The Indescribable Feeling

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Shuman

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.” 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Shuman

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. 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Shuman

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.” 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Shuman

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.”

Meet The Six Penn Staters Who Oversee NFL Social Media Accounts

Photo Courtesy of Jill Beckman
(From left to right: Kevin Kline, Julie Bacanskas, Darnell Brady, Dana Byrnes, Meghan Loder and Jill Beckman)

From the Philadelphia Eagles to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Penn Staters are shining everywhere in the National Football League this season. And it’s not just rookie sensation Miles Sanders or emerging superstar Chris Godwin demonstrating the star potential of Penn Staters, either.

These Nittany Lions are a bit more behind the scenes in the NFL set-up.

More specifically, they’re running the social media accounts of NFL franchises. Working long hours to bring their teams closer to their respective fanbases. There’s really no such thing as an offseason. 

In fact, six Penn Staters oversee or help oversee NFL team accounts for the 2019 season. 

We caught up with Julie Bacanskas ’15 (Philadelphia Eagles), Jill Beckman ’18 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Darnell Brady ’14 (Jacksonville Jaguars), Dana Byrnes ’16 (Dallas Cowboys), Kevin Kline ’11 (New York Jets) and Meghan Loder ’16 (Washington Redskins).

They discussed what their Penn State experiences were like, how they landed their positions, what it’s like working for an NFL team, and much more.

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A Lifelong Fan

Photo Courtesy of Julie Bacanskas – Bacanskas (left) with Dana Byrnes

Julie Bacanskas, ’15 Advertising/Public Relations 
Digital Platform Manager 
Philadelphia Eagles

A lot of times, when someone takes a job working in the NFL, doing communications work or otherwise, they’ve got to put their previous rooting interests aside. 

Someone who grew up a Tennessee Titans fan isn’t likely to continue cheering them on (at least not publicly) if they land a role with say, the Houston Texans. 

For Julie Bacanskas, that wasn’t an issue at all when she joined the digital department with the Philadelphia Eagles in August of 2015, just a few months after she graduated from Penn State.

A native to the Philadelphia area, she was an Eagles fan to the core growing up. 

“I was watching every Sunday. Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, all those guys, I was watching on TV,” Bacanskas said. “It’s kind of one of those things when I started working for the Eagles, it was surreal. But now, I’m in season five and it’s all kind of normal now.” 

Landing The Job
“I was like freaking out, sure it wasn’t going to work out for me. Pretty much what everyone kind of goes through right out of school, they overthink it! I got a LinkedIn message from the Eagles’ PR person, and they asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for a post-grad internship. I lept at the chance to do that. Timing wise, it worked out so well. Someone else in the digital department had put in their two-week notice and they were leaving, and it was around December of 2015 when they hired me on full-time as a content coordinator.” 

The Penn State Experience 
“I had a different Penn State experience than most. My freshman year was the Jerry Sandusky Scandal year, so I saw all the chaos that went around Penn State at the time. But overall, my experience was awesome. I wrote blogs for the GoPSUSports site, covering different Penn State teams. I think that internship really help me further my career in sports. That helped me in between my junior and senior year land an internship with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was also a big help in landing my job with the Eagles.” 

Super Bowl Dreams
*Bacanskas was working for the Eagles in 2018 when they won the franchises’ first Super Bowl over the New England Patriots*

“It was a whirlwind. I was in Minnesota with the team. I can honestly tell you, I don’t think I remember any of the game. I do remember as soon as the celebrations started I just looked over at my co-worker and was like ‘Did that just happen? Is this forreal?’ That whole season was a rollercoaster with emotions, given all the injuries we had. Looking back on it now, it was probably the most fun few months of my life.” 

Most Rewarding Aspects 
“I think it’s a lot of fun to connect to Eagles fans. We want to bring them content that they can’t see anywhere else. Our fans are definitely some of the most passionate. They always have an opinion on the things we are posting or how the team’s performing. It’s rewarding when you get to interact with Eagles fans that are all across the country, all across the world.” 

Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media
“It’s kind of funny, I really had no idea there were six of us until we all went to the NFL social media meeting. It was one of those things where I just started to talk to different people there and we started to realize how many of us were Penn Staters. I didn’t know it before we were all talking about it. It’s really cool. It shows how successful Penn Staters are in this field.” 

