[Photo Story] Penn State Football’s 2019 Senior Day
Penn State football capped off its 2019 regular season with a 27-6 victory over Rutgers at Beaver Stadium Saturday, but the day was really about much more than 60 minutes of football.
The Nittany Lions celebrated Senior Day throughout their final game of the regular season. Sixteen players — including team captains Garrett Taylor, Cam Brown, and Blake Gillikin — were honored during the pregame ceremony at Beaver Stadium. Although this year’s seniors don’t include a three-year starting quarterback like last year’s, the 16 players who were recognized left Beaver Stadium as the program’s winningest senior class since 2009.
Take a look back at this weekend’s Senior Day festivities through the lens of our photographers.
Academic All-American punter Blake Gillikin celebrated Senior Day by booting a 72-yard punt that was downed inside Rutgers’ five-yard line. Before the game, he brought head coach James Franklin to tears during the team’s Senior Day ceremony.
“I’d like to think that our senior class has done incredible things while we’ve been here. That foundation was built well before we got here by the guys who stayed during the tough times,” Gillikin said postgame. “We’re hoping to leave the legacy of those guys and launch this team in the national championship picture, which I believe is the direction we’re going.”
Cam Brown has been one of the Nittany Lions’ most consistent linebackers over the past four years. Brown has recorded 195 tackles during his career — including 69 this season — but what was his favorite memory made at Beaver Stadium?
“The 2016 White Out,” Brown said without hesitation. “With the blocked field goal and fans rushing the field, that’s a time I’ll never forget.”
Fellow linebacker Jan Johnson’s journey to Senior Day wasn’t as straightforward as some of his teammates. The walk-on tore his ACL against Michigan in 2016 before solidifying his spot in the starting lineup at the heart of Penn State’s defense.
“I think [Johnson]’s about three months younger than me,” Franklin joked at his postgame press conference. “He’s like 35 years old.”
Earlier this week, Franklin said that he and Steven Gonzalez had “really tough conversations” regarding the lineman’s potential entry into the NFL Draft. Gonzalez worked his way up from near the bottom of Penn State’s depth chart to making 41 consecutive starts for the Nittany Lions.
John Reid wrapped up his Beaver Stadium career on Saturday as well. The fifth-year senior recorded his first career pick-six against Buffalo on September 7 at Beaver Stadium.
Another senior member of Penn State’s secondary is safety Garrett Taylor, who ascended into the starting spot left vacant by Marcus Allen in 2018. Taylor’s off-the-charts football IQ and leadership helped him become one of the first names on Penn State’s starting lineup over the past couple years.
Tight end Nick Bowers has been a consistent presence on Penn State’s offense this year, and Franklin had high praise for his ability to overcome adversity.
“The answer is not to leave when times get tough. The answer is to buckle down, get to work, communicate, have tough conversations, and work through it,” Franklin said. “That’s what Nick did.”
Speaking of adversity, Jake Zembiec was honored as part of Senior Day along with his teammates. The former quarterback stepped away from football and accepted a medical scholarship due to a lingering injury, and he’s ascended into a certified Ice God while serving as a student assistant.
James Franklin said that quarterback Michael Shuster just might have a future in coaching later in his career. On Saturday, the two shared a special moment during the Nittany Lions’ Senior Day ceremony.
Speaking of special moments, offensive lineman Hunter Kelly was put on full scholarship and got the news via a surprise announcement this past spring. Kelly’s a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection who hails from Langhorne, Pennsylvania — the same hometown as his head coach.
There was, of course, a football game to be played. During a break in the action, however, the Nittany Lion of the last three years revealed his identity when graduating senior Zack Sowa ripped off his mascot head and received perhaps the loudest ovation of the afternoon.
Journey Brown scored three of Penn State’s four touchdowns to power the Nittany Lions to a 27-6 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Here, he celebrates a late touchdown with Steven Gonzalez.
As always, there was one last raising of the song and singing of the alma mater for this year’s seniors to soak in.
The seniors stuck around on the field to thank the remaining fans in the seats of Beaver Stadium and soak in the sights and sounds of the world’s third-largest stadium one last time.
James Franklin and Robert Windsor embraced just before the big defensive tackle left the stadoium for the last time as a Penn State football player.
Blake Gillikin and Garrett Taylor took a victory lap around the stadium with Addy Franklin — one of James’ two daughters — to cap off the night.
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As the days of the 2010s dwindle, we decided to look back at some of the changes that have shaped the decade and gotten us to where we are today.
The Nittany Lions and Happy Valley are common themes in many holiday classics.
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