From the Archives: Penn State V. Buffalo (2007)

Kinlaw_Athletics (1)

Penn State Athletics

Rodney Kinlaw finally got the opportunity he wanted. And more than 107,000 fans saw him capitalize on it.

For most of his career, Kinlaw needed to be patient. Whether it was injury or other players above him on the depth chart, Kinlaw needed to persevere. And he did.

He persevered after tearing his ACL in his freshman season. Continued to gut it out when he wasn’t receiving the carries he wanted, or felt he deserved.

Finally, Kinlaw’s patience paid off, and in a big-time way.

During his senior season of 2007, Kinlaw recorded six 100-yard rushing games, with the initial outburst coming against Buffalo in mid-September. Penn State recorded a 45-24 victory, overcoming a sluggish start at Beaver Stadium — the Nittany Lions trailed 3-0 after the first quarter.

Kinlaw scored a six-yard touchdown against Buffalo, “as he refused to be stopped and carried the Bulls’ safety into the end zone,” John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter. Kinlaw’s scamper occurred in the fourth quarter, capping off a 6-play, 61-yard drive, on a day when Penn State played in front of a sellout crowd of 107,506 fans.

“It was one of the most amazing feelings ever, and something I’ll probably never experience again — playing in front of 100,000 fans,” said Kinlaw, who switched to No. 20 in his senior year, a nod to his favorite player, Barry Sanders.

“What I miss the most is running through the tunnel, and hearing the lion roar, and smelling the grass while stretching before the game. Nothing will compare to that again.”

Kinlaw, who earned a B.A. from the College of the Liberal Arts, finished 2007 with 1,329 rushing yards, accounting for most of his career rushing yards (1,655) during that year. Penn State completed the season with a 9-4 record, tagging Texas A&M with a 24-17 loss in the Alamo Bowl. Kinlaw earned offensive MVP honors by gaining 143 yards on 21 carries; he finished his career strong, as the performance was his third straight 100-yard game.

That bowl effort, and the weeks and months leading up to it, represented the culmination of Kinlaw’s unwavering belief that he could live up to the moment.

He followed up his 100-yard game against Buffalo with similar efforts versus Iowa (168 yards, two touchdowns), Wisconsin (115 yards, touchdown), Temple (168 yards, touchdown), Michigan State (125 yards, two touchdowns), and Texas A&M.

Each game, Kinlaw had at least 20 attempts, including 27 or more on three occasions. That number might have been the most important of all.

“I really remember feeling that I had the confidence, I knew that I had that the whole time,” Kinlaw said. “Getting the carries brought it all back to how I felt when I first got there. I saw holes develop, and the game became easier. Each game that went by, I saw things clearer and clearer, and things got easier for me.”

Kinlaw_Athletics (3)

Penn State Athletics

Before his breakout senior season, Kinlaw needed to overcome that ACL injury, and then didn’t win the starting job until his senior season. He even thought about transferring.

One of the reasons why Kinlaw stayed at Penn State was because his experience as a student-athlete was about more than football. His parents, Rodney Sr. and Isreal, stressed the importance of education. And Penn State certainly provided that. Kinlaw learned valuable lessons while playing for the Nittany Lions that have served him well beyond his playing days.

Be on time. Don’t give up. Respect is paramount.

Nowadays, Kinlaw is a successful Southeast Regional Manager with PDS Tech in Georgia, providing aerospace engineering companies with contingent workers. His college days weren’t much different from what some players are experiencing now, at Penn State and elsewhere.

Players jostling for position on the depth chart, wondering if they should make a move or stay put, all during the most formative time of their lives.

Kinlaw’s confident he made the right decision to stay in Happy Valley. It served him well his senior season, and now as an accomplished businessman.

His message to current players? Think about the next 40 years, not just the next four.

“For the kids who are there now who aren’t getting the opportunity, just stick it out and get your education,” Kinlaw said. “Football won’t last forever. You want to have something you can fall back on. Keep sticking it out, keep pushing, and when you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”

From the Archives: Penn State V. Arizona (1999)

Arizona Daily Star

Arizona Daily Star/David Sanders

Chafie Fields’ energy changed on the way to the stadium.

Fields, one of Penn State’s most accomplished wide receivers, says he always tried to avoid all the pageantry that overtook campus and the community leading up to a big game for the Nittany Lions.

The 1999 season opener against Arizona certainly qualified for that category, and Fields took the same approach as the Nittany Lions prepared to host the Wildcats in a matchup of Top-5 teams at Beaver Stadium. In the first-ever (and only) battle between the squads, Penn State and Arizona each entered the game ranked either third or fourth in the two major polls at the time.

