The Roaring 20: 2022 Fall Semester

The 2022 fall semester has started, and the football season will commence next week. Here’s how the Alumni Association will keep you connected. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

1. The season premiere of Football Letter Live aired a few nights ago — hosted by Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20g and myself — featuring Penn State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics, Dr. Pat Kraft, and letterman Shelly Hammonds. In addition to Facebook and YouTube, each show will also air on Twitter and LinkedIn, and you can register for the entire season on our website.

2. Cool note we learned about Dr. Kraft: His Indiana jersey is on display at Nick’s English Hut, a favorite watering hole among Bloomington locals and IU students, and among visitors. If you’re traveling to IU for the Nov. 5 battle between the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers, we highly recommend stopping there.

3. Speaking of the state of Indiana, that’s where Penn State is headed next week for its season opener against Purdue, a Thursday night kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. We’ll have a game preview posted to the blog in a few days.

4. All Penn Staters (provided we have your email address) will receive The Football Letter game day email Thursday. It’ll include the preview, videos, photos, info on how the Alumni Association keeps you connected to the football program, and lots more. If you’ve changed your email or want to ensure we have your correct address, you can update your info on our website.

5. Alumni Association members will receive the postgame Football Letter email for Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 3. We’re planning to send the email around lunchtime Saturday, and it’ll feature The Letter, an exclusive photo gallery, and plenty of videos and sights and sounds from West Lafayette. Anyone who isn’t yet a member can learn more and join the pride at alumni.psu.edu/YouBelong.

6. Ace photographer Steve Manuel ’84, ’92g will be back on the field this fall for The Football Letter, and you can learn more about Steve’s impact at Penn State on the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications’ website.

7. My superstar colleague Vince Lungaro ’18 will be in the press box this season for The Football Letter, writing the weekly Roaring 20 feature, in addition to posting to the blog and our social channels.

8. We’re fortunate to have a great team at the Alumni Association, and as a group, we’ve updated our game day page that outlines all the ways you can stay connected to the football program. Included on the site is information about this year’s Roar Tour (away game pep rallies), chapter events, and more.

9. The Roar Tour features the Penn State Cheerleaders, Nittany Lion, special guests, and fun, family friendly games. There is no cost to attend, though registration is required. Alumni Association members who attend will receive a commemorative lanyard with this year’s football schedule and roster. You can register now for Auburn (Sept. 17), Michigan (Oct. 15), Indiana (Nov. 5), and Rutgers (Nov. 19).

10. At last count, registration for the Roar Tour at Auburn surpassed 400 people. No surprise there, as we expect lots of Penn State to accompany the team for its first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

11. A significant change — and pretty cool, I think — that happened this year with the Alumni Association is that membership now includes access to our vast network of alumni chapters, at no additional cost or extra steps. Across the country, and the world, our chapters host football watch parties during the season. You can view a full list of chapters on our site. Chances are there’s one near you.

12. ICYMI: We posted a couple features to the blog this month. One focuses on what motivates players, and the common theme that emerged was family. The second article spotlights kicker Jake Pinegar, and his mindset as his role on the team shifted last year.

13. Penn State’s home schedule features seven games. You can see the entire lineup on our Twitter account, along with a view of Beaver Stadium.

14. About every three months or so, we switch up our profile photo on Twitter to feature a letterman. Currently, we’re spotlighting Curt Warner, one of the best running backs in program history. An astute fan pointed out the photo is possibly from the 48-14 rout of then-No. 1 Pitt in 1981.

15. You can see the team photo for this year’s squad on our Twitter account. We snapped the image during the team’s recent photo day at Beaver Stadium.

16. Hear from head coach James Franklin, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in our media day highlight video.

17. Earlier in August, we hosted the Alumni Leadership Connections Conference. The two-day event provided opportunities for our alumni leaders to network, share best practices, and hear from alumni experts. The conference is largely made possible by the generosity of Jim ’83g and Kathleen Stengel ’84g, who met at Penn State while studying in the Smeal College of Business. Jim is one of the world’s most expert marketers — he led two keynote sessions during the conference — and after an incredibly successful career as an executive at Proctor & Gamble, he’s now the president of his own company. He also hosts The CMO Podcast, interviewing the world’s most foremost marketing experts. Many thanks to Jim and Kathleen for their ongoing support. You can view a group photo of this year’s conference and video highlights from a fun day at Tussey Mountain on our Twitter page.

18. Lion Ambassadors welcomed first-year students earlier this week at Rec Hall, during Be A Part From The Start. The event features our student leaders, lots of Penn State Athletics teams, and introduced students to many Penn State traditions. You can view the entire event on our YouTube page.

