It’s been two months now since we invaded the great state of Arizona and watched the Nittany Lions raise a trophy as Fiesta Bowl champs. The victory over Washington was just another stop on Penn State’s hopeful journey to the College Football Playoffs. Since then, Penn State football added extra ammunition to their arsenal with the signing of a stellar We Are Class of 2018. The current squad has been grinding the winter away in preparation for spring ball which starts in just a few short weeks.
Many of the individuals that brought Penn State back to the national spotlight took their last snaps as Nittany Lions in the Arizona desert; 23 seniors and Saquon to be exact. Eight of those players, led by a soon-to-be very rich Mr. Barkley, are busy fighting for their NFL dreams this weekend in Indianapolis as the 2018 NFL Combine gets under way inside Lucas Oil Stadium. The irony isn’t lost on me that as they compete for a pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the great eight of Penn State returns to a field that elevated them to legends among us as Big Ten Champions over a year ago.
Saquon kicks it all off as running backs and o-linemen participate in the bench press on Thursday and run their on-field drills Friday. The anticipation of Barkley’s combine scores has been off the charts in the lead-up. The rest of the world is getting ready to witness first-hand what we’ve watched over the past three off-seasons; an athletic freakishness that lives up to the Unrivaled billing he helped mold as a Nittany Lion. On Saturday Mike Gesicki, an athletic freak in his own right, takes center stage along with DaeSean Hamilton as tight ends and wideouts report for on field drills. Gesicki is regarded among the top three or four TEs in the country and Hamilton has seen his draft stock rise dramatically since seasons end. A strong showing this weekend will go a long way towards solidifying an early round pick in the draft for both.
Sunday is reserved for “Linebacker-U” as four-year starter and old-school neck roll aficionado (I had to reminisce just one more time) Jason Cabinda takes his turn. The on-field intangibles outweigh the athletic prowess, but a late round pick is in his grasp with a strong showing. On Monday, the “No Fly Zone” wraps up this year’s event as the entire 2017 Penn State defensive backfield earned invites to showcase their skills. Safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, and corners Grant Haley and Christian Campbell all aim to make a final lasting impression on pro scouts heading into April’s draft. Allen is a near lock for an early round pick, but the others are in a dogfight to prove they have what it takes.
This year’s eight are the most Penn State has sent to the annual spectacle since 2009 and the second-most in the Big Ten this year. It’s a testament to the overall direction the football program is heading and it’s officially the last time the great eight of Penn State will be reppin’ the Blue and White. Even if they do it in fancy neon tanks and shorts. It’s more than fitting they take a final bow as Nittany Lions on the same stage they won a championship on. Best of luck to all and one more thank you for helping us stay on our feet!