Lost in the shuffle of winning the NCAA Wrestling National Championship, Final Four appearances in the Big Apple, Hockey Valley playoffs in Allentown and Saquon Day in Coplay, a team that usually rules the roost has quietly been flying under the radar as of late. If you listen long enough, you can hear the ferocious sound of pads thumping from inside Holuba Hall. Winter may still be in full swing, much to our dismay, but Penn State Football has already pushed it aside with James Franklin’s fifth edition of Spring Ball well underway. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions third practice since Wednesday, pads went on and the annual battle inside the ‘Lion’s Den’ ensued.
If you’re struggling with an extra-heavy dose of cabin fever like the rest of us, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with April 21st and the annual Blue-White family reunion penciled in on all our calendars! And if you think this winter’s been rough, think again. These Mother Nature Whiteouts are just the calm before the storm as Penn State Football sets their sights on another run at the CFB playoffs! Back-to-back 11-win seasons only scratch the surface of where they aim to go and with a more than favorable home schedule, a chance to win 10+ games three years straight for the first time as a member of the Big Ten Conference is well within reach.
The storylines this Spring are aplenty as coaches left and new ones took their place. Ricky Rahne has the keys to the offensive juggernaut after former OC Joe Moorhead took his expertise to Mississippi State and proved the promotion worthy with a Fiesta Bowl masterpiece. There’s a hole in the heart of our D with the graduation of Jason ‘Captain’ Cabinda and a freshman phenom has been given first dibs in filling his shoes. If somehow you haven’t heard of Micah Parsons yet, given all the attention his recruitment received, get ready because you will soon be acquainted with the new #11. Don’t worry, Mr. Arrington has already given his seal of approval. Ellis Brooks, Jake Cooper, and Jan Johnson provide the competition to man the inside. On the outside, Koa Farmer leads the way and Cam Brown looks to permanently man the position left open by Manny Bowen’s dismissal. Jarvis Miller returns, Dae’lun Darian makes the switch from wideout and redshirt freshmen Brailyn Franklin and Brelin Faison-Walden look to make an impact.
The human glove Grant Haley has left ‘The No-Fly-Zone’ but John Reid is fully healed and ready to take back his spot at cornerback, as well as lend his leadership on the field. Senior Amani Oruwariye has the other side locked down and there’s a whole host of young guns ready to earn their spots in the rotation including, but not limited to, Tariq Castro-Fields, Zech McPhearson, Jabari Butler and Donovan Johnson. Lamont Wade has made the switch to Safety to help alleviate the pain of losing both Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. Nick Scott, Ayron Monroe, Garrett Taylor, Jon Petrishan, Jonny Sutherland, and true freshman legacy Isaiah Humphries battle it out on the other side of the ball.
The WildDogs are stacked on the outside as Shareef Miller, Ryan Buccholz, Shaka Toney, Shane Simmons, and Yetur Gross-Matos all return, and Torrance Brown is expected to be fully recovered from a knee injury by this summer. Inside, Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran are gone with Rob Windsor, Kevin Givens, Ellison Jordan, Antonio Shelton, Damion Barber, Fred Hansford, and Daniel Joseph chomping at the bit to take their place. Hunter Kelley has made the switch from the O-Line to help with depth and a handful of true freshmen arrive in June to add their name to the mix.
On offense, the legacy that is tight end Mike Gesicki has been busy dropping the jaws of NFL scouts. There is no easy way to replace his production over the past two years, but Jon Holland, Nick Bowers, Danny Dalton, and true freshmen Zack Kuntz and Pat Friermuth will indeed give it their best shot. A legend in his own right at wideout, all-time leader in receptions DeaSean Hamilton is gone as well but that position is in the good and more than capable hands of Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, and Brandon Polk. Expect Mac Hippenhammer, KJ Hamler, and true freshman Justin Shorter to make names for themselves as well sooner rather than later. For the first time in ages, the O-Line returns virtually intact with the exception of guard Brendan Mahon. Connor McGovern, Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez and Co. are a year stronger, a year wiser and look to be one of the strengths heading into 2018.
Of course, there’s one pair of shoes that will never be filled as SuperQuon is off to save the day in an NFL city soon-to-be determined. When you have a parade and an entire day named in your honor, there is no replacing that kind of special, but if you think the Penn State’s running game just withers away without him, you’re sadly mistaken. Miles Sanders is more than ready to take his turn as the feature back and we all got a good dose of the future with him in Arizona. Senior jitterbug Mark Allen returns, and underrated record-setter Journey Brown has been getting rave reviews from the coaching staff. Five-star running back Ricky Slade arrives in August and it’s already a foregone conclusion that his talent is too good to waste on a redshirt year. There may be no replacing a legend like Saquon but the talent is there to keep the run game rolling without skipping a beat.
All in all, the Nittany Lions lost nine starters off a squad that fell four points short of an undefeated season a year ago, as well as kicker Tyler Davis. The biggest question heading into 2018 is if this year becomes a rebuild or a reload. The X-factor in determining the outcome of that question is the one name I haven’t mentioned yet as Penn State faces this new crossroad. He’s a senior leader, battle-tested, and as gritty as they come. You probably won’t see much of Trace McSorely (insert a heavy dose of Tommy Stephens if healthy, Sean Clifford, Jake Zembiek, and Michael Shuster) on April 21st, but make no mistake, the quiet warrior that some have dubbed ‘The Wizard’ finds himself high on the Heisman-radar heading into 2018. He has unfinished business to carry out before he finally says goodbye to Happy Valley. Winter may be taking its last breath, even if she did put up a good fight, but with McSorely back to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and a roster full of young talent eager to prove themselves, the real storm is just now beginning to brew, and it’s got Blue-White written all over it.