19. A few days later, Blue & White Society — the student chapter of the Alumni Association — continued the good vibes during BASH, held at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. You can view photos and a video from the event on our social channels.

20. Thank you for reading, watching, and otherwise staying engaged with the Alumni Association and University. We’re thrilled to keep you connected with The Football Letter and the overall football experience that includes our Roar Tour stops, chapter events, and all the other ways you can get involved. If you ever have any questions or want to share any feedback, you’re welcome to email me at jmp411@psu.edu. We hope to see you and hear from you this season and beyond. We Are …

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The Mindset Doesn’t Change

Jake Pinegar enters his fifth season in Happy Valley. Photo by Steven Manuel/The Football Letter

Jake Pinegar has played a lot of football for Penn State. Thirty-seven games to be exact.

Last season, he had to take a little bit of a back seat for the first time in his career.

After attempting double-digit field goals his first three seasons with the Nittany Lions, including 24 as a true freshman in 2018, Pinegar was a backup to the do-it-all Jordan Stout in 2021.

Stout, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of this past spring’s NFL Draft, assumed the lead role in all three phases of the kicking game in 2021 (field goals, kick-offs and extra points). He was was the Big Ten’s Punter of The Year.

That slid Pinegar down the pecking order, and he attempted just two field goals all season. Both came in the Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas, where he made one attempt and missed the other.

While his playing time dipped, Pinegar’s mindset, however, didn’t change.

“To me, nothing changed much,” Pinegar said at Penn State’s media day. “I’m always working to be the best version of myself. When (Jordan) kind of took that larger role last year, I didn’t take my foot off the gas. I kept working and kept striving to do as much as I could. This offseason, I think I’ve taken a a big leap and made some big strides.” 

Complacency has never set in for the Ankeny, Iowa, native.

“I’ve worked a lot on coming through the ball more, trusting my target line and swing” Pinegar said. “I’ve worked a lot on kick-offs as well. Just want to improve my range on everything so far.” 

It’s also important not to forget that despite last year’s diminished role, Pinegar has had a productive career for Penn State up to this point.

The redshirt senior ranks fourth on the program’s all-time career extra points list (138), sixth in field goal percentage (74.0), 10th in field goal attempts (51), 11th in makes (37) and is eighth on the all-time scoring list (244 points).

He’s also just the 14th Nittany Lion to ever reach at-least 200 career points and broke. the Penn State freshman scoring record in 2018 with 101 points, passing Kevin Kelly’s previous mark of 99.

That experience will come in handy as Pinegar competes in camp with redshirt freshman Sander Sahaydak for the lead field goal role.

While new Special Teams Coordinator Stacy Collins said there isn’t a specific timeline in place right now to name a starter, both Pinegar and Sahaydak have impressed so far in camp.

“It’s been a great competition,” Collins said at Saturday’s media day. “They’ve both struck the ball extremely well the last four days. We need to trend and continue to do that. That competition has been a tight one and excited to see how both those guys prepared themselves through spring. They trended extremely well through the spring and finishing through the spring game.”

Whether he wins the starting job or not, Pinegar is looked at as one of the leaders in the team.

That comes with having been around the program for five years now and the level of professionalism he’s demonstrated every day, regardless of where he’s listed on the depth chart.

“This is my fifth year, so I’ve been around this program for a long time,” Pinegar said. “There are a couple of us with the special teams unit as well that have been here a while. We’ve seen this program be successful and what it takes to reach that level, so we try to do our best to teach those younger guys what it means and what it takes to win.” 

Motivating Factors

Penn State quarterback Christian Veilleux finds motivation through “All the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here. I think that’s what drives me. Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing.” Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Winter workouts. Summer camp. Fall camp. Early mornings. Late nights. Blood, sweat, and tears, as the saying goes.

Football student-athletes endure a lot.

So, what drives them and keeps them going when they don’t feel like it? Turns out, many of them have the same answer: family.

A sense of commitment, a sense of loyalty, a sense of wanting to make good on the sacrifices made on their behalf.

Look at senior linebacker Jonathan Sutherland and sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux, for examples. Both originally from Canada, they each moved away from home as teenagers to pursue their dream of playing Division I college football.

It’s worked out for both of them, thanks in large part to their families supporting them in numerous ways.

“My journey really, being where I’m from and all the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here, I think that’s what drives me,” Veilleux said in May during a freshmen media session. “Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing. My parents have sent me here, I’ve done so much, so for me, I’ve got to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.”

At 16, Veilleux moved from Ottawa and became a two-year letterman at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. He and his parents figured moving to the U.S. early would eventually happen. At home, he trained at Gridiron Academy, and with a trainer who helped Canadian student-athletes transition to playing Division I football or enroll at prep academies. So, he said, the path was already laid out, which explains why he didn’t need to convince his parents or put up a fight.

