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‘I Dreamt Of Doing What I Do’: Sean Clifford Caps Off Career With Symmetrical Senior Day Win

After committing to Penn State early in July 2015 as a member of Penn State’s Class of 2017, four-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford played his final game in Beaver Stadium Saturday night.

“I’m not really a huge crier. And then I saw my parents and especially my brother out there,” Clifford said after the game. “I started to tear up a little bit.”

It was a symmetrical night. Captaining his team to a definitive 35-16 victory over Michigan State, Clifford secured Penn State’s first 10-win season since 2019 – the season where he first took over as starting quarterback.

“I thought Sean did what he typically does,” head coach James Franklin said in his postgame press conference. “He manages the game extremely well, gets us to the right run, gets us in the right protections, and makes the plays when he needs to.”

Clifford had four touchdowns and just five incompletions against the Spartans. In fact, the Nittany Lion signal caller’s final pass attempt inside Beaver Stadium was the fourth touchdown – a 35-yard bomb to KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The satisfying ending mirrored the storybook-esque beginning to Clifford’s career, when his first-ever pass attempt was caught for a 34-yard touchdown.

“You know, I started my career off with a touchdown pass and I ended it with a touchdown pass,” Clifford said. “It was a cool experience, a cool thing to be able to do.”

That dagger of a touchdown was the catalyst for Clifford’s emotions to set in, according to the quarterback.

“It was nice to be able to take care of business to the point where…you feel pretty good about where you’re at, and you just kind of start to really look around and think about all the memories that I’ve had here and just take it all in,” Clifford said.

In his (absolutely final) Senior Day performance, Clifford threw for 202 yards on 19-of-24 passing and picked up 19 sack-adjusted rushing yards – a small drop in the bucket full to the brim with his career’s statistical marks.

Clifford’s name is already etched in Penn State’s record books. After usurping Trace McSorley’s career passing yard mark against Maryland, the Cincinnati native now boasts the program’s most all-time passing yards (10,382), passing touchdowns (84), completions (817), and the highest completion percentage (61.2%).

Likely to the delight of Franklin, Clifford was cheered by Penn State fans during the team’s pregame Senior Day festivities.

“I can’t thank Penn State enough,” Clifford said. “Starting with the president, all the way down to our janitors in Lasch. Everybody has always shown me love.”

Despite Saturday’s fan support and his lengthy on-field goodbye, the response to Clifford throughout the season, and even during the game at times, was polarized.

“I’m gonna miss the love I get when I threw an incompletion or two,” Clifford said, laughing. “I guess I can say that now.”

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Franklin was asked if his relationship with Clifford was strengthened by the duo’s uniquely polarized fan reception. Penn State’s head coach agreed with that assessment.

“Shared experience and sometimes shared suffrage,” Franklin said. “There’s some times where Sean will come into my office…and ask ‘hey I want your perspective on this’…That’s probably one of the things, especially now, that I respect so much about Sean. I think he’s self aware.”

Wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith threw a 48-yard touchdown off a double pass play in the second quarter, giving the Nittany Lions a 14-point advantage. Clifford’s reported self-awareness was evident in the score’s aftermath.

“Sean said ‘I already got Drew (Allar) on my ass, I don’t need you too,’” Lambert-Smith recalled after the game.

On the game’s final drive, the stadium’s PA announcer mistakenly referred to Clifford as Allar, prompting the senior to put his hands on his hips and mug to the crowd.

In the past, Clifford said his response to outside noise has been rigidly peaceful. His sentiment remained the same Saturday.

“Like I said before, people are gonna be critical, but that’s because this place is so special and they demand excellence and they demand the best, which is awesome. And that’s what this place should be,” Clifford said. “They should demand the best. They should want to win every game. They should want to be elite. Because that’s what this program deserves.”

“You know, am I bummed that I couldn’t get it done all the way to that point? Yeah,” Clifford continued. “But man, what a journey it was. I wouldn’t give up the memories that I have, with the teammates that I have had, for anything. I can’t thank this program, this university, the fans – everybody that comes along with it – enough.”

Clifford said he spent the entire week leading up to Senior Day focusing on “little things.” He said he marveled at passes thrown by Allar in practice and made conscious efforts to chat with staff members he’s often interacted with, such as those at the nutrition bar and the team’s practice officials.

His desire to soak in the moment was on display after Penn State’s fans exited Beaver Stadium. Almost entirely alone with his brother Liam and his dad, Clifford shared a brief family game of catch on the field.

“[My family has] meant everything,” Clifford said. “My mom, my dad, my brother, my girlfriend, everybody who’s in that inner circle. It’s mean the world, just because times have gotten tough for sure.”

“They’ve always been my rock to be able to say something to, because sometimes you just feel alone on it,” Clifford continued. “It’s always been nice to have them and their support.”

Although the team will still play in a bowl game – a game that Clifford was adamant he will play in – Penn State’s 2022 regular season has wound to a close. And while Clifford has long been prepared for his career’s swan song, the gravity of his soon-to-be-former position is not lost on him.

“Not many people get to do what we get to do,” Clifford said. “I dreamt of doing what I do. Not many people can say that they took their dream, like literally what I would fall asleep thinking about, into reality.”

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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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