I watched NCAA President Mark Emmert hand down sanctions some called “worse than the death penalty” for Penn State football the year before I enrolled at Penn State. At the time, even I knew I shouldn’t expect a bowl game until at least my senior year of college — and that was if the team qualified for one.
Penn State was supposed to be the dumpster fire of the Big Ten for the foreseeable future, with the most damage during my four years. The following three years would likely be described as “tough to watch” as Penn State dealt with its back against the ropes.
The first three years of football as a student were a roller coaster, to say the least. The peaks included beating Michigan in four overtimes in 2013, taking Ohio State to overtime in 2014, and the repeal of the NCAA sanctions. The lows of the roller coaster were Penn State’s disastrous scores against Ohio State in 2013 and Michigan in 2015, Bill O’Brien leaving, and of course the consecutive seasons averaging 7-5 and 7-6 records, respectively.
It seemed fitting that the 2016 season would be an even bigger roller coaster to finish things off for my time here. The season looked bleak after four games. Standing at 2-2 record after hard losses to Pitt and Michigan, fans even called for James Franklin to be ousted mid-season. Little did we know what waited at the end of the tunnel…the rest of the season was something I thought could only happen in my dreams.
I can only describe this season as perfect. The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State, we stormed the field, and a few weeks later we flooded Indianapolis. The team won the toughest conference in college football and played in the Granddaddy of Them All. It’s hard enough not to get emotional experiencing your last football season as a senior under normal circumstances, but this season was anything but normal.
This season left me with memories I will never forget: storming the field and partying into the early morning hours on Beaver Ave., camping out at 5 a.m., and traveling almost eight hours to watch the Nittany Lions win a conference championship, watching James Franklin lift that trophy, and patiently waiting each Tuesday night to watch Penn State climb through the College Football Playoff rankings. I’ll forever cherish this experience to the soundtrack of “December, 1963” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — oh, what a night.
I feel lucky to have experienced the rebirth of Penn State football. Even with the low points, I wouldn’t trade these last four football seasons for the world. It was tough to end this exciting season, and our final game as students, on a loss in Pasadena. But the future is so clearly bright for Penn State. So here’s to that future, and to learning to watch the team from a new perspective: as alumni.