“My parents said, ‘Yeah, let’s send our kid away at 16 years old,’ not a lot of parents can do that, right? So for them to do that, have confidence in me … they sacrifice a lot for me, so I’ve got to get it back in return for them.”

Last season, Veilleux became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown in eight years (Christian Hackenberg). He actually threw for three scores, taking most of the snaps in a late-November home contest against Rutgers. Penn State won 28-0, and that game became known as coming amid a horrific flu bug that sidelined many players on the team.

“Thursday was a good day,” Veilleux said, recalling the lead up to Rutgers. “Friday is when everybody went down. Our whole QB room came in with the flu. Our training room looked like a hospital. Everybody had IVs hooked up to them. It looked bad, man, I didn’t know what was going to happen Saturday.”

Saturday unfolded fine for the Nittany Lions, as Veilleux finished 15-of-24 for 235 yards and no turnovers. The exact type of performance you want anytime, and especially toward the end of the schedule against a team that’s overmatched.

He wasn’t fazed, even when he slipped near the south end zone tunnel after the game. For a half-second, he stayed down, acting like he almost intended for the spill to happen. That kind of calm demeanor is the result of growing up sooner than most people your age, the result of moving away from home, and accepting an increased level of responsibility.

“I had to be smart, I had to be mature, and I had to make decisions that would keep me down there (Maryland) and keep me in school and keep playing football so it definitely made me grow up,” Veilleux said of moving away from Canada. “It definitely helped with my game. I think that’s the point where I realized I had to be more of a neutral emotional guy on the field, so not get too high, not get too low, always stay at the same level.”

You can hear more from several players, who spoke about what motivates them prior to this summer’s Lift For Life event at the Lasch Practice fields. Sutherland’s entire video focuses on this topic, while both junior safety Keaton Ellis and junior tight end Brenton Strange share what motivates them in addition to other topics. You can jump to the 3:08 and 3:15 marks, respectively, to hear Ellis and Strange share what drives them.

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Relationship Builder

In his short time back with Penn State men’s basketball, Adam Fisher, front, helped bring in the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry said: “He’s a people person and our guys love him. I think the players that he’s recruited, they love him.” Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Adam Fisher has a close relationship with his players. 

Exactly how close? 

“I probably hear from him more than I hear from my mom, honestly,” senior guard Jalen Pickett said. “I hear from him four, five times a day about something. He loves us and he’s a great guy. He pushes me to be better with honesty and the truth with film.”

Fisher’s been back at his alma mater for about a year and a half — serving as associate head coach of the men’s basketball team — and in that brief amount of time, his ability to connect with players on a personal level has bolstered the Nittany Lions’ roster. 

Pickett, for example, one of Penn State’s all-around leaders last year, transferred to Happy Valley after three years at Sienna. Pickett noted Fisher’s the one who reached out to him about becoming a Nittany Lion. Fisher also serves as Pickett’s academic advisor, with Pickett and his teammates receiving regular invites over to Fisher’s house. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Pickett said: “I think me and Fish have a great relationship.”

When Micah Shrewsberry arrived in Happy Valley in early 2021, Fisher was his first coaching hire. A 2006 Penn State graduate, in addition to experience as a student and graduate member during his undergraduate days, Fisher boasts coaching stops at Villanova and most recently at Miami, Fla. He also returned to Penn State for a few seasons in 2011-13 for roles as video coordinator and director of player development. 

“That’s my guy,” senior swingman Seth Lundy said of Fisher. Lundy’s capable of playing both guard and forward, starting 30 games last year as the team’s second-leading scorer (11.9) and third-leading rebounder (4.9). “He was recruiting me when I was in high school at Miami. Even though I committed to Penn State and he was at Miami, he still saw the potential in me and he’s just that type of guy.

“He’s a great coach but he’s also a great guy off the court. Definitely last year, I built a stronger relationship with him, watching extra film with him, talking to him about my game. We also talk about a lot of stuff off the court. Building that relationship off the court definitely builds that confidence with the coach.”

Fisher, while with Villanova from 2007-09, earned a master’s degree in education leadership. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Shrewsberry added this assessment, during a media session earlier in July: “He (Fisher) brings a lot of different elements to our program from the coaching side, the player development side, the player relationship side and then the recruiting side. I talk about it, our whole staff, we’ve got some bulldogs on the recruiting trail, these guys really really work to build relationships, not just with players, with everybody around that player and everybody in that player’s family and I think that’s a strength of his. He’s a people person and our guys love him. I think the players that he’s recruited, they love him, so he’s easy to root for.”

