The Mental Cost

Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18) is hailed by coaches and teammates as having a high football IQ. That quality translates to off the field, too, with the standout bringing attention to the players’ mental health during relentless rumors. Photo by Steve Manuel.

Shaka Toney deserves a lot of credit. Let me tell you why.

First, here’s why Toney should already be on your radar. He’s distinguished himself as a standout along the defensive line, helping to create havoc with his wingspan, reach, and length. 

Toney has a ferocious drive, once registering four sacks in a single quarter, tying the program record in 2018 at Indiana. And coaches and teammates routinely mention Toney’s football IQ when describing why he’s so successful and so valuable to the Nittany Lions, both on and off the field. 

This is the quality that stood out recently, though you could easily argue that the sharp point Toney made goes well beyond football.

First, the background: Toney said this on what ended up being the day before the Big Ten announced that there’d be, after all, a fall season. And he said it amid an unrelenting media storm that featured nonstop inaccurate reports.

“Everyone only thinking about football. The rumors y’all keep putting out is destroying our mental health. Just let them announce it please. If you care about players in the B10 just wait for the answer.”

It’s not clear whether Toney was specifically referencing only the media or also fans, though either way, he’s absolutely right. And in line with his teammates who have participated in social justice rallies and marches this summer, or teammates who’ve promoted a safe return to campus on social media, Toney displayed an incredible level of leadership and maturity. 

No football this season would absolutely be devastating to a lot of individuals and businesses, many of whom are going to feel the effects anyway with no fans attending games, though the would-be impact would hit the student-athletes themselves the hardest. So, credit Toney for speaking up on an issue that some folks still are shy about discussing. Sometimes, it’s easy to recognize why. A quick scroll through the replies to Toney’s post reveals mostly positive responses, though there are a few that weren’t. 

Far and away the most thoughtful article I read during the past month was from Sports Illustrated columnist Matthew Stevens, who authored a selection titled, “The Big Ten Misinformation Campaign by ‘Content Creators’ Needs to End.”

Stevens threaded his column around the chaos caused by all the misreporting and general uncertainty surrounding the Big Ten’s final, not-so-final, decision to not play football this fall. That’s because when conference commissioner Kevin Warren said in August that the fall season was postponed and the decision wouldn’t be revisited, he meant the exact opposite. 

Give Warren and his colleagues credit in continuing to exhaust all options, though he could have said in August that’d be the plan. Here’s something I prepared in a few minutes. I think it would have worked:

Look, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. We’re learning new information every day — every hour in some cases — so please give us a few weeks. In the meantime, we’re going to do everything we can to get our student-athletes competing this fall in a safe manner. As soon as we know more, we’ll let you know, and we’ll be as thorough and decisive as the medical facts will allow us to be. We’ll be transparent to cut down on any rumors, and the only official announcement you should believe will come from the conference offices.

How hard would that have been? Not very. 

Instead, the sweeping statement that sports wouldn’t be happening left a whole lot of folks wondering what was next, and when it would be announced. This is the part of the play where all the writers and reporters rush in with their Twitter accounts. 

Never mind that these scoops everyone was chasing were details everybody would learn eventually. Or that the reports changed so often it was difficult to know which ones to take seriously, if any.

The media deserves the lion’s share of criticism, though the Big Ten deserves some, too, for creating the mercurial scenario in the first place.  

Here’s the point: We heard for weeks on end that at the center of all the discussions were the student-athletes and their well-being. As Toney astutely pointed out, the players’ mental health certainly falls into that category. 

In some ways, it’s pointless trying to blame the media for creating and feeding into a frenzy when expecting anything less is like expecting an undersized running back to protect his quarterback from Micah Parsons. But this situation is worth pointing out for no other reason than we might see a replay next month. 

Yes, Penn State and the Big Ten are scheduled to play a nine-game season. Emphasis on scheduled. Numerous college football games have been postponed because of COVID-19, most recently, Notre Dame’s Saturday contest against Wake Forest. And locally in Happy Valley, State College High School won’t play its Friday night season-opener against Central Dauphin East. The school is still employing remote learning and has approved athletic competitions for contact sports only when in-person learning is taking place. You can read more on WTAJ’s website.

So, if we’re in a similar situation next month leading up to Penn State’s season opener on Oct. 24 — and believe me, I sincerely hope we’re not — with reports swirling about a possible postponement or other changes to the football schedule, let’s remember to act responsibly and with measure. 

It’s for the well-being of student-athletes at Penn State and all across the Big Ten. And after all, that’s what matters most.

Right?  

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Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 1

Forty Penn Staters hold places on NFL rosters to start the 2020 season, which is good for fifth most in the nation. 

That’s also the most Nittany Lions on NFL rosters on opening weekend since at least 2006. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the standout performers from Week 1 and check the end of this blog for the full list of Penn Staters playing and coaching at the next level.

Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears 

A-Rob had a fruitful opening day performance in the Bears’ comeback win over the Detroit Lions. Robinson II posted five receptions for 74 yards, including this excellent grab to put his team in the red zone late in the third quarter. 

Feel like we’ve seen a catch or two like that before from him.

Trip Down Memory Lane: Allen Robinson II hauls in big pass in 4-OT win over Michigan in 2013. 

