The Good Things Surrounding the Penn State Football Program during the Pandemic
The Covid-19 Pandemic forced worldwide changes in how we live as a society. Usually Penn State fans are used to saying “We Are”. But, for the last few months, “social distancing” have been the two words most people around the country are saying the most.
The Pandemic forced the cancellation of many notable events in the Penn State Football world. Spring practice, Blue-White Weekend, players attending the NFL Draft, and commencement all went by the wayside. Instead, players are working out on their own, while coaches are communicating with them through Zoom meetings. Blue-White Weekend was cancelled. The NFL held a virtual Draft, thus forcing all players to hear their names called at home. Lastly, instead of walking a stage, players who graduated were honored for their accomplishments virtually.
But, as June begins, and the world is trying to return to some type of normalcy, I think now is a good time to reflect on some of the good things that have happened in the last few months within the Penn State Football Program. Obviously, fans have high expectations for the 2020 Nittany Lions after coming off an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory. But, let’s back on what we know has happened before we look ahead to the a very uncertain summer and fall of 2020.
Former Nittany Lions Finding New NFL Homes
While professional sports leagues were postponing their seasons because of Covid-19, the NFL Free Agency period was getting started. Several former Penn State players signed on to new teams ahead of the 2020 NFL season.
- Carl Nassib to the Las Vegas Raiders (weird to say, right?)
- Anthony Zettel to the Minnesota Vikings
- Stefen Wisniewski to the Pittsburgh Steelers
- Jordan Lucas to the Chicago Bears
- Austin Johnson to the New York Giants
- Jack Crawford to the Tennessee Titans
- Saeed Blacknall to the Pittsburgh Steelers
Blue-White Weekend Virtual Tailgate
Blue-White Weekend is more than just seeing a Spring Football game in Happy Valley. So, with it being cancelled in 2020, it was a huge loss for the Penn State community. But, the Penn State Football Program was able to at least salvage a little bit of that feeling fans get when they pay a visit to Penn State for Blue-White Weekend.
The Penn State social media team was able to put together a virtual tailgate for fans, players, and coaches to enjoy and come together as a community. There were trivia events, Spring Game schedule poster release, Blue Band show, live check-ins from coaches, including Head Coach James Franklin, and replays of classic Penn State games.
Although the numbers fell short for a traditional Blue-White Weekend, these numbers were still pretty solid in bringing together the Penn State Football community.
2020 NFL Draft
The NFL offseason was the excitement of the last few months for sports fans. This time, it was the NFL Draft that had people locked in to see who their favorite teams would select. There were zero Nittany Lions selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
But, Penn State fans didn’t have to wait long to hear one of their own have their name called in the second round. Yetur Gross-Matos went 38th overall to the Carolina Panthers where he will play for former Penn State player and current Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Shortly after, the Denver Broncos scooped up KJ Hamler with the 46th pick, making him key piece to a now young, formidable wide receiver corps in Denver.
In the middle to late rounds, former Nittany Lions were scattered across the draft ticker. John Reid went in the 4th round to the Houston Texans, where he will play for former Penn State Head Coach Bill O’Brien.
Cam Brown was picked by the New York Giants in the 6th round. He will have some familiarity on the coaching staff as recently departed Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer is now in the same role with the Giants.
The final Nittany Lion selected in the 2020 Draft was Robert Windsor, who joined Brown in the 6th round when the Indianapolis Colts selected him at 193rd overall.
NFL Undrafted Free Agents
Yes, Penn State had five players hear their name get called by Roger Goodell in the virtual NFL Draft. But, they had several more sign with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Here is the list:
- Steven Gonzalez to the Arizona Cardinals
- Nick Bowers to the Las Vegas Raiders
- Garrett Taylor to the Buffalo Bills
- Blake Gillikin to the New Orleans Saints
- Dan Chisena to the Minnesota Vikings
- Jan Johnson to the Houston Texans
Micah Parsons Hype
Since he was a 5-star high school recruit, Penn State fans have known how talented LB Micah Parsons is. After an All-America sophomore campaign, it is hard not to be excited to see how high Parsons may go if he decides to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Mel Kiper Jr. certainly did not put a damper on the expectations with his early Big Board for the 2021 Draft where he ranked Micah Parsons at #5.
Despite recruiting being in a dead period because of the global pandemic, Penn State has been fortunate to continue to thrive on the recruiting trail. As of May 31, they have the 17th best overall class on 247Sports and 12 commits currently in the class. Prior to the pandemic, only two players were committed to the blue and white. Liam Clifford, the brother of QB Sean Clifford, and Nate Bruce were the only two commits in the 2021 class. But, since March 26, 10 players have forced James Franklin to tweet “We Are… Better”.
4-star OT prospect Landon Tengwall gave his commitment on March 26, becoming the first player to commit during quarantine. From there, players were committing left and right.
4-star S Jaylen Reed from Michigan committed to the Lions on April 9th. The very next day, Penn State landed three commitments. Another 4-star S, Zakee Wheatley committed, adding to the secondary depth of the 2021 class. Then, James Franklin once again dipped into enemy territory by landing brothers DB Kalen King and LB Kobe King out of Detroit, MI.
The next week, CB Jeffrey Davis Jr., became the 4th defensive back to commit to the 2021 class. On April 29, Franklin received commitments from two players. 4-star QB prospect Christian Veillux committed, fitting Franklin’s highly coveted “one QB per class” rule. That same day, Sander Sahaydak from Bethlehem, PA committed to Penn State. Sahaydak is the #1 kicker on 247Sports in the 2021 class.
As the calendar flipped to May, 3-star prospects Rodney McGraw, a defensive end from Indiana, and Lonnie White Jr., a likely future WR from Malvern, PA, both committed to Penn State. But, since White Jr. committed on May 7, the recruiting trail has been relatively quiet.
Covid-19 has certainly forced many changes within our society. But, fortunately, good news has continued to come from the Penn State Football Program during these difficult times. Hopefully, there is more to come in the next few months!