a blessing to get that chance to show what I could do.”
The Nittany Lions went on two win their next two contests and five of their final seven overall, including the 24-17 success over Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.
The early-season struggles Kinlaw and his teammates faced during that 2007 season sort of mirror the kind of struggles the current Nittany Lions squad face today, sitting at 0-4 in the Big Ten.
Kinlaw said the best advice he can give to the 2020 team is to stick together and lean on one another as teammates.
“If you see your teammate giving 100 percent, it’s probably going to push you to give 100 percent. So, you want to be the guy who sets that example. Lean on that fight together. Be that person where your teammates know that they can count on.”
As far as the Penn State experience goes, it’s hard to top getting the opportunity to dance at Penn State THON for 46 hours.
Likewise, it doesn’t get much better than running through the stone-surrounded tunnel of Beaver Stadium and onto the field with 107,000 fans cheering you on.
Letterman Charlie Shuman ’18, ’19g is one of the few Penn Staters to have experienced both.
He played for coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions from 2014-18. He danced in THON not once, but twice as a student in 2017 and 2018.
“They’re two different things, but at the same time they both bring these emotions out of you,” Shuman said.
It was always Shuman’s dream to play football at Penn State.
Originally committed to Old Dominion, the 6-foot-8 offensive lineman elected to instead join the Nittany Lions as a walk-on, becoming a part of James Franklin’s first recruiting class in 2014.
“Running out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium on gameday for the first time, that was a dream come true for me,” Shuman said. “To put on the Penn State uniform, run through that tunnel to 107,000 screaming fans cheering for you, it’s special.”
Shuman’s other Penn State dream was to dance at THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer.
He first got involved with the organization his freshman year at University Park, joining the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board’s (SAAB) THON committee, later serving as the committee’s fundraising chair.
As his role grew with the THON committee, so too did that desire to become a dancer.
In 2017, he finally realized the dream, representing SAAB on the dance floor with fellow members Carly Celkos (field hockey), Jessica O’Neill-Lyublinsky (women’s fencing) and Megan Schafer (women’s soccer).
“Being down on the dance floor is just absolutely incredible. It’s indescribable to people that are outside of Penn State that don’t really know what THON is,” Shuman said. “You take away the memories you had with the other dancers that were down on the floor with you, spending 46 hours with. That group of people that were my dancing partners, it’s something that will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Because the annual dance marathon takes place during winter workouts, Shuman had to coordinate his involvement as a dancer with his responsibilities as a football player.
Not that he needed permission from Franklin and the other coaches in order to dance, but Shuman wanted to make sure the Penn State staff were cool with his involvement with THON and the rearranged schedule that came with it.
There wasn’t any hesitation in Franklin’s support for Shuman.
“He was incredible with (his support),” Shuman said. “We’re going through the middle of winter workouts during THON, so some of our toughest offseason workouts. He was like ‘Absolutely. That’s an incredible opportunity. Take a day off or two here and there if you need to.’ And at the same time, he still wanted me to be around the (Lasch) Building when I could and still be a part of the workouts. He and the staff were just tremendous with their support.”
The entire week leading up to THON in 2017 and 2018, Shuman said Franklin, the staff and other players were constantly checking in on him to send messages of encouragement.
Ahead of THON 2018, team members also sent over words of encouragement to Nick Scott ’19, Shuman’s teammate who was preparing to dance at THON for the first time.
The dance floor experience was made that much better for Shuman, knowing a teammate would be right there beside him for the 46 hours.
“It was a blast. I love Nick. Still today, we talk about that experience of dancing together,” Shuman said. “Obviously, when we danced together I had gone through it once before. It was my second time and his first time. So, I’d joke with him a little bit and rip on him to see if he could do some things better than I did. We had a blast down there. It’s cool to have a teammate down there, a guy you spend so much time with.”
Before he graduated in December of 2018, Shuman helped make one more THON-related impact at Penn State.
Through an initiative taken with Shuman, Scott and quarterback Trace McSorley ’18, Penn State football decided to make a change to the players’ iconic uniforms with the addition of the THON logo on the team helmets for a game with the Wisconsin Badgers in November of that year.
The THON logo sticker was once again featured on the helmets during the 2019 season in a game against the Buffalo Bulls.
“We wrote a letter to (Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics) Sandy Barbour and Coach Franklin. They were completely on board with it,” Shuman said. “You know, that’s a tough thing to navigate. Changing any part of the uniform can be difficult, especially at Penn State. They were completely on board with it, though, because it’s something Penn State students and student-athletes are passionate about.”
Ahead of the game against the Badgers in 2018, ESPN ran a segment on the decal and THON itself, something Shuman was particularly proud of because it spread the THON message to a larger audience.
“To put that out there on a national stage like that, it’s the attention that THON deserves, really,” Shuman said. “The 40-odd years it’s been around, it deserves something like that. And hopefully it can keep growing.”
With his athletic career — and THON dancing days over — Shuman has since returned home to New York where he’s working on his doctorate in physical therapy at Nazareth College.
He’s also helping coach varsity football at Pittsford Sutherland, his high school alma mater, keeping those football juices flowing as best he can now that he’s no longer suit up himself on Saturdays.
The student experience at Nazareth isn’t quite the experience he got at Penn State. Nor is the experience of coaching football the same as running out of that Beaver Stadium tunnel as a player.
“People outside of Penn State in general, I don’t think they realize how special it is,” Shuman said.
“They don’t understand that atmosphere at Beaver Stadium. They don’t realize all of the incredible things that we get to experience as students. THON Weekend, especially. It’s something that’s about so much bigger than Penn State and to try and share that with the rest of the country is so important.”
Shuman will be returning to Happy Valley for THON Weekend 2020, supporting a friend of his who will now be dancing in THON for a third time.
This past weekend, he also decided that he will shave his head and his beard if he can raise $1,000 dollars in THON donations by the time THON concludes on Sunday, Feb. 23, keeping that THON spirit alive even as an alumnus.
“I haven’t shaved my face since probably my junior year of college,” Shuman said laughing. “We’ll see if I get there.”
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.”
“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.”
You might remember Chris Snyder as a hard-nosed defensive lineman on Penn State’s late ’90s teams. You might not know that Snyder ’97 then spent nearly a decade as an Arena Football League standout before retiring from the game in 2008. But even before he stepped away from football, he had embarked on a career as a fitness trainer that led him to work in another intense, competitive field: auto racing.
To be clear, Snyder isn’t driving—squeezing into an Indy Car cockpit is probably not an ideal career choice for a guy who played at 6-3, 270. Instead, since 2003, he has served as strength and conditioning coach for Chip Ganassi Racing. Continue reading →
More than a decade after graduating, Michael Robinson’s impact at Penn State is still being felt. Given his words and actions, it probably always will be.
The latest example can be seen this Friday night, when Robinson ’04, ’06 returns to campus to host the inaugural Blue-White Benefit at Pegula Ice Arena, which he hopes turns into an annual event. All proceeds will benefit Robinson’s foundation, Excel to Excellence, which focuses on education, character development, and fitness for young people.
The event starts at 5:00 p.m. with a VIP dinner, followed by a cocktail social at 6:30 p.m. You can go online for ticket and sponsorship information, or to make a general donation to the foundation.
As with much of Robinson’s life, Penn State plays a pivotal role in his foundation, Continue reading →