Allen Robinson outleaps defensive back to haul in 36-yard pass in final seconds to set up Lions’ final touchdown in regulation time Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Godwin was targeted a team-high seven times by Tampa Bay’s new quarterback Tom Brady and recorded six catches for 79 yards. Big things are expected from Godwin this season after a breakout 2019 campaign, and Week 1 did little to diminish that. As he and Brady continue to develop their rapport, expect Godwin’s statlines to only get bigger and better. 

Trip Down Memory Lane: Chris Godwin goes off for monster performance in Rose Bowl. 

Chris Godwin had a record-setting showing in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

John Reid, CB, Houston Texans

While the Texans fell to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on opening night, Reid made a strong impression in his first career game. Reid finished fourth on the team with six tackles and was credited with a quarterback pressure when sent on a blitz from the secondary. 
Trip Down Memory Lane: John Reid’s pick-six fuels big second half for Penn State against Buffalo.

John Reid provided turning a point in the game with his pick-six early in third quarter – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nittany Lions In The NFL
Baltimore Ravens (1): Trace McSorley
Buffalo Bills (1): Ryan Bates
Carolina Panthers (2): Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller 
Chicago Bears (2): Jordan Lucas, Allen Robinson II
Dallas Cowboys (2): Sean Lee, Connor McGovern
Denver Broncos (2): DaeSean Hamilton, KJ Hamler 
Detroit Lions (3): Jason Cabinda, Jesse James, Amani Oruwariye
Green Bay Packers (1): Adrian Amos 
Houston Texans (1): John Reid 
Indianapolis Colts (1): Robert Windsor 
Las Vegas Raiders (2): Nick Bowers, Carl Nassib
Los Angeles Rams (1): Nick Scott
Miami Dolphins (1): Mike Gesicki
Minnesota Vikings (1): Dan Chisena 
New Orleans Saints (1): Blake Gillikin 
New York Giants (3): Saquon Barkley, Cam Brown, Austin Johnson
New York Jets (1): Sam Ficken, Chris Hogan, Ross Travis
Philadelphia Eagles (2): Miles Sanders, Trevor Williams 
Pittsburgh Steelers (1): Marcus Allen, Stefen Wisniewski 
San Francisco 49ers (2): Kevin Givens, Robbie Gould 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3): Chris Godwin, A.Q. Shipley, Donovan Smith 
Tennessee Titans (2): Jack Crawford, DaQuan Jones
Washington Football Team (1): Troy Apke 

Safety Troy Apke brings down Buckeye receiver K.J. Hill – Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Nittany Lions On NFL Coaching Staffs
Matt Rhule – Carolina Panthers Head Coach
Tom Bradley – Pittsburgh Steelers DBs Coach
Bobby Engram – Baltimore Ravens TEs Coach
Al Golden – Cincinnati Bengals LBs Coach
D’Anton Lynn – Houston Texans Secondary Coach
Mike Munchak – Denver Broncos OL Coach
Jeff Nixon – Carolina Panthers Senior Offensive Assistant
Bill O’Brien (Head Coach 2012-13) – Houston Texans Head Coach

Timeless Collectibles

Coke bottles

Like many Penn Staters, I’m spending a lot more time at home lately. I’m fortunate to be able to work remotely, though there’s also been plenty of cooking, baking, and organizing around the house.

Which leads us to this past weekend.

I was helping my parents with some spring cleaning, when I uncovered three collectible Coca-Cola bottles from the 1980s, commemorating the team’s national championship in 1982.

I remember seeing them in my childhood home, and then understandably, I forgot about them. I always thought they were cool, in a sentimental type of way before so many aspects of sports became commercialized.

My parents thought the bottles were worth bringing to their State College home about 20 years ago, and I’m glad they did. We found them in a side closet in the walk-in pantry, behind cans of paint, various cleaning supplies, clothes, and even an old pair of shoes.

But the bottles were there, still unsealed and looking just as cool as ever.

I snapped a photo of the keepsakes on the kitchen counter and posted it to our Twitter account, asking if anyone else still had these bottles in their collection (similar bottles were also produced in 1986). I figured there’d be a handful of replies, maybe even a few dozen.

Instead, we received nearly 100 responses, and the post generated about 8,000 engagements.

Pretty good for a couple of old Coke bottles.

Many of the responses were detailed, with alumni and fans sharing photos of how and where their championship bottles are displayed in their homes. Just the latest example of Penn State fans displaying their passion.

So, that got us thinking: What other cherished items do Penn State fans have in their memorabilia collections?

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter and reply to our posts at the top of the page. We’re looking forward to seeing your responses, and maybe we’ll even see something new.

Of course, the classics are always good. And timeless.

Putting things in perspective

Nick Scott THON (2)

Penn State letterman and team captain Nick Scott danced in THON in 2018, saying that he was inspired to participate after meeting Four Diamonds families during the football team’s annual trip to the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey. Photo credit: Nick Scott via Twitter.

Nick Scott ’19 still speaks with a sense of awe.

THON will do that, giving you a feeling of wonder that perhaps you can’t find anywhere else.

Scott knows that as well as anyone.

If you ever saw him on the football field, or anywhere on campus, chances are Scott was smiling. That was one of the things that stood out about him. Clearly, he loved playing football, and enjoyed being a student-athlete at Penn State.

For most people, that’d be enough. Not for Scott, though. Motivated by the football team’s annual trip to the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Scott wanted to get involved with THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. The annual event at the Bryce Jordan Center is the culmination of a year-round fundraising effort to fight pediatric cancer through research and awareness.

