I have never met you personally, but as a senior who loves this university just as you do, I felt that it was necessary to write this letter to thank you for all that you have done for Penn State on and off the football field.
It seems like such a long time ago when you broke out with the game of your life in Joe Paterno’s 400th win. I still get the chills every time I watch a football highlight video and see that play of you blitzing right up the middle and crushing Dan Persa. Normally, I’m not a fan of celebrating after plays, but asking you to abandon your trademark fist pump would have been asking you to abandon the passion that made you such a special player. That fire and energy that you displayed on every down was one of the main reasons that I and so many others recognized you as the latest in a long line of great linebackers to play for Penn State.
You always had a knack for coming through when Penn State needed you most. The highlight reels and game recaps on Youtube are full of your big plays: huge run stops and a ridiculous special teams hit against Michigan in 2010, big pass breakups early on against Alabama in 2011, the diving 4th quarter pick at Temple…oh, and literally every defensive highlight from that Northwestern game two years ago. I think every time you made a tackle in the second half of that game, the stadium noise went up 10 decibels.
You come through when your team needed you, but you also came through when your university needed you. It might not have been what you wanted or expected, but your biggest moment as a Penn Stater might have came off the Beaver Stadium grass. The true football fans among us will tell our kids about your sacks and your interceptions, but everyone will tell their kids about that July morning when you stood in front of the Lasch Building, said that you and 24 others were here to stay, and came as close as humanly possible to giving Mark Emmert the finger. Pretty much all of us wanted to do that at the time, but you managed to do it in a way that preserved the sense of family and devotion that we value so dearly as Penn Staters. A bowl game would have become a distant memory ten years from now, but the leadership you showed for this team and for this university will never, ever be forgotten.
Several times in the past year, I have heard the adage that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. I’m not quite sure how true that is about life, but it’s certainly going to be true about your legacy, and you have responded brilliantly to everything. You have gone through more adversity in four years than I have in my entire life, yet you have still been able to will yourself and those around you to achieve great things. You will go down in Penn State history as a player who tore both ACL’s and refused to quit, who redefined the words “sing our love and loyalty,” and who gave hope to not only his teammates, but thousands of students and alumni as well. And while this latest injury promises to be another challenge, we both know damn well that there is a lot of football left in you, and I look forward to seeing you play on Sundays in the near future.
Simply put, Michael, you were born to be a Nittany Lion, and it has been my pleasure to watch you over the last several years. It’s an incredible injustice that you won’t get the chance to finish out your career doing the things you do best: flying around the field, hitting everything that moves, and leading the team that you held together. I know there’s a lot of uncertainty about how many students will be back for the Wisconsin game on Saturday, and I can’t speak for the rest of them. But for me, there’s no question that I belong in Beaver Stadium, honoring you and the rest of the seniors, screaming my f***ing head off, and getting you one more win. You deserve it.
Let’s go raise some hell.