Mike Stella’s Rare Strength

As a member of Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class and one of the best high school tight ends in the country, Pat Freiermuth (above, left) knows his audience. So when he tweeted recently encouraging his followers to check out a short documentary film, he made sure to mention that the film’s subject, Mike Stella, is a Penn Stater.

Stella ’05 (right) is a strength and conditioning coach who works with young athletes in the greater Boston area. That’s how he linked up with Freiermuth, but it turns out the blue-and-white connections here run even deeper than the bond between one alum and one soon-to-be Lion.

Stella didn’t suit up for the Nittany Lions, but as a former student manager for the team, he’s an integral part of the Penn State football family. That’s all the more true considering what he had to overcome to get there. Continue reading

First Time’s a Charm

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“Last night was my first Penn State game…”

The email hit The Penn Stater magazine inbox the day after the Big Ten title game, sent by a self-described “life-long PSU fan” and former Marine named Eric Norwood:

Last night was my first Penn State game. I took my dad — also a lifelong fan, also his first game… I feel so proud to be somewhat a part of this student body. Living and dying on each play with thousands of Penn State students, fans, and alums was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I still have goosebumps and can’t stop singing Hey Baby 😂. Thanks everyone for a fantastic season and night!

Continue reading

Max Hamilton Gets in the Zone

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We first met Max Hamilton last month in West Lafayette, where she was tailgating with family after the Nittany Lions’ win at Purdue. Max doesn’t miss a Penn State game, home or away, a level of dedication that has everything to do with maternal pride: Her son is standout wide receiver DaeSean.

Max is a former Marine whose dedication Continue reading

One Step Away

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For the 1985 Nittany Lions, an unbeaten regular season was tarnished by an Orange Bowl loss, and overshadowed by a perfect season in 1986. Thirty years on, we look back at one of the great—but largely forgotten—teams in Penn State history.

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As Massimo Manca remembers it, the pivotal moment in Penn State’s 1985 season came rather early.

On opening day, to be exact.

“I think the turning point was that very first game against Maryland,” Manca ’87 says now. “Nobody had us picked to win that game. That’s when we realized: We could beat anybody.”

The Nittany Lions’ long-awaited return to Maryland this week brings to mind Continue reading

John Black and “The Blood Bowl”

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As he starts his 40th season in charge of The Football Letter, we look back at the time John Black starred on the field in Penn State’s biggest rivalry.

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It was a legendary performance made all the more impressive given the injury that almost kept him out of action.

According to the pregame write-up in the Nov. 25, 1958 issue of The Daily Collegian, quarterback “Joltin’ Johnny” Black suffered—and we warn you, this is difficult reading—an “acute hangnail on the third finger of his throwing hand.” Continue reading

Exclusive Q+A: James Franklin

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In the midst of his second spring practice, James Franklin reflects on the progress the Nittany Lions have made since his arrival, and ponders how much farther they still have to go.

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It was an overcast day in Dublin, a few hours before kickoff, and James Franklin had the lush green surface of Croke Park almost to himself. Clad in a navy suit and royal blue tie, he walked the field inside the historic Irish stadium, soaking up the relative quiet, stopping now and again to appreciate the view. A few noisy, frantic hours later, on this very same turf, he would celebrate his first victory as Penn State head coach.

Seven wins and seven months later, Franklin is in his Lasch Building office early on a Monday morning, starting with coffee and conversation before diving into another busy day. Spring practice is underway, and Continue reading

The Marshall Plan

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For Marshall Lefferts, cancer is a detour, not a roadblock. The story of the Nittany Lion football player you never got a chance to know.

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Five days a week, Marshall Lefferts repeats an offseason routine that is unique among college football players. He starts each day with a strenuous morning workout. In the afternoon, he goes for chemotherapy.

The workouts are voluntary, a statement of resilience from a young man refusing to see his dream derailed. As for the chemo, well, he doesn’t have much choice.

Lefferts is the sort of player Penn State fans would love to root for, if only they’d had the chance. Continue reading