Tradition of Giving Back

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Nearly 100 volunteers from the Penn State Alumni Association and the University of Memphis Alumni Association teamed up Friday morning at I Can Still Shine, painting walls, organizing clothes, and building shelves. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

This is quickly becoming one of our favorite traditions.

That was the thinking Friday morning at the I Can Still Shine program, where the Penn State Alumni Association partnered with the University of Memphis Alumni Association to give back to the local community.

Nearly 100 volunteers from the two alumni associations painted walls, built shelves, organized clothes, and jumped in anytime something was needed. You can check out some photos here that showcase the spirit of volunteerism, as The Football Letter photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g was on-hand to provide his usual great photos.

It’s the third straight year we’ve partnered with the opposing team’s alumni association at the bowl for a community service project, and it’s a good reminder that alumni and fans can make an impact beyond the field.

We all know Saturday’s game is important, and folks from both sides spoke proudly about their Universities and alumni, and how much fun their seasons have been. We enjoyed meeting Memphis alumni and fans, and some of our colleagues at their alumni association. And the program’s founder, Brenda Jackson, shared how the program supports battered women and their children. It’s an inspiring story, and we hope we helped in some small way.

Each alumni base provided plenty of volunteers, and you can hear from Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and Memphis’ director, Kristie Goldsmith, on our Facebook page.

“Memphis is about giving back, and we love to do this type of volunteer work,” Goldsmith said, as volunteers hammered away and continued with the service.

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Volunteers enjoyed a busy morning, organizing clothes for local families that I Can Still Shine supports year-round. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

That selfless mindset was present on both sides, with our North Texas Chapter onsite, too. Vice President Kurt Heinemann ’98 was busy all morning, moving from one side of the building to the other, helping with various projects.

As you can imagine, he and the chapter are excited for the game, and really, for all week. “As I tell my friends, my family is coming down to visit me this time,” Heinemann said, smiling, and he added the chapter will host an event tonight in Dallas.

Just one of many examples of Penn Staters coming together this week. And sometimes, we even include some Tigers.

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Cotton Bowl Sights and Sounds

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Alumni and fans kicked off the Penn State Bowl Tour with a reception at The Rustic, in Dallas. The Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, Lionettes, and special guests welcomed Penn Staters, who enjoyed a relaxing evening ahead of the Cotton Bowl. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Texas didn’t disappoint.

Not that we’re surprised (we’re not).

The chances are incredibly high that you’ll have a good time anytime you gather with a bunch of Penn Staters, and that was exactly the scene that played out this evening about 15 miles from AT&T Stadium, site of this year’s Cotton Bowl. The Penn State Bowl Tour kicked off with a welcome reception, and the ambience was just what folks were craving.

A few hundred Nittany Lion supporters gathered tonight at The Rustic, a down-home restaurant that offered what most folks are craving after a long day of traveling: good food, cold drinks, memorable views, and most importantly, an opportunity to gather with fellow Penn Staters and enjoy performances from the Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes.

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Cool moment: Penn State President Eric Barron sported some gear from Saquon Barkley’s line of Nike clothing, as he and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour spoke with alumni and fans. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel.

Penn State President Eric Barron and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour also attended, sharing insight on how the University and athletic department strive to be one of the leading educational institutions in the nation.

Both Barron and Barbour stressed how our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom while surpassing the competition in the athletic arena, with Barbour touting the student-athletes’ upcoming Academic Progress Rate (APR). You can learn more about the APR on the NCAA website.

Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford and President Randy Houston, meanwhile, welcomed travelers and spoke to the power that our alumni network flexes when thousands alumni travel every year to the bowl game. You can check out our archived live stream of Clifford and Houston on our Facebook page, in addition to a host of videos on our Twitter feed.

Stay tuned all week, as we’ll update the blog and our social channels and share how Penn Staters are bringing the roar to Texas.