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The Dream Job

Photo Courtesy of Jill Beckman – Beckman on the field inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Jill Beckman, ’18 Journalism
Social Media Coordinator 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

It’s safe to say that there weren’t many dull moments during Jill Beckman’s Penn State days. 

She was a member of The Daily Collegian for almost her entire time at University Park, including serving as the paper’s sports editor as a junior. She also covered Penn State football as an intern for two different internships and interned with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 

Beckman served as the vice president of the Penn State chapter of AWSM (Association for Women in Sports Media), was a communications committee member for THON and got to cover two NFL London Games for an in-depth story on British fans of American Football for a class through the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

She turned the skills and lessons learned through all of that in to what she calls “a dream job.” 

“I wouldn’t have landed the internship in the Buccaneers’ digital and social media department right after graduation if I hadn’t had those experiences at Penn State,” Beckman said. “I really believe I wouldn’t have gotten those same opportunities at another school.”

Joining The Bucs 
“After working at the Super Bowl in 2018 (as a communications staff member), I kept in touch with my contacts from all the NFL teams, so I interviewed several different places, some for PR internships and some for social/digital ones. But when I got the offer from the Bucs, I knew that’s where I was meant to be. My internship ended in January of 2019, and three weeks later, a full time position opened up and I returned as the social media coordinator.”

Photo Courtesy of Jill Beckman – Beckman captures content of Bucs linebacker Devin White

The Day-to-Day Grind
“We try to be as engaging as possible while promoting our brand. We want to get news or fun content out to our fans in a way that gets them excited about our team.

Our creative team sends my department videos/photos/graphics, and it’s my job to post the content that comes in on a daily basis. On a typical game day, I post some content in the morning to get our fans hyped up, then I head over to the stadium and get video clips on my phone of the team arrival, then do the same with pre-game warmups, and during the game I’m up in the press box live tweeting. After the game, I’ll head down to the field to get some post-game content as well, and hopefully some good winning content!”

More Than Tweeting 
“Some people may think all a social media coordinator does is tweet, but a lot more goes on behind the scenes. We are constantly communicating with different departments in the organization to be sure we’re getting our message across accurately and paying close attention to detail. There isn’t much room for error when you’re putting something out for thousands of people to see.”

Penn State Connections
“I’m the biggest Penn State homer out there, and my co-workers always make fun of me since I’m always posting about the Penn State-NFL connections. It was great reuniting with more Penn Staters on opposing teams this season.”

Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media
“There aren’t many people who do our job in the first place, so to know there are several Penn State alumni who share that in common makes it feel like a little community. ”

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Remember The Moments

Photo Courtesy of Bob Self/Florida Times-Union – Brady at a Jaguars practice

Darnell Brady, ’14 Telecommunications 
Social Media Manager
Jacksonville Jaguars 

The Jacksonville Jaguars had just lost a gut-wrenching 24-20 decision to the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. 

To add further spoils to the day – the bus designated for Darnell Brady and other staff members broke down before it even made it out of the parking lot of Gillette Stadium. So, Brady, on the Jaguars’ social media team, and others had to board one of the four remaining busses. 

He found a seat next to linebacker Paul Posluszny, a standout player at Penn State in the 2000s. 

The two had never really interacted much before. Scrolling through the news of the day on social media, Brady caught word that the widely popular Rathskeller (bar) in State College was closing. 

He instinctively turned to Posluszny and exclaimed, “Hey, did you see Skeller is closing?”

“(Posluszny) looks at me and he goes, ‘How do you know about the Skeller?’ I told him I went to Penn State and had just graduated three, four years ago,” Brady said. “He goes ‘You’ve been here the whole year. This whole season. And you haven’t once told me you’re a Penn Stater.’ I was just like ‘Well, I just never really had the opportunity to tell you.”

“Next thing you know, the next 30 minutes of the bus ride we’re talking all about Penn State and all the experiences we had. He ended up retiring a few months later. So, that ended up being his final post-game bus ride of his NFL career. That’s probably one of my favorite moments, even though we had just lost the AFC Championship Game. It really tied my Penn State background with my current job. It’s something I’ll always remembered. It’s moments like those that make it rewarding.”  

Penn State At His Heart 
“(That) goes back to when I was in kindergarten, pre-school even. My dad was in the Air Force, so they wanted to send him to get his Ph.D. in supply chain management, so that he could teach at their graduate school. They sent him to Penn State for two years. That was pre-school, kindergarten and first grade for me, so an influential time. I was just in love with Penn State, with the (Berkey Creamery) ice cream a bit too much.”

