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Penn State Football’s Veterans Preach ‘Consistency’ To Accept Concluding Careers

In the aftermath of Penn State’s decisive home defeat against Ohio State, its players seemed demoralized. It marked an entire generation of Nittany Lions who will end their careers winless against the Buckeyes.

Rather than imploding in an act of self-pity, Penn State has responded with three consecutive blowouts against conference opponents – two on the road. First, it was a 45-14 win at Indiana. Then, it was a 30-0 shutout against Maryland.

With a 55-10 rout at Rutgers, the Nittany Lions added the Scarlet Knights to their recent collection of scalps.

“I put it on the backs of our leadership… all the old guys realistically,” starting quarterback Sean Clifford said after the game. “We’re gonna see this thing through and we’re gonna make sure that we put Penn State in the best position possible to make [it] proud. It’s about finishing the year strong.”

Even with high-profile absences from left tackle Olu Fashanu, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., and wide receiver Parker Washington, Penn State controlled a majority of the game.

Kaytron Allen notched the team’s fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Nick Singleton covered the length of the field with his school record-tying 100-yard kickoff return touchdown. Manny Diaz’s defensive group scored two touchdowns, and would’ve had a third if not for an illegal block penalty.

Clifford quietly entered an efficient performance, completing 65% of his passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. The sixth-year senior also dusted off his running chops, adding his fifth rushing score of the year and his first since week four.

After his touchdown scamper, the characteristically fired up quarterback offered some extra flair, posing by the end zone.

“It’s one of those things where you start to realize it’s getting to the end,” Clifford said. “There’s one more to go.”

“It’s not difficult, I would say. It’s just enjoying the moment and really just having fun,” Clifford continued. “I’ve had a long time here – more than most people – so it’s about enjoying it and just being with my family, my football family.”

It’s not the first time Clifford has referenced the twilight of his career, explaining how he holds “no regrets” as recently as last week. But with just a solitary regular season game remaining this year, some of Clifford’s teammates are now starting to publicly grapple with the imminent end as well.

“Especially because I’m one of those guys that’s aging out, that’s just how it is,” redshirt senior kicker Jake Pinegar said. “It’s sad, but at the same time, we’re trying to make it last, enjoy these last couple of games with each other, and make the most of it.”

Converting six extra points in Saturday’s contest, Pinegar broke Penn State’s all-time record for career extra points made with 185 – a milestone the kicker called “a long time in the process.”

Not every veteran player shared the same sentiment. Though offseason transfer Mitchell Tinsley acknowledged his approaching departure, he indicated his first focus was finishing Penn State’s job at hand.

“It comes to mind, but at the end of the day I’m just focused one game at a time, one day at a time,” Tinsley said. “It’s been a great run here and I’ve enjoyed every experience that I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The forward-thinking mentality is partially designed “coachspeak,” but also a genuine organizational mantra.

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown, a fifth-year senior, attributed Penn State’s success to the team’s deliberate pursuit of consistency. Describing consistency as “one of the hardest traits to obtain,” Brown said the team admires head coach James Franklin’s example.

“He’s the same since I got here. He says the same things. He gives the same messages from when I got here in 2020 to where I’m at right now in 2022,” Brown said. “This guy is like the most consistent person I’ve ever met in my life.”

“He wears the same clothes on practice days. That’s how consistent he is,” Brown continued.

In addition to being one of the longest-tenured team leaders, Brown had a productive day on the field as well. Early in the third quarter, the defensive back scooped up a loose ball and returned it for a 70-yard touchdown.

Brown said Franklin’s persistent approach is a model for him and his teammates, generating results on the field such as his touchdown.

“Everyone tries to be as consistent as they can and when you got that kind of role model in front of you as a head coach, people look up to coach Franklin,” Brown said. “It’s great having a coach like that [who’s] able to teach you that, because consistency is not just something you do, it’s something you will do throughout your life. It’s what makes men and boys.”

Saturday’s win served as a career moment for Franklin himself, securing his 100th career win. Despite his team’s up-and-down results over the last three seasons, Penn State’s head coach may be righting the ship.

“He’s the same guy every single day,” Clifford said. “Everybody has their ups and downs, their good days or bad days, but coach Franklin is somebody who’s very consistent with his work ethic and how he drives the culture.”

With a final Big Ten matchup against Michigan State next week, the Nittany Lions have an opportunity to achieve their first 10-win season and New Year’s Six berth since 2019. Although their careers are winding down, the prospects of postseason success are too magnetic to allow sentimental distractions.

“I’m never going to take anything lightly here, because I know how I don’t have much left,” Clifford said.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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