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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

See you soon, Cotton Bowl

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We’re heading to Texas in a few days for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, where Penn State will vie for its third 11-win season in four years. It’s been a while since the Nittany Lions have achieved that level of success, and with James Franklin recently signing a contract extension and bringing in another Top-15 recruiting class, this level of success very well could continue.

As Franklin often says, it’s a group effort, including alumni, fans, and lettermen, the work that goes on behind the scenes by the football coaches and support staff, and the incredible level of dedication that’s put forth by our student-athletes.

As usual, it’s an exciting time for the program and the passionate fan base that supports the Nittany Lions, and that level of bold enthusiasm will be on display this week in Dallas and the surrounding area.

Saturday will be the first time that The Football Letter stalwarts John Black ’62 and Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g will cover the Cotton Bowl. Ridge Riley detailed the last time Penn State played in the Cotton Bowl in 1975, in the next-to-last year that Riley oversaw the publication. We’ve uncovered a few Associated Press photos from the victory over Baylor that year; one is included in this post, and we’ll share a few others this week on our social channels.

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Joe Paterno met with reporters at a press conference on Dec. 28, 1974, prior to the Cotton Bowl. Also pictured: Baylor head coach Grant Teaff. Photo credit: Associated Press.

If you’re traveling into town for the game, you’re invited to attend a number of events that the Alumni Association is hosting, including a volunteer service project. You can find complete details on Penn State News.

Notably, the morning of the game, we’re hosting the official Cotton Bowl pep rally, from 8:30-9:00 a.m. It’ll take place right by AT&T Stadium, within the Goodyear Huddle Up Fan Fest located in the Miller Lite (West) Plaza. The pep rally will feature the Blue Band, Penn State Cheerleaders, the Nittany Lions, the Lionettes, and special guests.

We hope to see you there, and we look forward to meeting alumni and fans during our trip. We’ll have additional content on the blog later this week, including coverage of our events. Tag the Alumni Association and The Football Letter Twitter accounts, and let us know if you’re in town or if you see a cool photo or interesting story idea. 

We Are …

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

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

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.”

Penn State Heading To The Cotton Bowl

Penn State is heading to the Cotton Bowl Classic for the first time since 1975.

The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions learned their postseason fate during the New Year’s Six reveal show on Sunday. 

Penn State will play No. 17 Memphis inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 28. 

James Franklin’s squad put together another 10-win season for the program, capping off the regular season with a 27-6 win over Rutgers.

This marks the third time in the last four seasons the Nittany Lions have won at least 10 games. 

The last time Penn State accomplished that feat was a span from 1993-96. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, captured the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday by topping Cincinnati, 29-24. It was their second win over the Bearcats in an eight-day span. 

The win also gave Memphis its first 12-win season in program history. 

Senior Day Emotions

Senior Cam Brown (6) will play his final game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Saturday will mark the final time Penn State’s senior class get to suit up for a game inside Beaver Stadium.

As the Nittany Lions close their chapter on the regular season, the seniors close their home careers. 

Penn State will honor 16 seniors (see the full list at the bottom of this story) as part of the annual Senior Day festivities. It will undoubtedly be a bittersweet day.

“I think I’m the kind of guy who likes to think I’ll be okay, but I have really no clue when it’s going to happen, especially with my parents being down there on the field,” senior safety Garrett Taylor said when asked if or when he’s going to get emotional. 

“I think that’s going to be pretty special. So, I’ll see. It’s kind of weird thinking about it, but I’m excited just to have one last chance to get out there in Beaver and play in front of 100,000-some people. It’s been a heck of a journey and I’m super appreciative of it.” 

Fellow senior Cam Brown said he expects to be somewhat emotional, but he’s not going to let it affect his play. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“I’ve been thinking about it, the process, just everything going through it,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an emotional weekend for me, mentally at least, but the game of football is about containing those emotions and playing the game. That’s my biggest thing this weekend is focusing and being able to channel myself to play in this game.”