Photo Courtesy of Darnell Brady – Brady (left) with other members of the Jaguars’ digital/social team

The Penn State Experience
“There were just so many opportunities for involvement. I can’t put a value on how valuable those experiences were. Homecoming, Nittany Nation, Nittanyville, interning for THON, interning for Penn State baseball and Penn State Athletics as a whole. That’s all helped me understand how athletic departments work and how effective marketing works. It helped me understand how game days work for various teams work, understanding how to effectively communicate. All of that.” 

Meeting His Wife
*Darnell met his wife Brittany (Jones) Brady at Penn State. The two married this past summer*

“I think we bumped into each other when I was a Homecoming captain and she was on photography committee. But we really got to know each other more when I was on the executive committee, like in charge of distribution management, and she was on the production committee. We were both all about Penn State. That’s my true love of Penn State. We even had a bunch of Penn State stuff at our wedding.”

Working For the Jags
“It’s been an amazing experience. It’s been extremely demanding, but rewarding at the same time. There’s definitely days where I’m working from 5 a.m. to midnight, especially on game days where I’m making sure my final preparations are set. I get to the stadium early to capture the locker room being ready or the field being painted and stuff like that. I can be there until midnight after a game as well, scheduling posts for the next day or working on a highlight video to share.”

Working With NFL Players
“I do work with them directly quite a bit. They’re normal people. There are guys that are awesome to work with and they’re happy to help with whatever we’re trying to do from a social perspective. And then there are guys who aren’t really interested in social media. That’s perfectly fine. They do their thing and they want to stay solely focused on their job. You can respect that. Other guys, that’s part of their careers in their eyes, is to build their brand on social media.”  

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Grateful For The Opportunity

Photo Courtesy of Dana Byrnes – Byrnes poses in the tunnel at AT&T Stadium

Dana Byrnes, ’16 Advertising/Public Relations
Social Media Coordinator 
Dallas Cowboys 

Working on a THON committee as an undergrad, there was one introductory meeting that sticks with Dana Byrnes, even today.

Each member had to give a short presentation on their career goals. Share what they wanted to do, what they wanted to accomplish. 

But what did Byrnes want to do?

Pretty much what she’s doing right now.

“I said I wanted to work for a professional sports team,” Byrnes recalls while laughing. “It’s funny how it worked out. I’m now in my second season with the Cowboys. It’s been a lot of fun.”

The Path To The Cowboys
“Right out of college I was working for Princeton football, doing social media, marketing and some small operations stuff. I then applied for a job at North Carolina with its football team and ended up getting a social media position there in October of 2016. I worked for the football team for about two years. It was the first time they had someone specifically on staff doing social media. Before, it had been their recruiting coordinator doing social media. They saw the need to have a social media position. I did a lot of different things for them, doing a lot of graphics, taking photos for social and putting together mailers again for recruits. 

I ended up applying to the Cowboys, and ended up getting the job. I just took a chance on applying and it ended up working out. I’m so grateful. I can’t really believe where I am. I’m now in my second season with the team, so I’ve been here a year and a couple months. We have a larger social media staff. You can be really collaborative and work as a group. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Game Day Responsibilities
“I’m in charge of on-site coverage for game day and any team events that we might have. I travel with the team anywhere they go, home or away. Before kick-off I post to Instagram stories and share photos from the team photographer. During the game, I’m live tweeting from the press box.”

Photo Courtesy of Dana Byrnes – Byrnes with Jill Beckman

Favorite Part Of This Role
“The biggest thing that always stands out to me is when a player on the team comes up to me and says ‘Wow you guys have been doing an awesome job’ or ‘That video you guys posted was cool.’ When you get a compliment, thinking maybe the players don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff, you know they recognize your job and it’s really rewarding.”

When The Team Hits A Rough Patch
“As a social media team we can’t, obviously, control anything that happens on the field. So, you just gotta roll with things sometimes. You have to do the best you can. If you’re in a losing streak, you can’t just pretend nothing is going on and stop tweeting. A great example is when we’re going into the next game, even after a loss or a couple of losses, we do hype videos. And the best way to address the losses is to just include them. Put it out there front and center.” 

