Win, lose, or draw I had planned on saving this one until after the game on Saturday, but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that no matter the outcome this weekend, this group already etched its legacy in stone. Yeah, yeah, I know we’ve got a date with Sparty to contend with on a far from normal Senior Day in Happy Valley. The coveted lug of wood, otherwise known as the Land Grant Trophy, is on the line, as is pride and the opportunity at home to keep riding the wave we’ve been on after spending the first five weeks tumbling head over foot in a monstrous undertow.
The last time we played a game this late in the season, we were making a mad dash to Indianapolis and creating memories none of us will ever forget. The Seniors that will be recognized in a virtual way before kickoff were all high school studs or baby-faced freshmen when Penn State secured that magical Big Ten Championship in 2016, but they went on to become the foundation that captured two New Year’s Six bowl wins, flirted with playoff prospects and expectations year in and year out, and raised the bar as high as it has been. In the end, they had as much to do with Penn State joining the ranks of the elite “900 Wins Club” as any of their predecessors did before them.
I remember following Shaka Toney from afar as he blazed his way to a State Championship in Philly and brought an element of speed to Happy Valley that had never been seen on the D-Line. He became the epitome of what a Wild Dog was meant to be while the much less heralded Antonio Shelton bided his time and transformed himself into the unquestioned vocal leader of this year’s D. Will Fries provided three straight years of stability on the O-Line and Michal Menet turned his five-star ranking coming out of high school into an All-Big Ten career.
Tariq Castro-Fields wasted no time jumping into the fray as a true freshman. Jaquan Brisker arrived last year as a JUCO transfer and despite what any ref had to say on October 24, we all know he actually DID make that game-saving tackle versus Indiana to kick off 2020. Lamont Wade? Say what you will but nobody can ever take away what he did last year in Columbus. The Pittsburgh native was a one-man wrecking crew that had Justin Fields running for his life. Shane Simmons battled nagging injuries throughout his four years at PSU but has become a force to be reckoned with down the stretch of his senior season. And then there’s Isaac Lutz, the quiet walk-on that earned a scholarship and made clutch receptions as the Nittany Lions went about the task of righting the ship this year.
Along with walk-ons Carson Landis, Trevor Baker, and Ben Wilson, this year’s group represent one of the smaller senior classes we’ve recognized in recent years as Penn State restocked the shelves after the events of 2011. Through all the wins they pieced together over the past four years, they may be remembered most for the fight they put up when adversity came knocking. Things won’t be the same by any means on this Senior Day in Happy Valley, as we do our best to send them off in a safe, socially distanced manner, but our debt of gratitude is no less. After all, as the saying goes, WE ARE…because of you, so to our seniors, a huge thank you from Nittany Nation. Go State, beat Sparty!