Scott danced at THON in 2018, along with teammate Charlie Shuman ’18, ’19g, saying the team’s trip to Hershey was a huge reason why he got involved. It was in Hershey where Scott first learned what Four Diamonds families go through and the sacrifices they make. He spent time with children going through strenuous battles and listened to their inspiring stories.

Seeing that on the forefront, as he described it, left an impression.

“That was one of my favorite times of the year,” he said last week. “In terms of college kids, we think we go through so much, but in retrospect, it’s nothing compared to what some people go through every day of their lives. Being able to meet people and hear their stories, it motivated me to want to do more to help others with all they may be going through.”

Scott is on the other side of the country now, pursuing a professional football career after the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He talked about his time with THON after a morning workout, saying what he remembers most about dancing is how much of an emotional experience it was.

“You start thinking about how young these kids are and all the things that they go through on a day-to-day basis, yearly basis, and just the strength of the families and the support system they have,” he said. “It creates an extremely high sense of community and love for one another. It just puts things in perspective.”

191208_RamsSeahawks_WN_5170

Scott appeared in all 16 games for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, recording eight tackles and also catching a pass for 23 yards. Photo credit: Will Navarro/Rams.

Scott knows a little something about perseverance, too, albeit in a little different way.

He arrived at Penn State as a running back, and then shifted to the defensive backfield during Saquon Barkley’s highlight-fueled freshman season — Scott once endearingly said, “I tell people all the time, there’s 26 reasons I moved to safety.”

Scott emerged as a standout in the secondary for Penn State, excelling on special teams, too, and earning distinction as a team captain. He was a leader in multiple ways, humble and eager to contribute any way he could. Some players might’ve been stubborn and not wanted to switch positions, for example, while Scott turned the situation into a positive on his way to the NFL.

He scooped a fumble and scored a touchdown against Indiana in 2017 when the Hoosier returner botched a punt, a good example of how Scott always seemed prepared to make a play when called upon. He also sealed a win against Wisconsin a year later with a last-minute interception.

Looking back on this past season for Penn State, Scott jokingly recalled watching the team’s season opener and sounding astonished that the team kept playing — “I was watching the TV, and thought, ‘Dang, even though I left, they still really do go on without you.’”

It was a weird feeling for Scott, who added, “I feel a huge amount of pride for the guys, I know how hard they work, day in and day out,” rattling off a long list of former teammates and defensive backfield mates, including Journey Brown, KJ Hamler, Garrett Taylor, Jonathan Sutherland, Lamont Wade, and others.

“I always look forward to supporting those guys and watching them play,” Scott said. “I think Penn State fans and alumni and lettermen can be excited for what’s in store with Coach Franklin at the helm the next couple of years. We were good this year, but I think this coming season, we can have even more young talent that’ll be old. So, I’m really looking forward to what we got in the future.”

As Scott alluded to, he’s still very much connected to Penn State. That’ll continue next month, when he attends The Hope Gala, an annual THON fundraiser founded by the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter. Both he and Shuman will be there, with Todd Blackledge ’83 emceeing the event on March 21 at Gotham Hall.

Tickets can be purchased online and include dinner, dancing, and a silent auction.

It’s not surprising that Scott continues to make time for Penn State, and specifically for THON. He was friendly and cordial on the phone, and he spoke with enthusiasm and appreciation for his time in Happy Valley.

“I’m always up for talking some Penn State,” he said, “it takes me back.”

This week, all eyes turn to the BJC.

“It’s really beautiful how so many young people can come together for such a great cause, especially at a time like this, where a lot of people see this generation as so self-centered,” Scott said. “To see kids pouring their hearts out for other families and students and children is pretty amazing. It’s a great feeling, and it definitely enhances the Penn State experience.”

A Team That Was Needed

Penn State head coach Rob Cooper during warm ups before the game against Binghamton March 26, 2019, The Nittany Lions won 5-3. Photo: Penn State Athletics

Penn State baseball’s First Pitch Dinner and Silent Auction always represent a special night for the program. 

The banquet includes a dinner, silent auction for alumni, fans, families and friends in attendance, and is the first official introduction of the team ahead of a new season. 

In seasons past, former players would attend with a tradition of presenting the current team with their jerseys. 

This year, the banquet took on the theme of “Honoring the Decades,” recognizing members of the 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010 Penn State baseball teams. Extra recognition was given to the 2000 team, which advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals. 

But this banquet took on even more of a special meaning for coach Rob Cooper. 

As the 2020 team made its entrance into the room, Cooper was moved to see his players sporting pink ties with their suits, honoring Cooper’s wife Maureen ‘Mo,’ who was diagnosed with breast cancer last August. 

The players also presented Maureen, who serves as the Director of Commonwealth Campus Athletics for the Office of Ethics and Compliance at Penn State, with a bouquet of flowers.  

“I said at the banquet and I told my players, if there was ever a year I needed to coach this team, it was this year,” Cooper said.  “I love em’. Love em’ for what they’ve done for her and for us.”

The pink ties and presentation of flowers followed a batch of great news just a few weeks earlier for the Cooper family. 

On Jan. 10, she completed radiation treatment and Cooper captured the moment on Twitter when Mo rang the bell to celebrate.

“She’s doing great,” Cooper said. “She doesn’t need chemo(therapy), which is huge. The love and support from the Penn State community, the State College community has been special. And also what our coaches players have meant to my family over this time. It’s been a real emotional thing in a good way, because those guys have done a lot to help my family, help myself.”