Brown has been one of the key leaders for Penn State the last few seasons. 

He’s currently third on the team in total tackles with 62 and tied for first in forced fumbles with three. 

More importantly, he’s been a vocal leader for the Nittany Lions, being a source to rally behind whenever the team needs a boost before or after a game. 

With his Nittany Lion career now winding down, Brown said wants to be remembered as someone who played hard for his teammates all the time. 

“I try to push, tried to lead this year, and granted, it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I feel like that part is going to at least stay in the locker room,” Brown said. “The guys will know that I always fought for them, even with the coaches. I fought for the coaches in the locker room, I fought for the players with the coaches, and I feel like if that’s what I can leave here with, I’m good.”

Brown, Taylor and the rest of the senior class compiled a 40-11 record to this point, becoming the first 40-win senior class at Penn State since 2009. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

A win over Rutgers would tie the 1997 seniors’ 41 wins.

“We talk about being an elite program day-in and day-out, 365 days of the year and what that takes,” Taylor said of the program’s development since he first got to campus as a freshman.

“I think what’s gotten us there is the buy-in. I came in when there was a point in the program there was still some turmoil and Coach Franklin was trying to get guys to buy in. We had some guys who were. We had some guys who weren’t. And that’s no fault to them. That’s just kind of where the program was at that point.”

For Taylor, especially, it’s been quite the journey to become a starting safety for the Nittany Lions. 

An injury his senior season in high school forced him to sit out his freshman year as a redshirt. He was a role-player his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, with most of his contributions coming on special teams. 

It wasn’t until his junior season that he found a significant role in Brent Pry’s defense. With the departures of Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, he won a starting job at the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense. 

“It wasn’t a clear-cut route. But through the support of my parents, which was huge, the support of my coaches, and just mainly the belief in myself, I was able to have the patience and have faith that my opportunity was going to come,” Taylor said. 

“Thankfully, I got that opportunity, earned the starting job and never looked back. I think a lot of guys when their opportunity comes, it’s either you take it or you miss it. I think I did a really good job of capitalizing on that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Taylor is one of a handful of fifth-year seniors for the Nittany Lions. Players, who for one reason or another had to go through a redshirt season. 

They’ve seen the program experience some incredible highs — a Big Ten title, back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls, etc. — and some rough lows.

But each of them stuck around long enough to see Penn State back in the upper echelon of college football.

“Five years ago where the program was compared to where it is now is dramatically different. And the reality is those guys and guys like them, the guys that were fifth-year seniors before that, they’re owed most of the credit,” Franklin said. 

“They really are. They committed to Penn State at a time that maybe it wasn’t as easy of a decision to commit to Penn State. They’ve battled through adversity. They’ve been phenomenal. So it’s really hard to kind of sit here and put into words what they have meant to this program, what they have meant to me personally.”

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State’s Senior Day Participants:

Nick Bowers

Cam Brown

Weston Carr

Dan Chisena

Nick Eury

Blake Gillikin

Steven Gonzalez

Jan Johnson

Hunter Kelly

Colton Maxwell

John Reid

Michael Shuster

Garrett Taylor

Justin Tobin

Robert Windsor

Jake Zembiec

Penn State Preview: Rutgers

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on Big Ten Network. 

Venue: Beaver Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 37 degrees with a wintry mix possible 

The line: Penn State – 40.5

Last week: Penn State lost at Ohio State. Rutgers lost at home to Michigan State 

All-time series: Penn State leads 27-2

Last meeting (2018): Behind a stellar performance from the Penn State defense, Trace McSorley became the winningest quarterback in program history with last year’s 20-7 victory over Rutgers. McSorley threw two touchdowns to Pat Freiermuth in the win. 

Throwback classic (2015): We caught up with longtime editor of The Football Letter, John Black, to help recount Penn State’s first Stripe Out game, a 28-3 win over the Scarlet Knights. 