After the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, Shrewsberry recalled how he recruited Fisher. The two had recently driven around Indianapolis during the Big Ten Tournament, when Shrewsberry — recently named as the head coach at Penn State — was on the phone with Fisher, who was at Miami, coaching with the Hurricanes.

“I’m glad that he came back,” Shrewsberry said during the recent media session at the Bryce Jordan Center. “One day, he’s going to be a head coach, and he’s going to be gone. But what he’s doing right now for us, is he’s laying a great foundation for this program in terms of what he’s done on the court and off the court and, it’s paying huge dividends for us.”

Senior guard Jalen Pickett finished last season as one of just six active Division I players with 1,500 career points, 500 career rebounds and 500 career assists, and one of only two to reach all three marks in just four seasons. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Part of that groundwork shown last season, when the Nittany Lions allowed only 65 points per game, lowest in the Big Ten and the program’s best such number in 11 years. Moving forward, the team adds the program’s best-ever recruiting class, signed in November 2021 and ranked as a Top-30 class by the nation’s top recruiting sites.

After the media session on July 19, practice was open to the media. It was a whirlwind, like a hockey game. Constant motion, mostly taking place at one end of the court, with barely a few seconds in between stops.

At one point, Shrewsberry stopped drills to let the guys know the importance of communicating with each other. Another time, to emphasize the benefits of landing on two feet when delivering a pass.

In the middle of it all was Fisher, who while with Villanova from 2007-09, earned a master’s degree in education leadership. In some ways, Fisher looks unassuming, almost like he could be a fifth-year senior who’s on the team. Though over the last decade and a half, he’s amassed a wealth of experience.

He’s worked with Hall of Fame coaches and made the Final Four (Villanova, 2009). He’s held seemingly every job possible within a college hoops program. And now, he’s back where it started for him, guiding the current generation of Penn Staters.

“What really sticks out to me is when he invites us over (to his house) and really just wants to get to know us, and how we’re really doing, with dinners, different things like that, just talking to us,” Pickett said. “He’s a really great guy.”

Penn Staters can learn more about Fisher at GoPSUsports.com, with additional practice photos below. You can click on individual photos to see the full-size version and scroll through the gallery. Photo credit for all images goes to John Patishnock Jr.

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Higher Calling

Football letterman and two-time Super Bowl champion Stefen Wisniewski was among a group of impressive Penn Staters that received the 2022 Alumni Achievement Award earlier this year. In his acceptance speech, Wisniewski talked about his strong faith, which has led him to a second career as a pastor, before formally accepting the award from then-Penn State President Dr. Barron.

Stefen Wisniewski possesses an unwavering sense of purpose, which helps explain why there wasn’t any hesitation about his plans following pro ball.

In August 2021, Wisniewski announced his retirement from the NFL, also sharing that the next step in his life is to become a pastor. Wisniewski’s strong faith, evident in his retirement note and video, was also prominent in March, when the Penn State Alumni Association recognized the two-time Super Bowl champion with the Alumni Achievement Award.

A 2010 graduate from the College of Education, Wisniewski was nominated by the Schreyer Honors College, with the Alumni Achievement Award going to alumni 35 years of age and younger for their extraordinary professional accomplishments.

Wisniewski certainly fits that category.

Over the course of a highly successful 10-year NFL career, he starred as an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Oakland Raiders after being drafted 48th overall in 2011. He played in three Super Bowls, winning two — LII and LIV with Philadelphia and Kansas City, respectively.

In college, Wisniewski continued a family legacy at Penn State. He was part of the 2008 Big Ten Championship team that played in the 2009 Rose Bowl, and the 2009 Capital One Bowl winning team. He was a first team AFCA all-American 2010, an ESPN Academic All-American in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman” in 2010. Additinally, Wisniewski is an active volunteer for the Schreyer Honors College, appearing on the Following the Gong podcast to mentor Schreyer Scholars.

Also, notably in 2007, Wisniewski was the first true freshman to start along the offensive lineman for Penn State since 1999.

Penn Staters can learn more about Wisniewski at GoPSUsports.com, as his bio begins with: It would be nearly impossible to try and top the Penn State student-athlete experience Stefen Wisniewski has assembled over the past three years. He has maximized his opportunities on the field, in the classroom and in serving others.

You can view Wisniewski’s acceptance speech on the Alumni Association’s YouTube page. As much as his words, Wisniewski’s presence stands out. Humble, articulate, funny. Wisniewski — whose father, Leo, and uncle, Steve, both lettered for the Nittany Lions — was all of that and more.

In the photo below Wisniewski displays his Super Bowl rings, one of which has a Bible verse, Romans 11:36, inscribed on it. In his acceptance speech, Wisniewski explained both the verse itself —

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen
.