Junior pitcher Kyle Virbitsky, who’s entering his third season playing for Cooper, said there was never any question from the team about getting behind Mo, Rob and the rest of the family.

“One of the big reasons I came to Penn State was the family atmosphere that existed,” Virbitsky said. “Both my parents went here and Coach Coop recognized that, opened his arms to us all the time. When Mo went through that, there was no question she was going to get our support. She might as well be a member of this team. She’s like our second mom. Anything we could do to help, we were absolutely going to do it.” 

Cooper said coaches have offered to help the family in a number of ways, whether that be picking up his youngest son Jake from high school and baseball practices to bring him home or picking up groceries and other items the family might need. 

Coaches and players alike also let Cooper know that if he wasn’t able to attend a practice or meeting, that they would be sure that things would continue to run smoothly in his absence. 

The sixth-year coach tried to maintain a sense of normalcy through it all, though, spending as much time around his team as was possible. 

“Well, when I’m (with the team) it’s kind of like a sanctuary,” Cooper said. “It’s definitely a chance to not worry as much for a little bit. Take your mind off things. When you have a bunch of guys that truly care about you, it makes things a bit easier to deal with. I needed a group like this to help my family and myself get through this.”

Cooper has long been a leader in the fight against cancer, even before Mo received her diagnosis. 

Since Cooper arrived at Penn State for the 2014 season, the baseball team has supported the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Baseball Vs. Cancer campaign, raising nearly $50,000 as of this past December. 

The program also hosts annual Vs. Cancer and Penn State THON games that have welcomed THON families and featured team members shaving their heads postgame. 

The efforts have helped raise support for Penn State Children’s Hospital’s Four Diamonds and its mission to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children and their families through superior care, comprehensive support and innovative research.

In December, Cooper was named an inaugural Baseball Vs. Cancer ambassador. Consisting of current and former coaches, players and members of the media, Baseball Vs. Cancer ambassadors represent the athletic community’s shared resolve to raise awareness and funds for a world without childhood brain tumors.

“It’s a very high honor,” Cooper said. “It’s something that means a great deal to me. Regardless of what my wife has been through, I would have done it, because of what it means to me personally. Now, this year, it obviously hits a lot closer to home.” 

Trips to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center had a profound effect on Cooper, before and during trips there with his wife for her treatment. 

“You look around and you see these kids there. They’re six, seven, eight years old,” Cooper said. “You see them in hospital beds and in hallways and they’ve got tubes in them. You just want to help give those kids a chance, man. They haven’t had a chance to experience a lot of the stuff we’ve got to experience.” 

“So, this initiative and being an ambassador means a lot to me. It’s something I’m very proud of.”  

Sophomore third baseman Justin Williams believes how much the players and community rallied behind Cooper and his family during Mo’s treatment is a testament to the person Cooper is beyond his role as a baseball coach, demonstrated by him being named as Vs. Cancer ambassador. 

“Not only is he our coach, he’s a friend to everybody on the team,” Williams said. “We’re around him every day and we are going to do whatever we can to support him and his family. I think that speaks to the culture were building here, the culture he’s helped create.” 

Virbitsky echoed Williams’ sentiment that Cooper is much more than their coach. 

“He’s also like our second dad. I can go to him with anything. Any problem I’ve ever needed help with, he’s 100 percent always been there for me,” Virbitsky said. “I love playing for the guy. Was more than happy to rally the troops for him and Mo just let them know ‘Hey, we’re right here behind ya.’”

Passionate and prepared, McGloin ready for XFL

Matt McGloin_Guardians Twitter (1)

Matt McGloin will lead the New York Guardians into their 2020 season opener Sunday at MetLife Stadium. “It’s definitely exciting to have the opportunity to continue to play this game at a high level, it’s something that I’ve always wanted,” McGloin said after a team practice last week. Photo credit: New York Guardians.

Matt McGloin ’12 figured it was only a matter of time.

He had worked too hard, invested too much time, and overcome too many hurdles to see his professional career end while still in his 20s.

The Pennsylvania native walked on at Penn State, eventually earning a scholarship and becoming a fan favorite for his fiery demeanor and unwavering grit. McGloin maximized his time with the program, working his way up the depth chart, becoming the starter while leading the team through an inspiring and challenging 2012 season and quarterbacking Joe Paterno’s 409th win.

Then, after he went undrafted, he played his way into a starting role for the Oakland Raiders, throwing for 1,868 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games from 2013–16.

Seemingly, there was always somebody ahead of him on the depth chart, a never-ending series of obstacles to sidestep.

However, McGloin kept grinding, still believed, and continued to train while he searched for a roster spot with another team. He competed with himself this past year while out of the NFL, adding five or 10 pounds to his sets, or increasing his workout by a few reps.

Anything to get a little bit better.

Cameras weren’t rolling (he wasn’t doing this for an audience), and his future was unclear.

The entire time, though, McGloin couldn’t shake the feeling that another opportunity was surely on the horizon, right?

“To be honest with you, in the back of my mind, I didn’t believe my football career was over,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d have another chance in the NFL or what would happen with the XFL. I didn’t know, but I didn’t feel like my career was over.”

He stayed positive and remained in shape, doing everything he could to be ready when his next chance arrived.

Last fall, he was proven right.

