On Saturday, November 19, Penn State football fans came out to watch their 2017 senior class play one last time in Beaver Stadium. This group of seniors has had a lot of ups and downs during their time at Penn State, but there is no doubt that they were an integral part in returning the Nittany Lions back to the ranks of college football’s best programs.
The 23 seniors honored before kickoff were as follows:
Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, Brandon Brosnan, Saeed Blacknall, Jason Cabinda, Christian Campbell, Tyrell Chavis, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren, Desi Davis, Tyler Davis, Billy Fessler, Mike Gesicki, Grant Haley, DaeSean Hamilton, Cody Hodgens, Brendan Mahon, Josh McPherson, Andrew Nelson, Tom Pancoast, Daniel Pasquarillo, Brandon Smith, and Mitchell Vallone.
This group of seniors features players recruited by current head coach, James Franklin, marking the first class to spend a full four-year stint with him. At the time when these guys decided to come to Penn State, circumstances were very undesirable in the wake of the scandal in 2011. No one would have blamed any of them for pursuing a different school to play for, but every one of them chose to join the Nittany Lion family, and they certainly left their mark.
These seniors’ careers began back in the 2014 season, which was the first year Franklin was the head coach after taking over for Bill O’Brien, who left for the NFL to coach the Houston Texans. The Lions went 7-6 in both of Frankin’s first two seasons at Penn State and although they hadn’t found their identity yet, it seemed as though things were headed in a positive direction for the first time in a long while.
In 2016, this class had become upperclassmen, with their eyes on so much more. However, the season started off slowly with a tough 42-39 loss to Pitt and a 49-10 blow out loss to Michigan. The Lions would then win their next two against Minnesota and Maryland to get them to a record of 4-2. What would happen next… would change everything.
On October 22, 2016, the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes marched into Happy Valley on the night of a whiteout. The 4-2 Lions seemed outmatched in all facets of the game, but the now upperclassmen class of 2017 knew one place they wouldn’t be outmatched. Heart.
The Buckeyes controlled the game almost the whole way through, but they just let the Nittany Lions hang around a little too long. Late in the fourth quarter, Penn State trailed 21-17 with OSU trotting on to attempt a field goal.
The snap was down. The kick was up. BLOCKED! Safety Marcus Allen blocked the kick and it was scooped up by cornerback Grant Haley who would take it all the way to the end zone. The Nittany Lions had the lead 24-21. They held onto this lead and the program’s trajectory had changed dramatically. The secondary duo of Allen and Haley made a moment of a lifetime for Penn State fans everywhere.
This ignited the Lions, who would go onto win the Big Ten Championship, and nearly defeat the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. These were two things that no one thought possible early on in the season.
Now fast forward to the 2017, where the Lions were ranked as high as #2 in the country before suffering heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Lions still project to go 10-2 and make a New Year’s six bowl. Through it all, this senior class has played with heart, for each other, for the fans, and for Penn State football.
Many project to make impacts in the pros, like aforementioned Marcus Allen, stand-out tight end Mike Gesicki, always reliable DaeSean Hamilton, among others. Guys like Jason Cabinda, Saeed Blacknall, Brandon Smith, and Grant Haley brought leadership, skill, and so many intangibles to this team. All of the members of this senior class will be greatly missed by teammates, coaches, and fans.
The Penn State football 2017-18 senior class leaves the program a better place than than they found it, and for that, we say thank you.