After months of facing the unknown, we were all treated to at least a small dose of normalcy last weekend as the NFL plowed forward and held its annual gala: The 2020 NFL Draft. So what if current circumstances dictated that the event, scheduled to pop off on the Vegas Strip, was forced to take place in the virtual world we’ve all been living in? It was a small but important reminder that eventually we will have football and sports once again! The best news of all? Five Nittany Lions were drafted and a whole slew of teammates were picked up over the weekend on the undrafted free agent wires.
Although Penn State may not have made quite as big a splash as they did in 2018, this year’s next level Nittany Lions made their presence known as defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos joined former State College resident, Nittany Lion Linebacker and new Carolina Panther head coach, Matt Rhule, as the 38th pick early in the second round. With the 46th pick, speed demon KJ Hamler, a.k.a. “The Human Joystick,” joined former teammate and all-time leading receiver DeaSean Hamilton as the newest member of the Denver Broncos and wasted little time endearing his charisma and charm on team owner and NFL legend John Elway.
On day three of this year’s draft, former head coach Bill O’Brien finally pulled the trigger on a former player as the Houston Texans selected cornerback John Reid in the fourth round. Reid never played for O’Brien but as a recruit in 2013, he made plenty of visits to Happy Valley, including one to that year’s four overtime thriller win against Michigan, before going on to become one of James Franklin’s prized recruits of the Class of 2015. Linebacker Jan Johnson was also picked up by O’Brien and the Texans as a free agent. In the sixth round, fellow linebacker Cam Brown was selected by the New York Giants to reunite with all-pro running back, Saquon Barkely, as well as former defensive teammate Grant Haley. In the final round, D-Lineman Rob Windsor may not have re-connected with Nittany Lions like the rest, but the Wisconsin-native did find himself a little bit closer to home as the seventh round pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
In maybe the biggest reuniting story of all with a nice Happy Valley flavor, former Quarterback Tommy Stevens (Mississippi State) was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and was soon joined by his former Penn State roommate and wideout Juwan Johnson (Oregon), and punter Blake Gilliken, who were both picked up as free agents. Other free agent signees over the weekend were safety Garret Taylor (Buffalo Bills); tight end Nick Bowers (Las Vegas Raiders); O-Lineman Steven Gonzalez (Arizona Cardinals); and receiver Dan Chisena (Minnesota Vikings).
It may not have been like old times for those of us searching for a return to normal, as sure first- rounder’s were forced to celebrate from home with the rest of this year’s draft picks and the streets of Vegas remained empty instead of overflowing with fans representing their favorite jerseys, but at this point, it was a nice break from the monotony that social distancing and a world without sports has become. With a grand total of 12 Nittany Lions selected to have an opportunity to blaze a path on the next level, there will be plenty to cheer about whenever football does make its long awaited return. Until we roar again, Nittany Nation. Until we ROAR again!