Personally, Fields began the season highly motivated, determined to prove he was an elite wideout with explosive playmaking ability. Still, even with ESPN’s College GameDay in town and the college football world centered on State College, Fields saw the contest against Arizona as “just another week for me.”

That was one of many lessons he learned from Joe Paterno: Don’t get caught up in the attention, or as Fields described, “stay out of the lights.”

Though when Saturday morning rolled around, the mood in the air shifted, and Fields noticed. He saw the outpouring of support, and he felt the energy. Sensed it. Saw it. Knew that Happy Valley was about to be rocking, perhaps had been rocking all week.

As the fleet of Blue Buses pulled away from the team hotel and motored toward Beaver Stadium, there was no longer denying that the upcoming contest against Arizona was significant.

“That’s when you realize the magnitude of things, because all the fans were already out there bright and early,” Fields recalled. “The streets were lined with people welcoming us to the stadium — I’m talking the whole way from Toftrees. The streets were lined with fans. That’s when I started to feel the energy, like ‘OK, we’re here.’”

Fields was ready.

Chafie Fields_AP

Associated Press

A senior standout for the ’99 squad, he scored two touchdowns within the game’s first six minutes in spectacular fashion. First, he caught a 37-yard scoring toss from Kevin Thompson on the game’s opening drive, “twisted away from one defender and outran the rest to the corner of the end zone,” as John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter.

The next time the Nittany Lions possessed the ball, Fields raced 70 yards on an inside reverse. As Black explained, Fields made a perfect cut over left tackle, and then ran down the middle of the field for the second score.

“And the rout was on,” Black summarized correctly.

At the time, the third-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history (97,168) watched Penn State dispatch its West Coast opponent 41-7 in a game that was as much of a blowout as the score indicated: The Nittany Lions led 31-0 at halftime and 41-0 after the third quarter.

It should be noted here: Any story about Fields and 1999 needs to include that a few weeks following the blowout over Arizona, he caught one of the most memorable touchdown passes in Penn State football history: Fields corralled a 79-yard score in the waning minutes to catapult the Nittany Lions past Miami for a road victory over the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (Penn State was ranked third). The highlight prompted a memorable call from legendary play-by-play announcer Fran Fisher, who as Fields crossed the goal line, belted with enthusiasm:

Penn State touchdown! No flags! No flags! No flags! 

Fields finished the game against Miami with 177 receiving yards, seventh-best all-time in program history for a single contest. For his career, Fields totaled 88 catches for 1,437 yards, prolific enough to place Fields in the Top 20 all time at Penn State.

Rankings aside with respect to this week’s opponent, a similar situation to the 1999 opener awaits the Nittany Lions on Saturday, with Penn State hosting a first-time opponent that hails from the west.

Penn State and Idaho are set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Beaver Stadium, site of what should be a picturesque backdrop for Labor Day weekend in Happy Valley.

Fields earned a B.S in 1999 from the College of Health and Human Development, and he’s now an accomplished sports agent who’s represented many Penn State lettermen. Anytime he can work with a Penn Stater, “it’s a lot more personal,” he says, and he plans to cheer on the Nittany Lions this season.

That’ll always be true for Fields, a self-described “Penn State loyalist” who hopes to see the Nittany Lions win out and compete in the College Football Playoff. Either way, he’s standing by and ready if he’s ever called upon to serve the team.

“Anything that I can do to support the program, I’ll do,” Fields said. “I’ll be one of the biggest fans. I’ll be rooting for Penn State all year, I’m always going to.”

___

For more on the The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Happy Birthday to Us

This season marks 80 years since Ridge Riley ’32 debuted The Football Letter as a way to keep far-flung Penn State alumni up to date with the week-to-week results of the Nittany Lion football team. It also marks a much more modest anniversary: Five years ago this week, we launched the online presence you’re reading now, expanding the Football Letter brand for the social media age.

While John Black ’62 gears up for his 43rd season as editor of the Football Letter, we thought it might be a good time to share some highlights from the blog. Here’s our pick of our five favorite stories from the past five years.

*

The Legends of ’94

Our epic, five-part oral history of the unbeaten 1994 Nittany Lions features exclusive interviews with Kerry Collins ’94, Ki-Jana Carter ’95, Bobby Engram ’95, Jeff Hartings ’95, Tom Bradley ’78, Fran Ganter ’71, and many others. A fun and revealing look back at arguably the greatest offense in college football history. Continue reading

John Black and “The Blood Bowl”

JB Blood Bowl

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.

*   *   *

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

From The Archives: Wisconsin

Photo by Steve Manuel

Photo by Steve Manuel

“The cheers and excitement in that final post-game locker room were as loud and jubilant as any in Beaver Stadium history, because these loyal, dedicated Penn Staters had competed for something more important than a bowl game or conference title. They had competed for the honor of their team and their university.” Continue reading