The opportunity came in the form of a new league with a familiar name, as McGloin was assigned in October to the New York Guardians of the rebooted XFL, which will feature a 10-game regular season starting this weekend.

“It’s definitely exciting to have the opportunity to continue to play this game at a high level, it’s something that I’ve always wanted,” McGloin said Friday, following a team practice.

“I’ve got some experience playing professional football, but I still believe I can get better as a quarterback, better as a player, and better as a leader. That’s my mindset, to improve every day and prove that I can go out there and win games, week in and week out.”

Back in the Huddle

Originally launched for one year in 2001, the XFL is the brainchild of WWE owner and entrepreneur Vince McMahon. The inaugural (and only) season featured some memorable highlights — years later, fans might still remember Rod Smart wearing “He Hate Me” on his jersey — as the league gave many fans their first glimpse of professional football beyond the NFL. Penn State fans might recall that Wally Richardson ’96, ’03g also played in the league, starting most games for the New York/New Jersey squad.

Now, the XFL is back, and so is McGloin, with the Guardians kicking off their season Sunday, hosting the Tampa Bay Vipers at 2 p.m. FOX will broadcast the contest from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Extra special for McGloin, who will wear No. 14, is that his family and friends can watch him play — MetLife Stadium is less than a two-hour drive from his home in Northeast Pennsylvania. Folks have been telling McGloin’s family that they’re heading to the game Sunday, and the proximity takes on even for more significance for McGloin and his wife, Bailey, after they welcomed their first child last year.

In all the excitement and preparation, it’s worth noting that Sunday’s season opener will be the first professional (regular season) action for McGloin since 2016. The last three seasons have seen him sign with a handful of NFL teams — he was briefly reunited with Bill O’Brien in Houston — though nothing stuck. He was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 and it looked like things had worked out, though a late roster cut abruptly changed that outlook.

McGloin figures Sunday will be exciting, and also that he’ll be nervous.

For him, that’s a good thing. It means he still cares about football, that he’s still passionate about the game, that he still craves the opportunity to lead a team.

Matt McGloin_Guardians Twitter (2)

McGloin was assigned to the Guardians in October, designated as a Tier One quarterback by the XFL. Of the eight such signal-callers, McGloin boasts the most NFL experience, throw for more than 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Raiders from 2013–16. Photo credit: New York Guardians.

It’s been a quick turnaround for McGloin and his teammates, and they all understand that. It helps to have a coach with nearly 40 years of experience, he said, mentioning Kevin Gilbride, who coached in the NFL for nearly a quarter-century after some time in college and a few seasons in the Canadian Football League.

Some of the XFL rule changes have been incorporated to make the game faster-paced than the NFL, while also giving teams more of an opportunity to come back. You can check out the complete list online. For McGloin, it means a team is never truly out of the game. For fans, it should translate into a product more conducive to television.

The Guardians have been posting some fun content to Twitter, and there are several videos that showcase McGloin during practice. Of all the Tier One quarterbacks in the XFL, McGloin holds the most extensive NFL experience — most QBs don’t have any experience beyond college and NFL practice squads — putting the former Nittany Lion in position to lead the Guardians to a title.

“Coach Gilbride chose me to be the quarterback here because I can make good decisions,” McGloin said. “I’m accurate and timely with the ball, and that’s the way I play the game. … They trust that I’m going to get us into the best possible play. I think that’s where my game has gotten better, understanding coverages and fronts. That’s what Coach Gilbride has seen out of me.”

McGloin said it’d be unfair to compare the team’s training camp to anything he experienced in the NFL, though communicating is still paramount. Most of the coaches and players don’t have history with one another, though McGloin said that’s what is so special about football.

“You meet different people and work with different people,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic journey so far.”

Penn State family

McGloin stayed busy in the fall, and if you thought you saw him roaming the sidelines at Beaver Stadium, you’re right. After attending the football team’s media day for a local outlet in August, Penn State Athletics asked McGloin to co-host a live postgame show from Beaver Stadium for the 2019 season.

From there, his role quickly expanded, and he spent the season as a sideline reporter for Penn State football, working directly with Steve Jones ’80 and Jack Ham ’71 during broadcasts. McGloin fit right in, looking and speaking the part of a seasoned analyst, also appearing in weekly video previews on the team’s social media channels that feature massive followings.

McGloin provided invaluable insight, teaming with feature content specialist and on-air talent Mitch Gerber to give a firsthand account of what Penn State’s coaches, players, and fans could expect week-to-week.

Speaking about the raucous atmosphere at Ohio State or the famed pink visitor’s locker room at Iowa gave McGloin a chance to discuss his playing career in a way that was always topical and timely, lending an authenticity that you can only get from a player who’s been there, done that.

“He provided a completely different dynamic,” Gerber said, adding that McGloin’s ability to explain complex ideas in a way that makes sense for the average fan is similar to Tony Romo’s approach.

That comparison is notable, considering the former Dallas Cowboy quarterback has quickly ascended the broadcasting ranks ­— he reportedly made more than $3 million last year — and multiple outlets will likely compete over him this year after his contract with CBS expired.

It was fun being back on the field, McGloin happily acknowledged, and he speaks with the thrill of a fan when mentioning the partnership with Jones and Ham: “Those guys are awesome,” he said. “It was definitely a lot of fun and a great season at Penn State. I was really happy to be part of it and watch it up close.”

Part of what makes the broadcasting duo so iconic is that they’re intertwined with Penn State football, and yet they’re also approachable.

