Seniors look to go out on winning note
UNIVERSITY PARK – At the end of every football season, the senior class is honored for the years it gave to its respective university, and a new trend is developing for Penn State’s senior classes.
Now, each class is becoming known as another to stick with the Nittany Lions in the wake of a scandal that rocked the university.
The 2012 senior class was remembered for standing by Penn State while voicing its opinion for why other players should stay – namely class leaders Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich – and Bill O’Brien is ready to group the 2013 class with last year’s.
“You think about it 10 years from now when you look back on the last two senior classes, they’ll be an important part of Penn State football history,” O’Brien said. “They’ll be a part of that however you guys define the history of Penn State football over the last two years.”
In the unpenalized transfer period that ensued with the sanction restrictions, O’Brien said this senior class stood by Penn State when it did not have to.
For that and everything else the class of 2013 has contributed to the program, O’Brien said he wants to get the win for those players Saturday.
“We’re putting everything we can into practice and making sure that we do as good a job as we can to help these seniors go out on a winning note,” O’Brien said.
While the 2012 class was enshrined next to Penn State’s greatest teams in program history for sticking with the Lions and guiding them to an 8-4 record, the 2013 class has tried to move past the rocky road created by the scandal.
Center Ty Howle, one of the 16 seniors who will be playing their last game in Beaver Stadium against Nebraska, said the focus this year has been on the season as a whole and not the aftermath of the scandal.
Howle said thinking back to last year, there was extra motivation for him to win the game for the 2012 seniors.
“You get such a close connection with those guys,” Howle said. “Last year at this time, I was thinking I got one more game left with [the 2012 senior class], and you’re like, ‘I got to make sure they go out on a good note.'”
While Howle is now on the other side and facing his last game in Happy Valley, he said he wants to get the win for the younger players and the rest of the team, too. He wants the last home game of 2013 in the win column for the inexperienced players because “they are the future.”
“Our younger guys are not only talented, but they’re a great group of guys,” Howle said. “Not only for seniors, but for our team as a whole, that’s who we’re playing for. We’re playing for each other.”
Howle said Saturday will be bittersweet because the team is looking forward to the opportunity to play Nebraska, but he will be emotional since Penn State is what he has known for the past five years of his life.
Safety Malcolm Willis said the whole team will be emotional, and the prospect of the last game may not be realized just yet.
“I don’t really think it’s hit us yet that it’s going to be our last game in Beaver Stadium,” Willis said.
Willis added it is hard to say his five years at Penn State have gone by quickly, but he this season specifically has “really flown by.”
The 16 players who will be playing their final game include three players who still have eligibility following the 2013 season.
Defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz, wide receiver Alex Kenney and tackle Garry Gilliam will forego that eligibility and end their careers in front of the Penn State home crowd on Saturday.
“Those guys, basically, they sat down with me and they’ve decided to move on to the next stage of their lives next year,” O’Brien said. “They’d like to be introduced on Saturday, especially Baublitz and Gilliam, so that’s what we decided to do.”
While 16 players will play their final game on Beaver Stadium’s field, 17 will be honored.
That 17th is tight end Matt Lehman.
Lehman, who would have been a fifth-year senior this season, went down with a knee injury in the 2013 opener against Syracuse, and it cost him the season.
O’Brien said the team is waiting to hear back on Lehman’s application for a sixth year, so he will be honored “just in case.”
“I want these guys, if this is their last home game, to have that opportunity because I think it’s a special thing,” O’Brien said. “It’s a special stadium.”