Overview: Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes are all but over, but there’s still plenty to play for when the Nittany Lions host the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. Checking in at No. 10 in the latest Playoff rankings, Penn State is in a great position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Rutgers, meanwhile, limps to the finish line once again, having already fired head coach Chris Ash earlier this season. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions handle business. There’s a reason Penn State is a near six-touchdown favorite. Rutgers has been awful and the Nittany Lions should be eager to put the disappointing loss to the Buckeyes behind them. 

Rutgers wins if: We’ve tried to come up with a scenario where the Scarlet Knights somehow catch the Nittany Lions sleeping in this regular season finale, but it’s just not going to happen. The best Rutgers could hope for is to keep it relatively close until halftime. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Count On: A lot of emotions for Penn State seniors. Senior Day is always a bittersweet moment for college athletes. These Nittany Lion seniors deserve all the credit in the world. They’ve led Penn State to a remarkable four-year run, which with a win on Saturday, will see the program tally at-least 10 wins in three of the past four years. That’s a heck of an achievement. 

Keep an eye on: The Penn State quarterback situation. At his Tuesday press conference, head coach James Franklin said starting QB Sean Clifford would probably be a game-time decision. Knowing Clifford’s competitiveness, he’s going to want to be out there one last time in Beaver Stadium this year. Still, even if Clifford does play, expect Will Levis to get a healthy share of the reps, especially if the Nittany Lions are up big early.  

Trivia tidbit: The first matchup between these two programs came all the way back in 1918. The teams met on Nov. 9, 1918, just two days after the German armistice effectively ended World War I. The Scarlet Knights came away with the win at New Beaver Field, 26-3 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Rutgers 14

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 45, Rutgers 7

Cheering with Dr. Barron: University President visits Chicago Chapter

 

Penn State Chicago-President Barron

President Barron enjoyed time with the Alumni Association’s Chicago Chapter earlier this season, when he stopped by to cheer on Penn State during their game against Michigan State. “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us,” Chapter President Caitlin Bencel said, noting that Dr. Barron made time to meet chapter members and pose for a group photo.

President Barron wanted to find a place where he could watch the Nittany Lions with fellow Penn State fans.

He found just the spot, thanks to our Chicago Chapter.

Barron was in the Second City during Penn State’s visit to Michigan State in late October, and he stopped by Smoke Daddy, one of the chapter’s designated restaurants for football watch parties. Letterman Mike Dunlay owns the place; he was an offensive guard on the 1982 national championship football team and has supported the Chicago Chapter in various ways.

Dunlay approached the chapter in the last year and expressed interest in hosting Penn Staters, and Barron joined the chapter during the second quarter of the Nittany Lions’ 28-7 victory over the Spartans.

In his customary style, Barron was low-key, not wanting to draw attention to himself; mostly, he wanted to meet local chapter members and enjoy the game. He was offered a table, though opted instead to sit with alumni and friends, with Chicago Chapter President Caitlin Bencel ’07 saying at least five people came up to her and said they couldn’t believe Dr. Barron was there and how cool it was that he shared the afternoon with them.

“So many people described him as being down-to-earth, they didn’t realize who he was until he approached them and was chatting everybody up,” Bencel said. “That was really cool that he was able to fly under the radar, and it wasn’t until he asked if it was OK for a group photo that I introduced him.”

Bencel added: “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us.”

You can check out the group photo at the top of the article, and the image indicates just how popular fall Saturdays are for the Chicago Chapter. The chapter added a third venue this year with the continued interest from local Penn Staters, and even though each one of the watch party locations provides a different atmosphere, Bencel said the goal is for members to have the same experience at each spot.

The chapter features 50-50 raffles that benefit either the group’s scholarship or THON fundraising initiatives, and occasionally local charities. Penn Staters from both the city and the suburbs frequent the chapter’s three locations on fall Saturdays, enjoying an opportunity to make new connections, and learn more about chapter events and volunteer opportunities.

