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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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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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.”