A Crazy, Awesome Job
“I’m so happy to be here, because that was my goal when I was graduating. I don’t wake up and say ‘Oh man, I have to go to work.’ I look forward to going to the office every day. What people might not realize, though, is how crazy and busy it is. Once the season starts up with training camp, there are so few off days between then and the start of the offseason. And even then, it’s not really an offseason. A lot of travel. You have to love your position. As cool as it is, and it is really cool, it’s a lot of work. You have to put the time and energy into it.”

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Empire State Of Social Media

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Kline – Kline on the Jets practice field

Kevin Kline, ’11 Journalism
Manager of Social Media
New York Jets  

When Kevin Kline joined the New York Jets in 2014, the team had a social media presence, but it was far different than what it is today.

Social media was popular then, but still growing into the mainstream news and connectivity behemoth it is today. 

In fact, when he was hired, he was the first person to be employed by the organization with the words “social media” in their official job title. 

“I think right around then, especially in the NFL, pro sports teams really started hiring full-time social media employees,” Kline reflected. “It was a growth opportunity for me and for the team.” 

Now, social media is a huge part of the communications strategy of the Jets and all 31 other NFL franchises. 

“Social media, people wake up in the morning and check social media before they check their emails,” Kline said. “That says a lot. They’re constantly going to their phones or computers all day to look at social media. It’s fun to figure out the best ways to get on the feeds and connect with fans.” 

That New York Market
“I love being in the New York market. I love the idea that people are looking at us a lot. We are the biggest market in the country. People, win or lose, they want to know what’s up with the Jets. What’s going on with this team. I think that’s awesome. For us, I feel like there’s always a lot of eyes on us no matter how the team might be performing. I love that.” 

Keeping Up With Penn State Football
“I still watch every game. I’m all about it. That hasn’t changed, probably won’t ever change. Even more so now than I ever have been. Whenever the Jets schedule comes out before the season, I always look at the Penn State schedule and cross-reference it to see which Saturdays we are travelling to road games. If we are travelling at the time of the game, I’ll be watching on my phone or follow on my phone and all that.” 

Role With the Jets
“I oversee all social media strategy and execution. It’s myself and a full-time employee working under me. He oversees the day-to-day to aspects. He’s posting and operating that way. I’m more in charge of making sure we’re steering the boat in the right direction, doing things we need to do to have success. I have to make sure we’re executing our sponsorship deals, that we’ve got the right messaging and promoting our internal initiatives. All that kind of stuff.”

When The Team Hits A Rough Patch
“Our big thing is we definitely want to listen to what the fans are saying. We want to understand how they feel. We’re not going to be tone deaf in the types of stuff we put out when we’re losing. There will always be opportunities to have fun and do a lot of creative stuff when you win. But when you lose, the fans don’t want to hear much from you. And when you do engage with them, they want you to be straight up with them. You don’t want to sugarcoat anything. You have to be honest about the struggles your going through as a team.”

Six Penn Staters In NFL Social Media
“It’s awesome. I think it’s a testament to Penn State and the real-world experience you get there. In a lot of ways, Penn State and Penn State football is like a big city or NFL environment on game day. It’s a professional team in how we, as fans, treat it and how the media covers it. You don’t necessarily get that at every school. That’s probably helped each of us have success with our jobs. These careers in professional sports, we probably weren’t as wide-eyed as other people when we just started out. We were prepared for it. We were used to that environment.”

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Share Who The Players Really Are

Photo Courtesy of Meghan Loder – Loder on the field during her time with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Meghan Loder, ’16 Journalism and English
Social Media Manager
Washington Redskins 

Meghan Loder has been working with football teams for quite a while now. 

As an undergrad at Penn State, she worked on “Unrivaled: The Penn State Football Story.” a weekly preview show that chronicles the Nittany Lions’ journey throughout a given season with exclusive video and game highlights.

Right out of school, she joined the New York Jets in their social media department – her boss was fellow alum Kevin Kline. Her role with the Jets landed her a position with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where she worked for two years. 

She then joined the Washington Redskins as their social media manager this past May, and credits her experiences at Penn State for a relatively smooth transition in working in professional sports. 

“I definitely use different aspects of what I learned with my degree in my job,” Loder said. 

With broadcasting, I am still editing and logging footage to create content. As an English major, it’s now using writing, editing and all that stuff all the time. I also think the Penn State environment, working around the football team, there’s an understanding of what big football is. I don’t go to an NFL stadium and feel overwhelmed, because I got to experience Penn State games.” 

