Garrett Sickels Joins Adam Breneman’s Podcast To Reflect On College Days
Former Penn State football tight end Adam Breneman was joined by Garrett Sickels — a former Nittany Lion defensive end who recently retired from the NFL — on the fourth episode of his podcast. Like his previous podcast episode with Christian Hackenberg, Sickels’ interview was extremely insightful into many aspects of his career as a Nittany Lion.
The format of Sickels’ interview was very similar to that of Hackenberg’s. It began with him telling the story of his recruitment to Penn State. Sickels said that he got a lot of “lip service” from other teams that said he’d start immediately despite his relative lack of size.
Bill O’Brien’s pitch, however, was different. O’Brien said that he’d present Sickels with every opportunity to step in and contribute right away, but the former Penn State head coach also allowed for the possibility that Sickels wouldn’t be ready right away.
“It was the first time I heard something like that,” Sickels recalled. “We had visits to Ohio State and Notre Dame a month later. I remember on the whole trip back, I was saying I want to go here.”
Like Hackenberg, Sickels’ recruitment took place as the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal loomed large over Penn State’s football program. On that trip back home from college visits, Sickels’ father asked him for 100 reasons why he’d want to go to Penn State despite the massive scandal.
The defensive end from Red Bank, New Jersey quickly reaffirmed his commitment to Penn State after the sanctions — which allowed Penn State players to immediately transfer from the team — were announced.
“I wrote 122 reasons,” Sickels said. “The main one was that there was so much more to play for at Penn State — to show that this one guy and scandal wasn’t going to define the university or inhibit its progress going forward. I wasn’t choosing a college for a bowl game — I was choosing based on where I would go if I wasn’t playing football.”
Breneman noted that other universities’ pitches to him after news of the sanctions broke. Essentially, other schools said “you can’t go to Penn State now,” but the former tight end didn’t name any specific schools that used this tactic on him.
After the recruiting chatter ended, Sickels and Breneman discussed the transition between Bill O’Brien and James Franklin, and Sickels told the story of his famous suspension for the first half of the 2016 White Out game. Head coach James Franklin told the media that Sickels was suspended because he missed a class after going home for a bye week early.
As Sickels recalled, he wanted to take a long weekend to visit his now-fiancé, who lived across the country and had graduated from Penn State at the time. He asked Franklin point-blank if he could skip a few classes to leave early to go visit her despite his strict policy on the matter.
“The classes I had on Thursday and Friday — I had an A- and a B+, they were teachers I had previously, and I had a great relationship with them,” Sickels recalled. “Coach Franklin said, ‘no one’s leaving early for the bye week.’ Instead of trying to backdoor him, I straight-up asked him. He wasn’t thrilled with it, to say the least.”
Sickels’ flight home from that trip was originally set to go through Chicago before arriving in State College, but it got diverted to Indianapolis due to weather. He missed the flight from Chicago to State College and flew out to Harrisburg, and he drove a friend’s car to get back to Happy Valley.
He met up with defensive line coach Sean Spencer and defensive coordinator Brent Pry as soon as he got back knowing that he’d be disciplined for missing a team meeting. As Sickels recalled, Spencer was just as angry as him when they learned that Franklin suspended him for the first half of Penn State’s game against then-No. 2 Ohio State, among other punishments.
“That hurt, but what he said last really crushed me,” Sickels recalled. “He said, ‘You’re not a starter until you earn it back.’ That, I felt, stripped me of my merit on the defense as a leader. There are guys who have done more and gotten less, but I was ready to take the punishment.”
Despite how much it hurt to miss the first half of that game, Sickels felt more motivated than ever to play well in the second half. He did just that by recording 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss as Penn State came back from a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to win on a program-defining evening.
The former defensive end made sure to note the fact that his relationship with Franklin was and still is great, but that incident was a “high-tension” moment for both of them.
You can listen to the full interview with Breneman and Sickels, which includes even more tales of the duo’s college days, here.
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Dvir is a Penn State professor who has made revolutionary documentaries that have played a role in changing today’s world.
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