Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 14

Citrus Bowl, January 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

I’m really struggling to write something about Micah Parsons that hasn’t been written before.

To put it short, he’s a monster and the possibility of him winning the Defensive Player of the Year award grows by the game. He’s been a huge role in completely transforming the Dallas Cowboys defense into one of the better defenses in the league.

Parsons had three tackles in the Cowboys’ win over NFC East rival Washington on Sunday, with two sacks, including a strip-sack that led to a defensive touchdown for Dallas.

Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Godwin and the Buccaneers held off a furious Buffalo Bills comeback with a 33-27 overtime win.

The former Penn State star hauled in 10 receptions for 105 yards to continue his Pro Bowl-caliber season.

He also displayed one of the better wide receiver blocking clips you’re ever going to see.

Shaka Toney, Defensive End, Washington Football Team

Shaka Toney makes his debut in our rundown after a good display in Washington’s loss to Dallas.

Because of COVID-19 protocols, Washington was without a handful of defensive lineman, meaning Toney had to play a bigger role than usual. He didn’t disappoint in his first NFL start, logging the most snaps on the team and totaling four tackles.

Toney has developed into a solid piece for a talented Washington front.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 13

Penn State at Pitt 2018 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Quite a full rundown this week, so let’s dive into it.

What a game and what a season Chris Godwin is having down in Tampa.

Godwin had a monster afternoon on Sunday, hauling in 15 receptions for 143 yards in the Buccaneers’ 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Those 15 catches were a Tampa Bay record for receptions in a single game and the most any player has recorded this season.

Miles Sanders, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

A welcome return for Miles Sanders to our rundown.

It’s been a challenging season for Sanders, dealing with injury and a lack of usage, but he broke out in a big way on Sunday.

Sanders helped lead the team to a win over the New York Jets with 24 carries for 120 yards, while also catching three passes for 22 yards.

He did need to leave the game early due to an ankle injury and did not return, but should be back when the team returns from its bye week.

Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pat Freiermuth’s two-point conversion reception proved to be the game-winner for the Steelers in their AFC North clash with the Ravens.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Micah Parsons continues his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign and remains in the hunt for the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award.

Parsons tallied his 10th sack of the season in Dallas’ much-needed win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football. He also finished with five total tackles.

Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Welcome to the win column, Detroit!

The Lions claimed that elusive first win of the season in dramatic fashion, topping the Vikings with a touchdown as time expired.

Amani Oruwariye was his usual solid self in the win, finishing with seven tackles, including a tackle-for-loss.

Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are on a roll and are firmly in the AFC Wild Card hunt.

Mike Gesicki remains a key piece in this resurgence for Miami and snagged another seven receptions in Sunday’s win over the Giants.

The tight end ranks second on the team with 642 receiving yards.

Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants

While Saquon Barkley isn’t back to his excellent best just yet, there are signs he’s coming around after an ankle injury knocked him out of action for a few weeks.

Barkley rushed for 55 yards on the ground and added six catches for 19 yards.

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.”

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 11

Trace McSorley has a new home in the NFL.

Penn State’s all-time passing leader was signed by the Arizona Cardinals on Monday off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad.

McSorley was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and has spent his two seasons in Baltimore as a backup to Lamar Jackson.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

It’s almost more of a surprise if Micah Parsons isn’t included in our rundown.

He is not only a leading contender for the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, but has also played his way into NFC overall Defensive Player of the Year.

Parsons was all over the field in Dallas’ defeat at Kansas City on Sunday, including a strip-sack of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin’s six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Giants on Monday night moves him into fourth-place in Bucs franchise history for career receptions.

He passed franchise legends Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn.

Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions fell to a league-worst 0-9-1 in Sunday’s 13-10 loss to Cleveland, but Amani Oruwariye continued his strong takeaway prowess.

Oruwariye picked off Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield early in the game to set Detroit up with great field position.

That gives him four INTs on the year.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 10

This week is all defense in our Penn Staters At The Next Level recap.

We start off with Micah Parsons, of course. The Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite continues a stellar start to his NFL career.

Parsons led the Cowboys with six tackles and also recorded a strip-sack.

Adrian Amos, Safety, Green Bay Packers

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Aaron Rodgers’ return to the field garnered most of the pre-game headlines, but the play of the Packers defense stole the show in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks.

Adrian Amos and his teammates shutout the Seattle offense in a 17-0 win, with the former Nittany Lion grabbing his second interception of the season. Amos also finished with four tackles and three pass deflections.

The Green Bay defense has quickly developed into one of the league’s best this season under first-year coordinator Joe Barry.

Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

It seemed like nobody wanted to win Sunday’s matchup between the Lions and Steelers, with turnovers, mistakes and penalties the story of the game.

As a result, nobody did win. Pittsburgh and Detroit played to a 16-16 tie after a pretty wild overtime finish.

Amani Oruwariye helped the Lions avoid the loss column for the first time this season, finishing with seven tackles, two pass deflections and a critical fumble recovery in overtime.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Nine

Hard to believe we’re already through the halfway point of the NFL season. Nine weeks down and nine to go.

It was a quiet start to Pat Freiermuth’s NFL career, but the rookie has officially entered the spotlight for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Freiermuth is quickly becoming a fan-favorite in the Steel City.

“MUUUUUUUTH,” as Steelers fans have dubbed Pat in the mold of “HEEEEEEATH” for former tight end Heath Miller, caught two touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s Monday Night victory over the Bears.

Freiermuth is now tied with Falcons star Kyle Pitts as the two highest-rated rookie tight ends in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Pretty, pretty good.

Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

Welcome back to the win column, Dolphins fans. Miami snapped a seven-game losing streak on Sunday by topping the Houston Texans, 17-9.

Mike Gesicki made some spectacular grabs in the Miami win. Despite all the struggles for the Dolphins this season, Gesicki has been a constant bright spot. He leads the team with 529 receiving yards on the season.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

While Micah Parsons hasn’t appeared on our countdown each week, it certainly seems like he has.

Dallas’ six-game winning streak came to an end in a 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos, but Parsons shined once more. He led the Cowboys with 10 tackles while also recording 2.5 sacks.

If he’s not the NFC Defensive Rookie of The Year, it will be an outrage.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Eight

Missing starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys needed their defense to play at a high level on Sunday night. They did just that and former Nittany Lions Micah Parsons was a big part of it as Dallas came away with the 20-16 win.

Parsons recorded a team-high 11 tackles, including four tackles-for-loss as the Cowboys D bottled up Dalvin Cook for 78 yards on 18 attempts.

Micah was subsequently named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week Eight.

Blake Gillikin, Punter, New Orleans Saints

A third-straight appearance in this rundown for Blake Gillikin? You bet ya!

Gillikin was his usual terrific self in Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers, sending off three punts for an average of 52.7 yards and a long of 63 yards.

Gillikin’s stellar play has earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Month

Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers

Four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown for Pat Freiermuth as he continues to find a bigger and bigger role within the Steelers offense.

Freiermuth also had one of the plays of the weekend in Sunday’s win over the Browns.

Check out this circus grab for six.

Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another great week for Chris Godwin in an otherwise disappointing day for the Bucs.

Godwin snagged eight 140 yards and a touchdown.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Seven

After a quiet couple of weeks, Chris Godwin produced one of his best performances of the season on Sunday.

Tampa Bay rolled to a 38-3 win over the Bears and Godwin led the way for the Bucs with eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

The Buccaneers now head into a big Week Eight matchup with the divisional rival Saints.

Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

Mike Gesicki celebrated National Tight Ends Day in style, accumulating seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.

The Dolphins dropped a close one to the Falcons, but Gesicki continues his fine form of play with Tua Tagovailoa back under center.

Nick Scott, Safety, Los Angeles Rams

Nick Scott recorded his second interception of the season on Sunday and it proved to be a big one.

The former Nittany Lion closed out a tougher-than-expected win for the Rams over the winless Detroit Lions with a game-sealing INT.

Blake Gillikin, Punter, New Orleans Saints

Blake Gillikin appears on our rundown for a second straight week.

Gillikin booted six punts in New Orleans’ Monday Night win in Seattle, dropping four of them inside the 20-yard line.

A couple other notes to mention from this past weekend’s action.

We’re sending out best wishes to former Penn Stater Miles Sanders, who left the Eagles’ loss to Las Vegas with an ankle injury and did not return. Miles had to be carted to the locker room late in the first quarter.

Former Penn State lacrosse star Chris Hogan, who played 11 seasons in the NFL and won a pair of Super Bowls, announced his retirement from football this past weekend. Heck of a career, Chris!

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Six

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

It’s been a tough year for the Detroit Lions but former Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye has been one of the bright spots.

Oruwariye snagged another interception on Sunday in the Lions’ loss to the Bengals. He picked off Joe Burrow toward the end of the first quarter and returned the ball 18 yards.

That now gives him three interceptions on the season, which is a career-high and also ties him for second-most in the NFL this season.

Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers

It was a season-best showing for Pat Freiermuth as the Steelers picked up a narrow overtime win against Seattle on Sunday Night Football.

Freiermuth caught seven catches for 58 yards.

Hopefully this means he starts to get more and more involved in the Steelers offense moving forward.

Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

Speaking of former Penn State tight ends with a season-best showing on Sunday, Mike Gesicki balled out for Miami in an otherwise pretty poor afternoon for the Dolphins.

Despite the team’s loss to the previously winless Jaguars, Gesicki caught eight passes for 115 yards.

With Tua Tagovailoa back at quarterback we should see more performances like this from Gesicki in the games ahead.

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week Five

I’m going to start this week’s Penn Staters At The Next Level post with a punter. Blake Gillikin continues his terrific start to the 2021 season.

The former Nittany Lion was dominant — yes, punters can dominate — in the Saints win over the Washington Football Team.

Gillikin booted five punts for 268 yards, including three that were downed inside the five. On the season, he’s averaging 49.8 yards per punt, which is tied for fourth-best in the NFL.

Nick Scott, Safety, Los Angeles Rams

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nothing like a game-winning interception to defeat your NFC West rivals in primetime.

Nick Scott sealed a win for the Rams on Thursday Night Football this past week with his first career INT.

He’s made his name on special teams the past two seasons, but Scott has also now found a nice role within the Rams defense in 2021.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Another week, another appearance for Micah Parsons in this blog.

Parsons led the Cowboys with eight tackles in Sunday’s win over the Giants and he’s already one of — if not the best — players on the Dallas defense.

He’s the Defensive Rookie of The Year favorite through five weeks of play.

Austin Johnson, Defensive Tackle, New York Giants

Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

This week’s blog has been defense/special teams heavy and that isn’t changing with our next Nittany Lion on the list.

The Giants struggled at Dallas on Sunday, thanks in large part to injuries to Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. Penn State alum Austin Johnson was a bright spot for the G-Men.

Johnson recorded another sack (giving him three on the season), four tackles and two tackles-for-loss.

To check out the full list of Penn Staters currently on NFL rosters, click here.