And of course, there’s plenty of time to share in the camaraderie that naturally bubbles up anytime Penn Staters get together to watch football.

As a volunteer leader, Bencel understands how important it is to maintain that connection to her alma mater, and how the seemingly smallest things can transform an ordinary gathering into an upbeat occasion that transports you back to your college days.

That’s the beauty of game day, whether you’re cheering on the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium or elsewhere across the country.

“Chicago is a long way from Happy Valley, so we aim to bring a bit of Happy Valley to Chicago,” Bencel said.  “We start with decorating the watch party locations with Penn State flags, pompoms we order from the Blue & White Society, and other items to evoke the atmosphere of being back at Penn State. We also play Blue Band songs and other hype songs you’d hear in Beaver Stadium, give away Penn State swag at halftime, and of course, bring out the cowbell!”

From The Archives: Penn State V. Rutgers (2015)

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Penn State’s inaugural Stripe Out was a huge hit with fans, who watched the Nittany Lions upend Rutgers 28-3. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Even if you’ve been covering Penn State for 40-plus years, as John Black has, you still have an opportunity to see something new.

That’s the beauty of college football, especially in Happy Valley.

Over the years, the pre-game theatrics at Beaver Stadium have intensified, much to the delight of fans. Recruits, also, have taken notice, with James Franklin bringing in highly ranked classes the last few years.

While the atmosphere for home games has always been one of the best in the country, the operations and marketing teams for football has elevated the environment at Penn State into something that is truly, to borrow a phrase, “unrivaled.”

All of this leads us back to Black, the dean of football reporters. As the 1962 Penn State graduated surveyed the scene at Beaver Stadium a few moments prior to kick-off against Rutgers in 2015, he saw something he never had before at Beaver Stadium.

That’s saying something.

Comebacks and blow-outs, amazing plays and unexplainable gaffs, spectacular shows from the Blue Band, weather delays, fans storming the field, and pretty much anything else imaginable.

But a stripe out? Nope. Never.

Meaning, on his way to writing more than 500 consecutive editions of The Football Letter, John Black scratched off another item on his seemingly empty Penn State bucket list in the first month of the 2015 season.

Black had seen a stripe out before, at Iowa in 2012, though this was the first such occurrence at Penn State — the annual game has grown to be one of the most visually striking images each football season.

Count Black among the many fans who’ve embraced the new tradition.

“It gave a very neat effect,” Black said this week, recalling the game at Iowa seven years ago. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope Penn State does that soon,’ and they did.”

The Nittany Lion version debuted three years later, during a night kickoff against Rutgers in September. Penn State eased to a 28-3 victory with two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, a score each from Akeel Lynch and DeAndre Thompkins; and a stout defensive showing.

Enjoying his customary view on the west side of the stadium, Black witnessed the stands fill up with coordinated fans intent on willing their Nittany Lions to victory.

“Sitting in their blue-or-white clad sections, the fans themselves were part of the first-ever Beaver Stadium Stripe Out Show, as the last sunset glow faded behind the press box,” Black described in The Football Letter.

PSU-Rutgers 2015 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Akeel Lynch broke away for 75-yard touchdown run before halftime. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Additional details he authored in that issue mentioned Blue Band Director Greg Drane leading the band’s pre-game routine for the first time (the previous week’s game against Buffalo featured heavy rain and the band didn’t have the opportunity to thrill fans before kickoff) and the drum major flips, along with performances from the majorettes and Lionettes.

The types of particulars that alumni and fans have read from Black since 1976. Perhaps overlooked by some, though always top-of-mind for the author of The Football Letter, who knows his audience.

“I don’t know that you would read that sort of thing in the standard commercial publications, but to me, it’s part of the whole experience and a significance part of it,” Black said. “That’s what I’m trying to convey, a special sense of the identity of Penn State alumni and their participation in the whole game day experience; have a part in it, have their presence mean something. So, to me, it’s an important thing.”

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.”