McGloin is much the same way.

He’s attended alumni chapter events over the years, with his likable personality and easy demeanor winning over crowds. He definitely has a presence — like any accomplished quarterback — while also remaining welcoming.

He also recognizes the importance of the Penn State network.

Shortly after joining the Guardians, McGloin got connected with the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter, attending a recent alumni event with Bailey and a few team representatives in October.

Set in the city’s meatpacking district, Chapter President Linde Miles ’09 said the happy hour-style event was designed for young Penn Staters to meet fellow alumni and network. It was the first time that Miles met McGloin, and she was impressed, even if the QB wasn’t what she was expecting.

The Guardians’ senior director of marketing emailed her and said that a Penn State graduate with the XFL was interested in attending the event, and he asked if that was possible.

Miles’ reaction? Sure, and she figured it was someone with an administrative position or similar role. Instead, in strolled McGloin, who attended with Bailey and a few team representatives.

Miles instantly recognized McGloin from his days as a Nittany Lion. She had graduated by the time he became the starter, though she returned for a few games in 2010 and 2011 and saw him play at Beaver Stadium.

“We were floored that he would want to come out to an event for our chapter,” Miles said. “Everyone was kind of starstruck, including myself. He was so down-to-earth. They were all really welcoming and wanted to get to know the chapter and what we do.”

McGloin_Linde

McGloin connected with the Alumni Association’s New York City Chapter in October, shortly after joining the Guardians. “We were floored that he would want to come out to an event for our chapter. Everyone was kind of starstruck, including myself,” said Chapter President Linde Miles, pictured with the former Nittany Lion.

“It was awesome,” McGloin said of attending the NYC Chapter event. “The Penn State family has always been great to me, and I can’t thank them enough for their support over the years.

“I’ve always said this and have always felt this way: It takes a different person to be a Penn State student-athlete, and a different person to be part of the Penn State family. It’s a special group. The longer I’m out of school, the more I realize how special and important it is. My love for the University continues to grow, and I’m very lucky and very blessed to have attended Penn State.”

The NYC Chapter is planning to attend the Guardians’ home game on April 4, and you can learn more and buy tickets online. Miles worked with the Guardians to secure a discounted group rate, and $3 from every ticket will benefit the chapter’s scholarship fund. Additionally, the first 20 fans to purchase tickets will receive entry into a postgame autograph signing with McGloin and some teammates, and Miles figures it should be a really fun day.

She spoke highly of McGloin, saying “I think his leadership was paramount to the (2012) team continuing to go and push through, and I’m excited to see that leadership again here in the city.”

McGloin is similarly thrilled.

After spending most of his time in the NFL on the West Coast — away from his family and friends — he’s returned home to play in one of the biggest markets in the country for a league that seems primed for a lengthier run this time around.

So no, McGloin’s not done yet, and maybe not for a while. He’s only a few months past his 30th birthday, is still in great shape, and now has an opportunity to quarterback a team to a championship.

More than anything, McGloin has just wanted a chance, and now he has it.

“I was preparing, and now I’m ready for this opportunity,” McGloin said. “I felt like something would come along, I felt like something would happen. That’s always been me. I continued to believe in the process, and I stayed positive, and I’m ready for Week 1.”

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Lamar Stevens’ legacy

Penn State v. Indiana (Photo by Steve Manuel steve.manuel6@gmail.com)

Lamar Stevens moved into third place all-time in scoring (1,994) for Penn State basketball on Wednesday night against Indiana. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Lamar Stevens has increasingly cemented his all-time standing within the Penn State hoops program this season.

There are the points — he’s now third among Nittany Lions with 1,994 in his career. Stevens also eclipsed the 800-rebound mark in the team’s win against Indiana on Wednesday. Tied at halftime, Penn State outpaced the Hoosiers in the second half for a 64-49 victory, boosted by Stevens’ 17 points, nine rebounds, and four steals.

It was the latest performance in a season that’s shaping up to be Pat Chambers’ most memorable in Happy Valley. In December, Penn State earned a national ranking for the first time in more than two decades, and a likely NCAA Tournament appearance awaits the team in March.

When Stevens opted to return to Penn State for his senior year, these milestones likely represented what it’d take for the Nittany Lions to have a successful season.

Pick up meaningful road victories in the Big Ten. Ascend into the upper half of the conference. Go beyond the NIT and get into the big dance.

Penn State’s accomplished the first two and is trending the right way for the third.

So, the Nittany Lions are on the right trajectory, and Stevens has played a big-time role in positioning the team to play meaningful basketball in late March, something this fan base has been craving since the team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance nearly a decade ago.

Deliver that, and fans will rightly celebrate Stevens for a long time into the future.

However, that might not be where Stevens’ true legacy lies. Or at the very least, those achievements don’t tell the entire story.

The Nittany Lions are on the road for their next two contests, and then return to the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday, Feb. 8, for a game against Minnesota.

The BJC should have a festive vibe, as the team has partnered with Special Olympics and LifeLink for what’s being hailed as “Everyone is Awesome Day.”

The first 1,000 fans will receive a Stevens T-shirt jersey, and the star forward has authored a children’s book, with illustrations contributed by kids with Down syndrome whom he’s met through the team’s community outreach efforts. Copies will be available, and Stevens will have a postgame book signing.

It’s the latest example of Stevens showing how he understands the platform he has, and the impact he can have — especially beyond the court.