— and the personal meaning the verse has for him. Toward the end of his remarks, Wisniewski said:

“I really believe I came into this world with nothing. I’m going to leave it with nothing. Everything I have while I’m here, I really believe is a gift from God.”

Wisniewski displays the two Super Bowl rings he earned during his NFL career. In addition to the award ceremony in downtown State College at The State Theatre, honorees and their guests enjoyed time together at the Hintz Family Alumni Center.

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The More Things Change

Stories from a 1961 issue of The Penn Stater featured game day traffic patterns, insight from Penn State’s football coach, and schedule notes. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Many of the similarities were striking.

For anyone who’s enamored with the history and tradition of Penn State — the football program and University — the connections to yesteryear will probably evoke affectionate chuckles more than anything else.

Alumni and fans were informed of new traffic patterns on game day, the football coach wondered how the sport’s new rules would impact his team, and the University president was concerned with the rising cost of tuition.

Stories detailing these topics appeared in The Penn Stater in 1961, specifically the September and December issues. I was transported back to this time after my parents recently picked up these Penn State artifacts at an antique shop in the Harrisburg area.

The find prompted some thinking on our part. At the time, what is now the Penn Stater magazine was called Penn State Alumni News. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that former Football Letter editor John Black, who previously oversaw the magazine, renamed the publication to The Penn Stater. The current edition of the magazine stopped italicizing The a number of years ago.

However, there’s a note in each issue detailing that the early 1960s version of The Penn Stater is mailed four times a year — March, June, September, and December — “by The Pennsylvania State University in the interest of Penn State alumni.” Longtime Alumni Association leader Ross Lehman is listed as editor, with Ridge Riley noted as executive secretary. This rendition of The Penn Stater was in its 24th year of publication in 1961, taking its origin back to the late 1930s. The current edition of the Penn Stater began in 1914.

News of the day in the 1960s featured some of the same topics that are timely today, in addition to light-hearted topics such as the popularity of milk. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

There are promotions for The Football Letter, an area titled News of Alumni that’s “condensed from the Penn State Alumni News,” and a sidebar with quotes from Rip Engle, preparing for his 12th year as head coach. Engle shared his thoughts on new rules enacted for the upcoming college football season. One-platoon football was again the norm, as unlimited substitutions went away — players played both offense and defense, unheard of for today’s game — and the two-point conversion was an option at the time.

At first, Engle wasn’t a fan of the platoon change, but he came around, saying that “unrestricted substitutions would mean bigger squads and bigger coaching staffs with offensive and defensive specialists. We would be spending too much money because of the increase in the overall size of the program.”

I’ll pause here to allow the reader to think about how much the game has seismically shifted since that time.

The platoon rule was changed again a few years later, and in 1965, teams once again featured separate offensive and defensive squads.

Here are a few editorial highlights:

  • At the time, tuition cost $525/year for in-state students and $1,050 for students from elsewhere. “Tuition and room-and-board charge cannot go much higher,” President Eric Walker said, “without seriously affecting the ability of our young people to enter college after high school.” Tuition rose multiple times from 1947-61, with President Walker adding, “It must stop soon or a college education no longer will be within reach of the family of modest means.”
  • A prominent headline reads, “University Outlines New Routes to Beaver Stadium to Ease Football Game Traffic,” adding that “five attractive home games” will most likely lead to record attendance numbers and extra traffic. Detailed traffic patterns, complete with color codes, topped the article, as that season, Penn State hosted Navy, Army, Syracuse, California, and Holy Cross. In case you’re wondering, the Nittany Lions defeated all those teams except for Army. After going through the requisite details of what to expect from game day traffic and how to alleviate it, the article ended, “And here’s a final suggestion, as practiced by many people last year: get to the stadium at noon, or even earlier, and bring a picnic lunch. You will have no traffic problem and plenty of time to admire the scenery.”
  • On the lighter side, a news item declares, “Milk a Popular Drink.” Numbers were provided to ensure this wasn’t opinion, but fact. Male students eating in the University dining halls consumed an average of 10 quarts per week, while coeds were close behind with an average of 8.5.

Check out more photos below:

Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

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Poll Position

DaeSean Hamilton starred for Penn State during one of the most successful runs in program history, as the Nittany Lions were ranked in the AP Poll for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

I can’t recall how I first learned about the site or when I started visiting. Like a roadside diner you don’t always notice or a popular night spot with no visible entrance, it’s just always been there. Part of the scenery, meshing into the background.

The site name is simple enough, collegepollarchive.com, with complete breakdowns of the history of the college football AP Poll. A quick look at the site tells you it’s most likely overseen by a fan or group of fans, though it must get traffic, based on the number of ads. The “Contact” page provides an email address for someone named Keith (no last name, which fits the vibe).

