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Sean Spencer Leaves Huge Void In Fabric Of Penn State Football With NFL Move

Penn State football officially lost one of its most important pieces on Monday afternoon.

Sean Spencer announced his departure from the program to take the same position with the NFL’s New York Giants. The Nittany Lions lost the leader of perhaps their strongest individual position group when Spencer got the Giants’ defensive line coach job, and his departure will definitely be felt on the field.

Penn State recorded more than 40 sacks in five of Spencer’s six seasons on the coaching staff — including 45 sacks in 2019 and 47 the season before. Players like Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel, and Shareef Miller blossomed into NFL draft picks under Spencer’s direction. What’s more, Yetur Gross-Matos is well on his way to becoming the first Penn State defensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Jared Odrick went to Jacksonville in 2010.

At its best, Penn State’s defensive line was an unstoppable force. Everyone remembers Marcus Allen’s blocked field goal and Grant Haley’s big touchdown return, but Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs were the players responsible for killing off the Nittany Lions’ program-changing upset of Ohio State. The Wild Dogs led sacks on third and fourth down of the Buckeyes’ final drive.

Losing Sean Spencer, the football coach, to the NFL is a huge loss from a football standpoint. However, losing Sean Spencer, the human being and personality, is perhaps even more devastating.

Here’s what Spencer’s players had to say after learning about his reported departure last week:

HBO’s “24/7 College Football” really pulled the curtain back on many aspects of James Franklin’s program, but one of my favorite parts of Penn State’s episode was seeing the Wild Dogs’ bond and relationship behind the scenes. Spencer and his defensive linemen were shown in a more fun light while out to dinner at The Field, but the Wild Dogs’ sacred Friday night tradition also got its moment in the spotlight.

Carl Ohlson — Penn State’s assistant athletic director for sports psychology and a former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States’ Army — suggested that every Wild Dog get their own dog tag. The dog tags are similar to those issued to soldiers serving in the Army, but with Penn State football, all of the dog tags are put into a bucket on the Friday night before each game.

That bucket is then passed around the room and every single defensive lineman pulls one out. If, for example, Shaka Toney grabs Jayson Oweh’s dog tag out of the bucket, Toney would play for Oweh in the following game.

“This is what it’s all about — the brotherhood in this room,” Spencer said about the Friday night tradition on HBO. “It doesn’t matter what the damn game-plan says — it doesn’t — because if you don’t fight for each other, we have nothing. What we have in this room is special, and you got to believe in each other every time you go out.”

“It’s all about us. Our brotherhood is at an all-time high right now,” redshirt junior end Shaka Toney said after Penn State’s 35-7 win over Purdue. “If it’s one of us, it’s all of us. There’s no individuals right now. It makes you want to play harder. You look at the guy across from you and know what he’s gone through. We play for each other.”

There was a genuine level of authenticity in Spencer and Toney’s voices as they spoke about “brotherhood” and the specialness of their position group’s bond. Building that rapport with others takes time, and Spencer spent the past nine seasons doing just that on James Franklin’s staffs at Vanderbilt and Penn State.

What made Spencer authentic was how he always wore his heart on his sleeve. I mean, the guy’s nickname is “Chaos” for a reason, and he fully embraced that moniker during his time in Happy Valley. You’d be hard-pressed to find another assistant coach in the country who was able to balance pushing his players, with maintaining a father-like relationship at the same time.

Penn State’s defensive linemen were better because of Sean Spencer, and there’s only one thing left for us to say now: Thank you, Chaos.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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