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Establishing A Culture: Penn State Football’s Scout Team

Despite Penn State football’s recent struggles, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the program has had a meteoric rise over the past three seasons. Going from a 7-6 record in 2015 to back-to-back 11-win seasons was no easy feat, and the credit is rightly divvied up to many different people.

James Franklin, Trace McSorley, and Saquon Barkley are a few of the names that come to mind when considering Penn State’s recent success, but one group that almost never gets mentioned is the scout team.

A scout team is something that all Division I football programs have. Scout teams typically consist of players who walked on to the team, freshmen working their way up in the program, or upperclassmen who never got a starting opportunity but are still finding a way to add value.

Scout team lineman Charlie Shuman (right) is best known for his philanthropic efforts with THON and for starting his own nonprofit, Big Helping Little.

Essentially, the scout team replicates the offense, defense, and special teams that Penn State will play against on any given week. The starting players practice against them and are given valuable reps against a variation of the team they will be facing.

Head coach James Franklin discussed the importance of the scout team in developing a lot of the young talent coming into Penn State at practice last Wednesday.

“We spend so much time talking about how many guys play as true freshman, but the developmental aspect of college football almost seems like a dying breed,” Franklin said. “The reality of it is, it’s a developmental process for most guys.”

In a time when it seems that more and more top-tier college football programs are throwing freshman into starting roles immediately, Franklin makes it clear that all spots must be earned. For most players, this process starts on the scout team.

“All these guys are going to have different journeys here,” Franklin said. “Some are going to work on the scout team and evolve to having roles on Saturdays, and there are going to be other guys that for four or five years their role never changes.”

Franklin highlighted seniors Frank Di Leo, Charlie Shuman, and Jason Vranic when discussing key scout team players who have made an impact on the program.

“I can guarantee you that Shuman, Vranic, and Frankie are going to leave this program having earned everyone’s respect,” Franklin said. “Those guys have had huge impacts on how we practice and in teaching the young guys how we do things. There’s a culture now.” 

Despite not seeing much game time in their careers here, scout team players are a big factor in establishing a winning culture at Penn State.

Senior scout team players set a standard and give the younger players an example to look up to. This pattern of older guys teaching the freshmen coming in is almost like having extra coaches on the field, and is undoubtedly a key factor for Franklin and the rest of his staff.

The biggest moment for any scout team player so far this season was senior running back Johnathan Thomas’ breakout game against Kent State. He rushed for 84 yards on three carries, including a 69-yard big gain and 20-yard touchdown.

Sean Clifford celebrates with Johnathan Thomas following the running back’s touchdown against Kent State.

Thomas’ teammates were clearly ecstatic for him, as they understood all the hard work that he has put in for the program and were proud to see it pay off in that moment.

Keep in mind that the seniors on the scout team joined a program that was still recovering from sanctions and was still very much looking for its identity. They’ll leave a team that won a Big Ten Championship and New Year’s Six Bowl along with a Rose Bowl appearance knowing they were big contributors to that success.

Although they may not have put up big numbers or made memorable plays on Saturdays at Beaver Stadium, players on the scout team have helped bring Penn State’s program back into the national spotlight.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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