Emotions ran high in Beaver Stadium for a lot of reasons Saturday afternoon. There will rarely be a dry eye on any give senior day, but this group of seniors meant something more to a program that was on the verge of ruin five years ago. On a rainy, cold afternoon, Penn State bid farewell to the group that helped return the glory to Dear Old State.
You know the names. Parker Cothren, DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, Curtis Cothran, Andrew Nelson, Tyler Davis, Brendan Mahon, Jason Cabinda, Saeed Blacknall, Troy Apke, and Christian Campbell. A handful of these players — including Campbell, Blacknall, Apke, Gesicki, Allen, Haley, and Cabinda — were part of James Franklin’s first recruiting class. Considering how integral this class was to the program’s rise, it speaks greater volume about the young men Franklin banded together when you think about how certain players — like Cabinda, Apke, and Campbell — weren’t the most heavily recruited players in the world. But rankings didn’t matter; the group got together and went to work. Every success that came was a result of that, and a testament to the young men they are.
Franklin didn’t hide how he felt about the day; an ever-emotional coach who wears his heart on his sleeve, it came as no surprise that this game was much more than merely defeating Nebraska.
“I was emotional before the game,” Franklin said. “I’m an emotional guy — coming into the stadium, I see Grant Haley’s mom and she starts crying. When all those guys were running out, and getting a chance to say goodbye to those guys, it’s emotional. But you’re also really proud.”
The word legacy gets thrown around a lot, but there’s no question this crop of seniors are leaving one that’ll be remembered as long as there’s football played at Penn State. One must remember that, no, these players are not superhuman. They’re human beings who feel emotion, and there was plenty of emotion surrounding the program leading up to Saturday — and the gravity of the moment wasn’t lost for a second.
“It’s definitely hard to let it go, but obviously it’s great to finish it off with a dub,” Cabinda said before pausing. “It’s tough — definitely an emotional win, and there’s a lot to miss. I’ll never get the chance to play in front of 100,000 fans, so I will definitely cherish it.”
“I would say, just with everything that happened when we got here, and kind of getting through that,” Cabinda said. “This was cementing what Penn State is and what Penn State always will be no matter what happens here, no matter how people try and put us down — there’s nothing you can do to this place that we won’t rise above.”
Cabinda also elaborated slightly on if the players were consciously thinking about their final game in Beaver Stadium. “Yeah I mean you think about it but it doesn’t really hit you, you know,” Cabinda said. “Not that we take it for granted, but it doesn’t hit you until it hits you — that’s just a reality. I don’t think it hit me until today.”
Saquon Barkley, who might’ve played his final game in Beaver Stadium as well, shared his own thoughts on an emotional day. Namely, he went out of his way to give credit to those who helped him get to the position he’s currently in — as he does so often.
“I’m so thankful for those guys — especially DaeSean [Hamilton],” Barkley said. “Mike [Gesicki is a great friend, Marcus Allen, Jason [Cabinda], just so many guys I’m thankful for. For my three years that I’ve been here, I’m so thankful for those guys because I wouldn’t be the player I am without them.”
“I would like to go back out there right now and just sit there,” Gesicki said. “I was just kind of taking it all in, just understanding that people would die to play in Beaver Stadium in front of the best atmosphere and the best fans in college football. It’s been absolutely unbelievable.”
It’s been a journey to say the least, and although the future of Penn State football remains brighter than ever — along with the fact that the current season is very much still alive with two games remaining — an important chapter in Penn State’s history comes to a close.
Thank you, seniors, for everything you gave to this program. When fans look up at the “2016” on the commemorate facade, it’s the work you put in that people will remember.