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

Getting Back in the Game

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In his recovery from a freak injury and a harrowing hospital stay, former Nittany Lion captain Ryan Keiser is buoyed by faith and family as he slowly works his way back to normal.

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They’re working on basketball fundamentals this week at Easterly Parkway Elementary. As soon as the fourth graders file into the all-purpose room, they grab a ball, spread out, and start dribbling. The phys-ed teacher is a young, rangy guy in head-to-toe Penn State blue; he’s not loud, but he commands the room, making the rounds, focused on the kids. Mostly, he looks comfortable, an appearance that belies his inexperience: Ryan Keiser is a 23-year-old student-teacher working toward his state certification. It’s his second week on the job. Continue reading

The Penn State Players’ Tribune

DSC_0264Current and former Lions worked on and off the field to maximize the impact of Sam Ficken’s final college kick. By John Patishnock ’05

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Call it fate, or coincidence, or something else. Whatever the term, when Sam Ficken was assigned Derek Jeter’s locker for the Pinstripe Bowl, forces came together and produced something no one could have seen coming. Or perhaps it was karma coming back around to Ficken, the once-embattled kicker who transformed through tireless work into one of the most clutch players in the country. Continue reading

A Determined Duo Takes on ALS

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When we caught up with Tim Shaw in December, he was in Boston to fulfill a specific—and rather unusual—task.

“I’m giving them my skin cells,” Shaw ’06 said. “I was at the ALS Therapy Development Institute, where they do this awesome ALS research. I’m taking part in a big project: They’re going to grow my cell, and it’ll be tested against 50,000 drugs.”

To hear the excitement in Shaw’s voice as he explained his role in the project was to hear a man enthused at the chance to make a difference. Continue reading

Spider Caldwell, Back Where He Belongs

Nittany Lions open training camp. Photo by Mark SeldersLast fall, he went to his first tailgate. Brad Caldwell was back in town for the Ohio State game, and there he was in the Medlar Field parking lot, soaking up the pregame scene. “Thirty-one years, my first tailgate!” Caldwell says now, the enthusiasm in his voice familiar to anyone who knows him.

Caldwell’s schedule for the previous 31 years didn’t allow much time for tailgating. Continue reading

Classic Appeal

FOUR YANKEE SLUGGERS

Probably more than anyone, Sweeny Murti appreciates the parallels between the New York Yankees and Penn State.

In October, Murti ’92 finished his 14th season as the Yankees beat reporter for WFAN, the biggest sports radio station in the country. He was the perfect guy, in other words, to pen a chapter a few years ago for The Great Book of Penn State Sports Lists arguing why the Nittany Lions and Yankees have the best uniforms in sports. Needless to say, Continue reading