Though in all my extensive experience doing college football research, I’ve never come across a collection of info, at least not compiled by an athletic department, so comprehensive on a subject. Nothing else is even close.

Keith’s last name is Meador (I recently swapped emails with him). He was born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, and became a Sooners fan when Barry Switzer arrived. He’s a web developer by trade, has compiled extensive notes, and his numbers have been cited by school officials and national media.

Keith’s story goes way beyond these introductory details. He deserves his own feature, though that’s a separate article. I mention these details here to let Penn Staters know the stats shared in this article are as legit as can be expected.

First things first: You can visit Penn State’s team page for a complete breakdown of the Nittany Lions’ various poll stats. The Nittany Lions rank in the Top 10 of many categories, not surprising for a program with a rich tradition stretching back more than a century. As impressive as many of the stats are, it’s easy to think Penn State should rank higher in some categories.

For example, Penn State has 909 wins, eighth-most in the history of college football. Alabama and Ohio State, meanwhile, are tied for second with 942. Not a sizable gap. But both the Buckeyes (950) and Crimson Tide (841) rank far ahead of the Nittany Lions in all-time appearance in the AP Poll, as Penn State’s appeared 664 times, good for ninth historically. FYI that Florida is 10th with 641.

It’s an indication of how the pollsters often overlooked Penn State in the days of Rip Engle and Joe Paterno. Beyond the geographic bias, the AP Poll previously listed only 20 teams, and for a while only 10.

Evan Royster, Penn State’s all-time leading rusher (3,932) starred for the Nittany Lions as they were ranked in the AP Poll for 38 straight weeks from 2008-10. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

One example of the emotional human factor in the polls: Penn State finished the 1942 season at a respectable 6-1-1. The Nittany Lions ended that season ranked 19th, in a tie with Holy Cross and Minnesota. Holy Cross, with a record of 5-4-1, was ranked No. 1 by one voter in the final poll. Yes, the Crusaders thumped top-ranked Boston College 55-14 to end the season. However, listing a team with a final 5-4-1 mark as the best in the country tells you a lot about the objectivity, or lack of it, in the early decades of the poll.

Still, the polls are a good barometer when judging the all-time greats of the game, and Penn State is certainly on that list. Here are a few noteworthy numbers for the Nittany Lions and the AP Poll:

  • Penn State was ranked for 58 straight weeks from 2016-20, the third-best mark in program history. There have been nine stretches when the Nittany Lions have been ranked for at least 33 consecutive weeks, with the program record being 121 weeks from 1993-2000.
  • During the last 30 years, Penn State’s been ranked in the poll every week for nearly half the seasons (13). It’s worth noting no Big Ten teams were listed in the AP Poll when the 2020 season began, as the conference started late. Technically, that broke any consecutive streaks, as Big Ten teams weren’t eligible to be ranked.
  • In addition to all-time appearances, Penn State’s also ranked all-time in the Top 10 in preseason rankings (eighth, 48) and final rankings (tenth, 43).
  • All-time, Penn State’s average ranking in the poll is 10.1, with more than half their appearances in the Top 10 (394). The Nittany Lions have been ranked in Top 5 quite a bit, too, with 172 appearances. For the record, Penn State’s occupied the top spot in the poll 21 times and the No. 2 spot on 24 occasions.
  • One of my favorite stats is total points in the AP Poll, where Penn State ranks 11th (482,305), narrowly ahead of Georgia (481,994). In recent years, Penn State surpassed Miami (Fla.).

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Summer Reboot

James Franklin and the Penn State coaching staff met with the media in early June to recap spring practice, look ahead to fall camp, and discuss a host of other topics. One question we asked: How do coaches reset physically, mentally, and emotionally before the grind of fall camp and the season? Photo credit: John Patishnock

There’s an economic theory that suggests the less you have of something, the more valuable it becomes. So for football coaches, free time is pretty close to the top of this list.

In theory, it’s a simple question: How do you enjoy your downtime? However, it takes on plenty of significance when for all intents and purposes, you work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

We recently posed this question to James Franklin and several coaches on his staff. Not surprisingly, family time became a theme. And Associate Head Coach Terry Smith, who’s passionate about world traveling, truly knows how to get away.

Check out the video clips below to hear directly from the Penn State coaches.

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The Roaring 20: Blue-White Game

The present and the future: Penn State senior quarterback Sean Clifford hands off to freshman running back Nicholas Singleton during Saturday’s Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium. Clifford, who ranks near the top in many Penn State offensive all-time categories, returned to lead the offense after being granted an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, and Singleton earned Gatorade National Player of the Year honors for Pennsylvania in high school. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Check out this week’s Roaring 20 to see, hear, and feel what it was like to be at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon for this year’s Blue-White game. We’ve also added some info on our volunteer recognition efforts this week. And as usual, we’ve embedded videos, photos, and social media posts for you.