Knowing Your Audience
“For me, coming from Pittsburgh, they’re a very rabid fanbase who eat up everything you do. Compared to Redskins fans, where they’re more waiting for success, they want success. And you have to understand the balance that’s required in what you’re posting. You can’t be too silly when the results don’t back it up on the field. But, you also have to understand, this is a business of entertainment. You want people to consume your content. You want them to engage with it. So, there’s always that fine line that you have to be aware of.” 

Unique Content
“The NFL is a copycat league, both on the field and with social media. And that’s not a bad thing to use what works, but you have to try and come up with original thoughts and content series.” 

Working With Players And Coaches
“They’re very aware that I’m there to do a job. They’re there to do a job. I understand their boundaries. I’m never trying to interrupt them in any sort of way. I’m not trying to take up too much of their time. If I want to do an Instagram Live with a certain player, I always make sure to run it through the appropriate channels and PR is aware. We always explain to the player that we’re a part of the organization. We’re player first. We’re not going to put anything out there that’s going to portray them in a negative light.”

Photo Courtesy of Meghan Loder – Loder captures some game day content of Steelers linebacker Vince Williams during her time with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Part Of The Job
“I think it’s being able to show the players in a different light. We can share their stories and their personalities a bit more. We can show fans things that they might not normally see. Give them an inside look into the organization. Being able to package all of that in such a way that is entertaining and informative. It’s also so much fun to be a part of an NFL organization. To be a small little part of that bigger operation is very exciting.”

More Than Tweeting 
“Doing what I do is very cool, and I’m forever grateful to be a part of this organization and this league. But it is a lot of work. A lot of long nights, long weekends. To stay on top of the trends 24/7, it can be a lot to take in. I love my job and working around football.”

How The Gilmores Gave Back

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at”

Deryk and Camille Gilmore are always eager to give back.

They don’t do it for special recognition or personal gain, though. It’s simply a byproduct of how they were raised.

Deryk, a Penn State football letterman (86-88), grew up most of his life in a single-parent home.

His father, Arthur T. Gilmore, an engineer and one of the first black men to serve in the U.S. Navy, died when Deryk was just four years old.

He looked to his mother for guidance and inspiration, as she instilled in him a deep sense of faith that he continues to carry today.

Camille lost her father, Dennis H.M. Chang, who once served as the personal bodyguard for the Jamaican prime minister, when she was a freshman in college. Her mother, a nurse, was tasked with raising and supporting Camille and her three siblings.

“I think one of the things we recognized is the blessings that we have now are because of those who came before us,” Camille, a 1991 Penn State graduate from the Smeal College of Business, said. “The best way to honor them was to give back. We knew how hard it was for our mothers to raise kids from New York by themselves, and we all ended up living pretty darn well.”

To further fulfill that mission of giving back, the Gilmores have recently donated scholarships to support students at three different universities across the country.

At Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where Camille served as a board of visitor’s member, the Gilmores provided funds for a scholarship to the school’s nursing program in honor of her mother, Pamela Chang.

The second scholarship created by the Gilmores went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Deryk and Camille both received their MBAs, and where Deryk was a football coach for the Fighting Illini. This scholarship was dedicated in honor of Deryk’s mother, Yvonne Gilmore.

For the third scholarship, the Gilmores wanted to accomplish two things: they wanted to give back to Penn State and they wanted to find a way to honor their fathers in the same mold as they honored their mothers.

“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at,” Deryk, a 1990 Penn State agricultural business management grad, said.

When you talk further with the Gilmores, you learn quickly why Penn State will always remain a special place for them.

It is, after all, the place where the Gilmores met almost 29 years ago.

Visiting the McDonald’s on College Avenue to grab dinner one night, they each stepped up to their respective cash registers to place an order. 

“We were both at the counter ordering and we each asked for a coke with no ice and that was the start of it for us, I guess,” Camille said laughing. “I ended up going to a party of his later on.”

And just to prove how good of a businessman I am, even though I liked her, I still charged her five dollars to get into the house,” Deryk quickly responded in jest. “And we’ve now been together 29 years, married for 26. It’s always funny to look back on that.”

This past summer, the Gilmores committed $25,000 for a scholarship fund at Penn State, which will offer $5,000 in direct student support through the Penn State BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program for each of the next five years.

