As the Fourth of July stands at our doorstep and the heat of summer starts to ramp up, I’d like to offer you a friendly reminder that as of this past Saturday, there are only 63 days left until Penn State football kicks off. It’s not close enough yet to feel those gameday butterflies but then again, it is close enough to start planning your tailgate itinerary. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not wishing the summer away by any means, but I am here for the sole purpose of revving up the excitement as we make another run at the playoffs beginning in early August with the official start of camp.
With that in mind and prior to our annual Lions Pride Position Previews which kick off next week and will carry us all the way to Appalachian State on September 1st, I think it’s high time we take a look at a core group of warriors that have seen the lowest of the lows and helped bring us back to the highest of the highs over the past 4-5 years. A group of 15 seniors, some stars, and some role players, that I like to refer to as “The Elder Statesmen of 2018” with the new season that sits just two months away.
In this age of social media, it’s been far easier to follow along with players that come in as wide-eyed freshmen and morph into grizzled vets as time wears on. For better or worse, because of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else is out there, we’ve gone beyond the gridiron and into their personal lives. I haven’t forgotten those images of a homesick SoCal-native, Koa Farmer, all bundled up in the Pennsylvania cold spending time with Trace McSorley and his family in northern Virginia during breaks from school. Fellow Virginian Nick Scott and DMV-resident Mark Allen were never far behind with posts of their own on those rare long weekends home during their freshmen year.
DeAndre Thompkins has always been a quiet one, but Nittany Nation should remember my teaser chants of ‘Don’t sleep on DeAndre’ way back in those early days of the FrankLion era; my subtle way of warning those that didn’t know about his blazing speed that James Franklin was bent on bringing into the program. Of course, we all know them well by now but little moments like those serve as a reminder as to just how far they’ve come since they first arrived in Happy Valley. Heck, it took me two years of pure failure to finally get Amani Oruwariye’s last name spelled right without writing it down first and even now, I still double-check just in case. He’s been making plays since his freshman year as has Torrance Brown, who’s coming off a season-lost with a torn ACL and ready for one last hurrah in Blue and White.
I remember when linebacker Jake Cooper came to town and reminded us all that we are still Linebacker U. Injuries haven’t helped his cause but with the competition wide-open to replace Jason Cabinda in the middle, expect to see plenty of #33, an ode on Jake’s part to Jack Ham. Chasz Wright is a behemoth on the O-Line and looks to see plenty of action in his final year and Kyle Vasey just melted our hearts a few weeks ago by earning a full scholarship heading into his senior season. Behind the scenes, Charlie Shuman (Two-time THON dancer, 2018 SAAB president), Jonathan Thomas, Donnell Dix, and Jason Vranic have all flown under the radar but are no less valuable than the others as they help prepare the stars for battle, day in and day out.
And then there’s Manny Bowen. Yep, you heard right. He was suspended and all but written off towards the end of 2017. Recent sightings have him working out once again with his old teammates on campus. A cryptic tweet even suggested a comeback could be on the table. Whether this comes to fruition or not remains to be seen officially but there’s ample proof to at least validate the rumors. If it happens, not only will his presence immediately add senior leadership to a corp of young linebackers, but it could also be the makings of the feel-good story of the year.
All those memories and not a single thing to do with the football field. For all the bad it sometimes brings, that’s the good side of social media I guess. It reminds us that they aren’t just football players but people too. The 16th annual Lift For Life took place on Saturday and by all accounts, it was another smashing success. Which reminded me of Lift For Life in 2016, when I was a volunteer setting up for the event. It was early morning before 7 am and the freshmen came out to unload the equipment truck chaperoned by none other than Trace McSorley. As a typical college kid in the middle of summer, he rolls straight for the Dunkin Donuts coffee box, shades covering his eyes. He wasn’t known as “The Wizard” then, he was not even a Big Ten Champ yet. If not for some fourth-quarter heroics in the Taxslayer Bowl, most wouldn’t have known him just by recognition.
Fast forward to this past Saturday and he was front and center, easily the most sought-after autograph in the building. He’s a Heisman-candidate, the top-ranked QB in multiple preseason predictions, and clearly the leader of this squad. During the final tug-of-war contest that pitted the offense against the defense, Trace McSorley and Koa Farmer stood face-to-face as the first men on each side. It doesn’t matter who won in an event where all involved are winners, but it did take me back to those cold, frigid, Pennsylvania winters just a few years ago when that homesick Californian was taken in by his adopted family from VA. They’re our Elder Statesmen now, along with all the others mentioned, and before we dive headfirst into position previews and start to feel those gameday jitters, we owe them all a nod of respect and appreciation as they buckle up for one last ride in Blue and White!