1. We started Blue-White Weekend with a reception Thursday evening at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, where we honored volunteers and a few dedicated Alumni Association colleagues. The acceptance speeches were memorable, not only because of the honorees, but also because they also recognized and gave credit to many around them. You can see photos and a thread on all the recipients on Twitter.

2. In some ways, the Blue-White game is more of a relief than anything else. It’s the conclusion of spring practice, which follows grueling winter workouts. The format has changed over the years, and for what it’s worth, I think that’s fine. Keeping options open is always a good thing, and either way, the tailgating lots will still open early.

3. Chatted briefly with Matt McGoin, who co-hosts a highly informative and entertaining podcast with fellow Penn Stater, Tom Hannifan, himself an impressively accomplished commentator. You can check out YouTube for more information and to see previous episodes. Wishing both of them the best.

4. Micah Parsons, Mike Gesicki, Pat Freiermuth, and Yetur Gross-Matos — these are just some of the lettermen who traveled back to Happy Valley for the game. Gesicki was around early on, and not surprisingly, fans noticed. We happened to be on the right side of the field to see the superstar tight end who’s now playing for the Miami Dolphins, and we shot this video. Every time Gesicki was getting ready to walk away, someone else, usually a younger fan, screamed out his name. Every time, Gesicki stayed.

5. Also in autograph news: Parsons was approached by a fan as the NFL superstar was walking off the field. Parsons stopped, casually signed his own jersey, and then gave the Nittany Lion a handshake. Pretty smooth.

6. Football Letter photographer Steve Manuel captured some gorgeous scenes from the game and pregame festivities. You can see a few on Twitter, and members will receive the full gallery in Monday’s postgame email. If you’re not a member, you can visit alumni.psu.edu/join to ensure you receive The Football Letter all season.  

7. CommRadio social media manager Emmy Vitali also got some beautiful photos of today’s game. We shared them on Twitter, and you can also follow the student account to stay updated on everything they’re doing. We’ve worked directly with the students in that organization, and everyone — students and advisors — are total professionals.

8. As the alma mater was about to start, James Franklin implored his team to get to the goal-line, perhaps so they could be closer to the fans and band? Even if that wasn’t a factor, no detail goes unnoticed with Franklin. You can see the full video of the alma mater on our Twitter page.

9. Today’s announced attendance was 62,000. Onward State shared this photo that gives a nice view of the crowd, with Mount Nittany in the backdrop.

10. In case you didn’t know (and why would you), standout safety Ji’Ayir Brown is a big fan of the Nittany Lion. Then again, who isn’t? We got, just in time, footage of him making eye contact with the mascot and sharing jump in mid-air, followed quickly by a photo opportunity, at Brown’s request. You can see the full video on Twitter.

11. Minutes later, Brown made time for fans in the South Tunnel, who yelled out his name, asking for autographs. We’ve got video of that exchange, too.

12. Speaking of the South Tunnel: James Franklin thanked fans on both sides, stopping for pictures and autographs. We changed the camera settings a few times to adjust for the difference in light — we learned that lessons years ago when I wondered why the tunnel footage was so dark, it is a tunnel, after all — so you can see the full celebration.

13. One cool moment from the video: As fans yelled “eighty-eight” over and again, Franklin said, “His name’s Jerry,” as in freshman tight end Jerry Cross. The young fans didn’t mean anything by it, and more than anything, it struck me as a teachable moment. The players are just like anyone else, humans with emotions, and not gladiators. Plus, you have to think players are more likely to stop when they hear their own name, right?

14. As much as Sean Clifford is considered “old” — even he’s joked about it, being a sixth-year player in the program — he’s still young and navigating plenty, including now serving as CEO of Limitless, a new company he’s founded to help student-athletes with name, image, and likeness. In the handful of minutes I heard him speak after the game, he displayed a level of maturity that even surpasses (I believe) what he’s shown in the past. While there’s lots of young talent in the quarterback room, having a steady veteran should help not only this year, but also in the future as Clifford mentors his teammates.

15. You can hear from Clifford directly, as we captured some of his postgame media availability. That video is available here.

16. After exiting the stadium Saturday afternoon, I immediately ran into Paris Palmer, a letterman from the 2016 Big Ten championship team and all-around good guy. Great seeing Paris and we chatted for a few minutes. Paris was on Football Letter Live in 2020, and you can check out his appearance beginning at the 9:05 mark. Paris is working in Penn State’s Strategic Communications Office and is also having an impact as GM of the newly formed group, Success With Honor Collective, which is focused on bringing clarity and opportunities to Penn State student-athletes in this era of name, image, and likeness.  