It was the perfect way to honor their fathers, while simultaneously give aid to students at their alma mater.

“Our dads just worked so hard to help people and we wanted them to be recognized as the role models that they were in their own communities,” Deryk said. “They both worked in careers that were not common for men of color at the time. They worked and were deeply family men.”

The Gilmore/Chang Family Scholarship will be awarded to full-time undergraduate students who have demonstrated a financial need, meet the academic requirements, participate in the BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program, and hold the values of mentorship, leadership and service.

Deryk said the ultimate goal of the scholarship is to try and make it easier for someone interested in Penn State to attend, particularly students of color. 

“Being black, we understand it’s hard for students of different backgrounds sometimes to be able to afford college,” Deryk said. “We want to help their path get a little easier. We didn’t want to make it all about grades but about upside. We want to help people who work hard to have a chance. Sometimes you just need that little bump. When students get into Penn State, it’s can be hard to stay there. If we can create avenues to help, let’s do it.”

During their time as undergrads, the Gilmores themselves were active student leaders and were particularly involved with several leadership programs for students of color.

In addition to her business degree, Camille was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She’s propelled her experiences at Penn State into more than 25 years of human resources leadership for various businesses.

She’s now the vice president of human resources and global chief diversity officer for Boston Scientific, a manufacturer of medical devices used in interventional medical specialties.

Photos courtesy of Deryk and Camille Gilmore

Having worked on promoting diversity in the workplace for most of her career, getting students from more diverse backgrounds to Penn State is important to Camille.

“The [BLUEprint] scholarship offers a level of inclusion to say, ‘Hey, we want you at Penn State. We believe in you and who you are. And we’re going to find a way to keep you here,’” she said. “To me, I hope Penn State can use this as a pull strategy to attract the best, diverse talent to Penn State. If this scholarship helps us to get the best and brightest from diverse backgrounds, that’s exactly what we want.”

Deryk started Incoming Black Athletes At Penn State (IBAAPS) — the first mentor education program for student athletes — and was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

He was also a defensive tackle on the 1986-87 Penn State football team that took down the favored Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to capture the program’s second national championship.

The Gilmore’s younger son, Deion followed in his father’s footsteps, and now plays at defensive tackle for Manchester University (Indiana), while their eldest son, Dantae’, is a theatre major at the University of Alabama.

“For me, my experience playing football was all about the friendships I created and the different skills I used to help me in life,” Deryk said. “You know, you learn time management skills balancing football and school. You must learn how to work with expectations, for yourself and for your group. It’s what helped make me so successful in business.”

As many of Joe Paterno’s former players are asked, Deryk gets questions all the time about what it was like playing under the legendary coach.

“You know, it was hard but rewarding playing for him. He definitely challenged me to be a better player and a better person,” Deryk said.

The biggest thing that’s always stuck with Deryk about Paterno is how much he cared for his players beyond how many sacks they recorded or touchdowns they scored.

He recalls the period when he had just graduated from Penn State and was in the process of looking for a place to start in his career.

Any time he interviewed or applied for a position, he said Paterno would call the employer and tell them that Deryk was the man to hire.

“He really helped me get my foot in the door, so to speak,” Deryk said. “He was always more worried about us as a person and the type of man we would become than he was about how great we were as an athlete.”

Deryk turned his experiences in business and football in to becoming the founder and owner of Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, whose clients include Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans — who Deryk helped negotiate a five-year, $82.5 million contract extension in March of 2018, the second-highest deal for a wide receiver in NFL history at the time.

Other Day 1 clients include La’El Collins of the Dallas Cowboys, Shaq Mason of the New England Patriots and Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs — all of whom have recently negotiated new contracts or contract extensions.

“You know, I’d say one of the reasons I got into the agent industry was to impact these young men’s lives,” Deryk said. “We want to connect them to wealth and teach them the importance of ownership and being involved in their businesses. We don’t want them to turn it over to someone that can take advantage of them and lose the money. I always try to show players that they can be more than the employee. They can be the owner.”

As they each continue to excel in their careers, the connection to Penn State is as strong as ever for Deryk and Camille.

They believe in the impact of Penn State, Penn State students and Penn State alumni.

“I saw there was an incident earlier this season where someone had written an awful letter to a football player of ours (Jonathan Sutherland), and just seeing how well he responded to it and how we as a Penn State community rallied,” Deryk said. “We had each other’s backs. I think that culture is what makes us, Penn Stater’s, great. And that carries well beyond the student-athletes.”