From Coaches Vs. Cancer to the annual Buddy Walk, which raises funds and celebrates individuals with Down syndrome, Stevens has become a mainstay in the community.

Sure, he’s a star basketball player; and understandably, that’s how many fans will remember him. But it’s not what defines Stevens as a person.

“Lamar is an incredible ambassador for this university and this athletic department, he’s always giving back,” Chambers said. “I think he recognizes how blessed he is, and he doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s incredibly grateful for being in this position, and he’s always doing something for charities.

“He wants to give back, especially to children. I think that speaks volumes about his character, and how he’s wired, and how he’s made.”

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Ridge Riley’s timeless question

Road to Number One (1000x)

Even though we’re about a month removed from an incredibly successful (and enjoyable) season, we’re still amazed at how Penn State football unites our alumni network.

We have the privilege of seeing firsthand how much time and energy our alumni volunteers put forth during the football season, organizing events each weekend across the country.

Of course, each Saturday is a lot of fun. Additionally, watch parties serve as an opportunity to leverage the shared passion that Penn State alumni have for football into something that goes beyond the field.

Ridge Riley understood this better than any Penn Stater.

Riley faithfully served the Alumni Association for decades, ending each issue of The Football Letter with, “Faithfully, your correspondent.” He understood his audience and spotlighted what truly matters to Penn Staters, always providing insight that alumni couldn’t find anywhere else.

That’s why we’ll occasionally pop downstairs at the Hintz Family Alumni Center and peruse his book, “Road to Number One.” There are three copies in Robb Hall, two personally donated by the Riley family.

The pages and book covers are worn, a testament to how often alumni and friends will stop by and glance through the book, learning Riley’s perspective as he chronicled the rise of Penn State football from an eastern power into a national force.

Joe Paterno wrote the forward, a thoughtful reflection that included he was the last person to speak with Riley. During one of their many talks, in January 1976, Riley asked Paterno, “Where do we stand? Where are we right now?”

Both an incredibly simple and complex question.

Those were Riley’s last words (he died shortly after from a heart attack), and they’re just as timely now as in 1976. Coming off another 11-win season and NY6 bowl game, James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are primed for their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

That isn’t just the hope, as it certainly seems to be the expectation for the team heading into 2020. Accomplish that, and the program’s third national title is also within reach.

So, imagine someone posed Riley’s question to you, heading into spring practice in a couple months: “Where do we stand? Where are we right now?”

What’s your answer?

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Top 10 Plays Of The 2019 Penn State Football Season

Memphis at Cotton Bowl 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Penn State closed out the season with a New Year’s Six win over the Memphis Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, marking the third time in the last four years James Franklin has led the program to an 11-win season.

It was a season full of memorable moments and some terrific individual plays. So, I took a crack at completing the difficult task of ranking the top 10 plays of the season.

No. 10: Sean Clifford drops a dime to Pat Freiermuth (Michigan State)

This was one of Sean Clifford’s more impressive throws of the season, his first as the starting quarterback. He got the perfect amount of distance and touch on this connection with Freiermuth, all the while he had pressure in his face forcing him to throw off his back foot.

No. 9: Shaka Toney Blocks Field Goal With His Helmet (Michigan State)

This isn’t something you see every day. Penn State’s special teams was vastly improved from a season ago. For Toney, he has grown a lot every season he’s been with the program. When he first saw the field he was more of a pass rush specialist. He’s since developed into a much more well-rounded defensive end that can handle his own against the run and pass. He’s expected to be back next year and will be a key leader for Brent Pry’s defense.

No. 8: Goal-Line Stand Seals Win Over Wolverines (Michigan)

This is a collection of plays rather than one, but it was a huge moment in Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions defense held their ground with their backs against the wall and preserved a big White Out win over Michigan.

No. 7: John Reid’s Pick Six (Buffalo)

Another game early in the season where the Nittany Lion offense was pretty lifeless in the opening half. John Reid used his terrific football IQ to read the quarterback’s eyes and make a break on the ball. It was the kind of spark Penn State needed to pull away from Buffalo.

No. 6 Pat Freiermuth Runs Over Defensive Back (Memphis)

You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, but yeah, it’s easy to see why Pat Freiermuth is nicknamed “Baby Gronk.” Just flat out levels the defender here. It was a huge boost that he announced his return to the program for 2020. He could have easily been a first round draft pick in the NFL draft in a few months time.

No. 5: Jordan Stout Sets A Record (Pitt)

On a day when the Penn State offense was largely unproductive, Jordan Stout supplied a bit of momentum heading into halftime with this school-record boot. His big leg was a great addition to the special teams unit.

No. 4: Micah Parsons Forces Fumble, Garrett Taylor Scores (Memphis)

Penn State and Memphis continued to go back and forth late into the third quarter in the Cotton Bowl, but this play proved to be a huge momentum shift with the Nittany Lions clinging to a two-point lead. Micah Parsons was all over the field in this game and this play was a great example of why he enters the 2020 season with some Heisman buzz. Also, a big credit to senior Garrett Taylor for being in the right place at the right time to return the ball to the end zone.

No. 3: Nick Eury Plows Into The End Zone (Idaho)

There were more important touchdowns in the grand scheme of Penn State’s season, but there weren’t many as special as this. This was a really cool moment for one of the hardest working players on the team. Nick Eury scored the only touchdown of his career with this tremendous effort. One of the team’s walk-ons, he was later awarded a scholarship in December. It’s what college football is all about.