17. As I was driving away after the game, the sun shone brighter and warmer than it had all day. According to the temperature reading in my car, it was 73 degrees, an increase of about 20 degrees from lunchtime. So, it was good to see plenty of cars still parked, Penn Staters still tailgating, and flags whipping in the wind. The game may have ended around 4 p.m., though I imagine many of those folks are still tailgating as I write these words.

18. And for the record, the Defense bested the Offense, 17-13, in a scoring format that would’ve made Willy Wonka happy. Seriously, it made sense, as Franklin said afterward that what the team did today, pitting the offense against the defense in scoring, as opposed to two complete teams scrimmaging, is what was best for the program. For the scoring details, CNHI reporter Elton Hayes shared the breakdown provided by Athletics leading up to today.  

19. Tomorrow, the Alumni Association is sponsoring the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run, an annual event which benefits Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Even if you can’t participate yourself, you’ll still receive a boost by going and cheering on the runners and walkers. Sue Paterno typically welcomes the crowd, as she’s a longtime passionate supporter of Special Olympics. You can learn more on the event’s website.

20. Hope everyone enjoys the rest of their spring and upcoming summer. Lots to look forward to once we get to the fall. Before then, a reminder that registration is open for We Are Weekend, June 17-18 at University Park. You can view our full listing of events on our website.

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Penn State Preview: Blue-White Game

This year’s Blue-White game is set for 2 p.m., Saturday, April 23, at Beaver Stadium. Penn State’s annual spring scrimmage will air on Big Ten Network. Photo credit: Penn State/Pat Mansell

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: Blue-White game, 2 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on Big Ten Network.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, the second-largest stadium in the country (third-largest in the world), and where the Nittany Lions boast an all-time record of 304-79. Beaver Stadium opened in 1960 and features a capacity of 106,572.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 67 degrees and partly sunny. In other words, ideal weather for tailgating. Let’s hope that forecast holds up.

The lead: For the first time in three years, the Blue-White game will be open to fans. And with it, comes everything else that transforms game day in Happy Valley into something other-worldly. As long as I can remember, there’s been chatter — perhaps from people with too much time on their hands — about what can be done to make the Blue-White game more interesting for fans. The most recent example I saw posited was that maybe the Nittany Lions could play an FCS opponent in the spring, an option that’s been thrown out for other FBS program, too.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I believe should change with the Blue-White game: nothing.  

Yes, it’s a practice. What’s wrong with that? An open practice with tailgating lots open all day, giving alumni and fans a reason to celebrate the exiting winter weather while seeing new faces and returning starters for the first time. Previous years have seen unexpected excitement in the form of a walk-on player receiving a scholarship mid-game (Dan Chisena), and local Special Olympic athletes scoring a touchdown in front of a roaring crowd.

Is seeing a certain offensive scheme or defensive formation really going to be more memorable than either of those examples? Is playing an FCS opponent going to make the day better? I don’t think so.

Other programs may have to resort to gimmicks to generate interest for their spring game. Penn State, however, isn’t in that category.

All-time series: Similar to other universities, Penn State’s annual spring scrimmage was a result of post-World War II life in the U.S. We recently came across this 2010 article from Penn State football historian Lou Prato, which details the history of the game and how it’s evolved over the years. One interesting nugget is the Daily Collegian dubbed the game “The Bucket Bowl” for a few years in the early 1950s, since an old fashioned water bucket was presented to the winning team as a trophy.

Count on: plenty of Penn State lettermen returning for the game. Breakout NFL star tight end Pat Freiermuth shared a video saying he’s returning to Happy Valley, and if history is a good indicator, expect a few dozen former players to join him.

Keep an eye on: all the new Nittany Lions. It’ll be harder than you think. True freshmen Drew Allar (#15, quarterback), Beau Pribula (#9, quarterback), and Nick Singleton (#10, running back) will appear in front of fans for the first time, as will senior transfer Mitchell Tinsley (#5, receiver). You also have fan favorites Jonathan Sutherland (switching to a new position at linebacker from safety) and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher back from an injury that forced him to miss most of last season.

It’s also worth adding redshirt freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux to the mix. He starred in last season’s win over Rutgers as a starter. And how many snaps will Sean Clifford see Saturday?

We could go on for a while. Point being: there’s a lot that should have fans intrigued this weekend.

Trivia tidbit: Per Penn State football: In 2019, an estimated 61,000 fans were in attendance for the Blue-White game. That’s typical, as the Blue-White game has drawn more than 60,000 fans in seven of the last eight years, which included crowds of 70,000 or more in four of the last six years.

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