And above all else, “We’re proud Penn Staters’, we bleed blue and white,” Camille said. “That’s for sure. That’ll never change.”

Central Iowa Chapter Eager to Welcome Penn Staters To Its Neck Of The Woods

What the Central Iowa Chapter of the Alumni Association might lack in numbers, it makes up for in Penn State pride. 

Herb Meier a 1973 Penn State graduate, has been with the chapter since its beginning.  

Meier came out to Iowa for work, having taken a job with the IRS. He held the role as the chapter’s treasurer for a number of years before finally taking over the presidency. 

Based in Des Moines, the chapter covers all of Central Iowa, making it a bit difficult to get all Penn Staters living in that area together often for events. 

That hasn’t stopped the chapter’s activity levels, though. Meier said the chapter has about 25 paid members, all of whom are extremely dedicated. 

The group hosts Penn State football watch parties, and also looks to attend sporting events when other Penn State teams are in the area.

Back in August, members of the group made the trip to Ames, Iowa, to watch the women’s volleyball team take on the Iowa State Cyclones for the Cyclone Invitational —  a 3-0 win for the Nittany Lions.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“It was a real treat for us, because we don’t get to see them too often,” Meier said laughing.

Other events include an annual ice cream social, a summer picnic, and a winter party that’s held at the local botanical center.  

Meier and other chapter members also participate in volunteer activities a few times each year. 

“We’ve gone to a local wildlife sanctuary, it’s called the Neal Smith Wildlife Reserve,” Meier said. “We’ve gone down there and done some work packaging meals and they send them all across the country and all across the world to help feed people.” 

This weekend, Meier and the rest of the Central Iowa Chapter will host the Friday Night Mixer at the Backpocket Brewery and Tap Room ahead of the Penn State football game at Iowa 

Meier is excited for the chapter to connect with Penn Staters traveling into the state for the game. 

“It’s pretty special. We get to make a lot of connections and meet some other people from different chapters,” Meier said. “It’s good to connect with the Alumni Association and the representatives there. We email back and forth with them, but it’s always nice to see and talk with them face to face. We get to see the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion and the cheerleaders. It’s great. It’s special for us.”

It’s also a good opportunity to raise some funds to keep the chapter running and to support the chapter’s scholarship fund. 

“We’ve been really trying to grow (our scholarship fund),” Meier said. “It’s difficult because we don’t have a large base, but this will really help with that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Most Penn State fans probably don’t see Penn State vs. Iowa as too big of a rivalry, but because they live in “enemy territory,” members of the Central Iowa Chapter do see matchups between the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes as a bit of a rivalry. 

“The 2017 game, you talk about a wild game (Penn State won on a last-second touchdown),” Meier said. 

“They’ve had some pretty good games over the years. I know people back east don’t consider it a rivalry, but us out here, we kind of see it somewhat as a rivalry. We’ve had some really good games and they’ve beat us in an upset a couple of times. To us, it’s a special game.”

To learn more about the Central Iowa Chapter, visit their website, email them psuiowa@gmail.com, or follow them on Facebook

The Central Iowa Chapter is one of nearly 300 Penn State Alumni Association affiliate groups worldwide. Visit alumni.psu.edu/groups to connect with Penn Staters in your area.

Get To Know The Metro D.C. Chapter of the Alumni Association

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Schlegel/Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter

Andrew Schlegel ’12 had landed a dream job.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, he had grown up around agriculture, attending local farm shows every January and experiencing the Governor’s School for Agricultural Sciences program one summer at Penn State. 

He graduated from Penn State in 2012 with a degree in food science and a minor in international agriculture, which helped him join the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. 

The only problem with the move to the nation’s capital? He didn’t really know anyone at first.

“I knew that there were Penn Staters in the area,” Schlegel said. “So I kind of took it upon myself to go out and see what was out there. I found the Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Alumni Association, went to one or two of their events, and they were really welcoming.” 

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Schlegel/Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter

He couldn’t think of a better way to adjust to his new surroundings than using his Penn State connection in the area. He started attending the chapter’s football game watch parties, then joined their softball team to get to know some members a bit more. 

After a few years, he took on the role as membership chair for the chapter, and then became social chair for a year-and-a-half.

