Redshirt junior Trace McSorley will lead the offense next season, while senior linebacker Jason Cabinda is the defensive captain, and redshirt junior safety Nick Scott earned the role for special teams.
“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” James Franklin said. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys.”
With the official announcement traditionally coming in August, the Nittany Lions surprised with naming the captains prior to the start of practice for the year.
Since voting happens at the same time every year, it was a matter of Franklin’s confidence that he had the right guys after seeing the high numbers of votes from players and coaches picking the same leaders, giving the team a head start during spring ball.
“If we got three or four guys that all around the same amount of votes, then we’ll wait,” Franklin said. “But if it was someone that when we look at the votes, it was obvious from their peers as well as their coaches that they were clearly the guy, then we’ll make the decision and do it now, and be able to go into the summer with some leadership in place.”
Between the current trio, there’s a mix of experience and action that’s prevalent for the Nittany Lions.
After a fantastic first year as Penn State’s starting quarterback, McSorley has spent much time in the film room working on his reads in the passing game, leading to him being a much more confident and comfortable leader in the pocket going forward.
Cabinda, meanwhile, is as experienced as they come with two full seasons as a starter under his belt. The New Jersey native provides leadership lost following the departures of multi-year starters on the defensive line Brandon Bell and Garrett Sickels.
As for the special teams captain, Scott has had the best offseason of any Nittany Lion, according to Franklin. As he fights for the starting role alongside Marcus Allen at safety, Scott’s teammates have been noticing the work he’s putting in.
“Nick is just doing his thing right now,” Allen said. “He’s always in there getting extra work. He’s an athlete, he can run, he can jump out the gym.”
It might not just be those three that will be Penn State’s captains when the Nittany Lions suit up for the opener against Akron on September 2. Franklin hopes to see a number of guys step up into higher leadership roles during the spring and potentially join McSorley, Cabinda, and Scott.
“We didn’t do it last year, but I would like to have two [captains]on offense, two on defense, and two on special teams,” Franklin said. “So that still gives us an opportunity between now and two weeks into camp for somebody else to kind of step up in all three phases as well.”
Penn State might be returning a majority of its starters, and already feels confident enough to name its captains, but there still needs to be room to grow if this team plans on reaching its potential.
That isn’t lost on Franklin. Despite the experience and large presence of leadership on the roster, the Nittany Lions are still running spring practice as they would during any season — starting from basics and formations, then building the team in the weeks moving forward.
“Obviously you see evolution in the players and I think Trace is more vocal at this point than he was last year,” Franklin said. “I’m not sitting here and saying there aren’t differences, but I want to fight that as much as I possibly can. I want guys to go back from the very, very beginning and not take anything for granted.”