No. 2: KJ Hamler Outmaneuvers Maryland Defenders (Maryland)

There’s a reason KJ Hamler’s nickname is “The Human Joystick.” The way he can evade defenders in the open when it seems they got a beat on him is ridiculous. His highlight reel from just two seasons of action in Happy Valley will go down with the best of them.

No. 1: Journey Brown Goes Beast Mode (Memphis)

Journey Brown set a new bowl record for Penn State with 202 rushing yards in the win over the Tigers. No run was more impressive than this one, though, in which he did his best Marshawn Lynch impression. I count four broken tackles on his way to the end zone, including the final one in which he literally drags the defender four yards for the score.

What was your favorite play of the season? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading along with us all throughout the 2019 season. And stay tuned for some more content throughout the spring leading up to the Blue-White Game in April.

We Are!

North Texas Chapter offers ‘something for everyone’

Pep band (group photo)

The North Texas Chapter serves an expansive geographic region with a wide variety of events, such as when the chapter’s alumni Blue Band played at the chapter’s sendoff picnic four years ago. All Penn State eyes have been on Texas this week, and the Dallas-based chapter has been ready. 

The North Texas Chapter’s watch party will feel different this week.

The chapter averaged nearly 100 Penn Staters per event this football season, though Saturday’s game will feature some new ambience. Mainly, Penn State football is coming to them.

Penn State is playing in Texas for the first time in nearly a decade, and it’s been a little longer than that (44 years) since the Nittany Lions last appeared in the Cotton Bowl.

Giving it some more thought, “different” might be an understatement.

Suffice to say, our Dallas-based chapter is excited. And beyond that, Chapter President Jeff Zawadzki ’97 understands the opportunity the game provides beyond football.

“What we try to get across to people is we have a broad range of events — you’re going to find something where you fit in,” Zawadzki said. “We work really well with the other Texas chapters and find something for everyone.”

Zawadzki moved to Texas three weeks after graduating from Penn State, and he joined the North Texas Chapter the following fall. As he said, not everybody is a football junkie, so a networking event or community service project will probably be more appealing to some folks. The chapter also hosts a holiday party that attracts local Penn Staters. 

Given the expansive geographic region that the chapter covers, Zawadzki figures the more options, the better. It makes sense.

More immediate, the chapter is hosting an event Friday evening in Dallas, and chances are board members will see Penn Staters who they haven’t met before. Even for new folks they meet during the season, Zawadzki said newcomers are surprised by how organized and produced their watch parties are.

Some games are so packed that there’s standing-room only space, and the chapter uses those Saturday afternoons to recruit new members and renew membership for current members. There are also raffles that support the chapter’s scholarship endowment, which has grown over the years and now exceeds $100,000.

Aside from a few folks who are out of town on vacation, most of the chapter’s board members will be in attendance at AT&T Stadium on Saturday; kickoff is set for Noon ET/11 a.m. CT between Penn State and Memphis.

Zawadzki’s keenly familiar with the area that the chapter serves, and he has nearly two decades’ worth of experience to draw from. He first got involved with the chapter in 2001, and over the years, has helped out with the chapter’s website and social media channels. Zawadzki also previously served as vice president in charge of technology, and this is his third year as chapter president.

He succeeded Craig Micklow, an alumni leader who served as North Texas Chapter president for 27 years. The chapter routinely earns Elm Level distinction, which current Vice President Kurt Heinemann proudly noted Friday morning as he represented the chapter during the Alumni Association’s community service project.

The new year promises more chances for folks interested in joining the chapter, or just learning more. Former longtime Penn State coach and administrator Joe Battista ’83 will visit with the chapter, and the group is also looking at attending a Dallas Stars hockey game.

There’s value in Zawadzki having served the chapter so long before stepping into the president’s role. You see and hear a lot over the years, what works and what doesn’t, etc. The chapter still employs a tactical approach, something Micklow started and which Zawadzki continues.

“I learned things from Craig: how you interact with different vendors and treat those people and build relationships,” Zawadzki said. “Craig is really good at building relationships, and that’s something I took from him. He approached the chapter from a business perspective, and that makes us successful. We want to have some procedures and processes, and it helps it run a lot smoother.

Zawadzki still talks with Micklow and his wife, Judy, who hosted the chapter’s annual student sendoff picnic at their house for nearly three decades.

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Alumni leader and former longtime North Texas Chapter President Craig Micklow gave an inspiring speech in 2017, as he accepted the Kay and Ernie Salvino Volunteer of the Year Award.

There’s a strong foundation with the chapter, which oversees an expansive geographic region. There are challenges with that, and chapter is maximizing its footprint by partnering with other chapters in the state for what Zawadzki called a “Texas throwdown.”

Here’s the plan: Each participating Alumni Association chapter in Texas will create a page for its THON fundraiser. Zawadzki said it’s a friendly competition to see who can raise the most money. Sounds like it’ll be a win-win for everyone involved, most of all Four Diamonds families and THON.

As is often the case, football is also a mainstay for the chapter, a connecting point for alumni to get together and catch up. Same plan this weekend, only with tens of thousands of more visitors.

“Dallas-area folks are excited to get out there,” Zawadzki said of Saturday’s game. “We have some alums who can’t make it back to Happy Valley, so it’s nice to see them here locally.”

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

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