Schlegel moved up to vice president. He’s now been chapter president for just over a year, and he’s wasting no time in trying to help expand the chapter’s footprint in the Washington, D.C. area. 

“One of the big things I’ve tried to focus on is just having more events in general. We’ve always had a very social aspect to the chapter, but getting involved in the community service, professional development and scholarship fundraising, has been important,” Schlegel said. “I want us to use different ways to reach alumni.” 

The chapter’s usual student scholarship donation totals of $15,000 per year, as impressive as that number was, increased this past year to $20,000.

The Metro D.C. Chapter has also recently teamed up with other Big Ten alumni groups in the area for different events throughout the year, namely a “Big Ten Day of Service,” which saw the various chapters come together to clean up a local park. 

Not surprisingly, one of the more popular events the chapter hosts remains its football viewing parties. 

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Schlegel/Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter

“We currently have five football viewing sites,” Schlegel said. “One in Northern Virginia, in Arlington. One in Bethesda, Maryland, and three more spread out in the D.C. area along the metro lines. Each of them offer their own unique perspective.” 

In addition to providing that unrivaled Penn State gameday atmosphere, Schlegel said the chapter uses the watch parties for much more than just the football games. 

Each site offers something different, whether that’s a white out party at the Arlington location whenever the football team hosts a Penn State White Out game, or various raffles and food and drink specials during each watch party. 

“We like to utilize the viewing sites as a way for people to give back to the chapter, like donating to our scholarship fund,” Schlegel. “People love Penn State football and they want to watch with other Penn State fans and alumni. It’s a great way to get those people together and showcase for them that the chapter is there. Let them know what we have to offer. Talk to them and let them know there’s this wider network of Penn Staters in the area.”

Schlegel and the rest of the Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter will have a heavy presence when the football team, fans and alumni travel to College Park this Friday for the Nittany Lions’ matchup with the Maryland Terrapins.

The chapter teamed up with the Washington Nationals to provide tickets for its members and other Penn Staters for the Nationals’ game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday afternoon, before hosting the Thursday Night Mixer at the Mission Navy Yard.

Before the game itself on Friday, the chapter is teaming up with the Penn State Alumni Association for the Penn State Tailgate, to be held at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center just across the Terrapins’ stadium. 

Each Penn State Tailgate features the Nittany Lion, Pep Band, and Penn State Cheerleaders, along with an opportunity to hear from special guests and share in Penn State camaraderie.

The Chapter was able to secure some tickets to the game for members, tickets that became a hot commodity with the Terrapins’ strong start to the 2019 season, and a rejuvenated interest from their fanbase for the game against Penn State. 

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Schlegel/Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter

It promises to be a few days of fun for Schlegel and the chapter, who said he’s said he and other members are always excited when a Penn State Athletics team comes to the Washington, D.C. area. 

“Now that Maryland is in the Big Ten, there are a few more opportunities. Anytime a team comes to play here we always try our best to make sure we’re posting about it, that we get some alumni out to the games to support the athletes,” Schlegel said.

“Football is obviously the big one. The stadium is probably going to be sold out for this year’s game. Parking is pretty much sold out. It’s a big deal for our alumni in the D.C. area, and Baltimore, Annapolis, and even Virginia. We’re really excited.”

To learn more about the Metro Washington, D.C. Chapter, visit www.psuwashdc.org or email Andrew at president@psuwashdc.org

The Metro D.C. Chapter is one of 300-plus Penn State Alumni Association affiliate groups worldwide. Visit alumni.psu.edu/groups to connect with Penn Staters in your area.

The Legacy Continues

Like any father of a high school senior, Leonard Humphries knew he had to let his son make the college choice that was best for him—regardless of Humphries’ connection to his own alma mater.

“I wanted him to approach the process with an open mind, look at everything that’s out there and make a determination,” Humphries says. “He might not like the same things I like. What was good for me 30 years ago, I didn’t know if it was going to be good for him.”

And so, the senior Humphries insists, there was was no pressure. But there was hope. “I just hoped that he understood what I know about Penn State, and what a great university it is.”

Leonard’s hope was officially rewarded on Wednesday, Continue reading

FBL Podcast: Iowa Week

 

We get ready for Big Ten play and catch up with one of the famed Penn State Collins brothers as the Nittany Lions hit the road for a big game in Iowa City.

Hailing from Cinnaminson, N.J., Jason Collins ’97 was a standout on the undefeated 1994 squad, Continue reading