Onward State’s 2022 End-Of-Season Awards For Penn State Football

Another regular season is in the books, and what a season it was.

From Penn State’s first 10-win campaign since 2019 to Sean Clifford’s final send-off (for real this time), this year was an eventful one. When reaching the end of a season, it’s not always easy to isolate the correct takeaways.

Many players and members of the coaching staff deserve credit, but who deserves the most? And for which aspects?

There were a lot of narrow decisions, but behold: the preeminent opinion on Penn State football’s 2022 season.

Game Of The Year: Ohio State vs. Penn State

Although the end result did not land in its favor, this was Penn State’s most exciting game all season. Despite not having the benefits of a White Out environment, the atmosphere was electric.

Putting aside the eventual collapse in the contest’s final 10 minutes, the Nittany Lions played a top-five team very close. When wide receiver Parker Washington bounced off contact and turned in a 58-yard touchdown, Beaver Stadium was arguably louder than any point in the White Out a week prior.

Of course, the game went off the rails, but you couldn’t help but believe an upset was brewing in front of your eyes.

Offensive MVP: Drew Allar Sean Clifford

In his penultimate season, Clifford made history. Passing Trace McSorley as the all-time leader for passing yards, Clifford successfully captained his offense to a 10-win season. But it wasn’t the changes to the statistical leaderboard that made him valuable this season.

Instead of forcing an inexperienced Drew Allar to sink or swim in his true freshman season, Clifford kept the seat warm. Allar got more playing time than most true freshman quarterbacks elsewhere in college football without being subject to the immediate expectations of Penn State football.

Though Clifford was far from perfect in execution, his intelligence before the snap allowed him to maneuver the offensive line and sometimes change play calls based on defensive information. While Allar played well when he briefly filled in for Clifford during the nail-biter in Purdue, it feels unlikely that he would have led the last-minute comeback. It’s with this in mind that Clifford earns the most valuable player award for the offense.

This was almost left tackle Olu Fashanu. It’s hard to argue against Fashanu after he refrained from allowing even a single sack prior to his injury. But the reason Fashanu doesn’t get the nod here is that the offensive line remained solid even in spite of his absence. Fashanu may be the best offensive player on the team, but I give Clifford the nod when it comes to value.

Defensive MVP: Ji’Ayir Brown

Similarly to Clifford, safety Ji’Ayir Brown wasn’t the flashiest Nittany Lion this season. Players like Abdul Carter and Joey Porter Jr. may have attracted more attention, but Brown consistently played his role at a high level.

Flourishing under Manny Diaz’s new, chaotic defensive scheme, Brown was put to use in ways that he hadn’t in previous seasons. Along with his expected success defending the pass (three interceptions and multiple pass breakups), where “Tig” excelled was in run support and rushing the passer.

Brown finished as the team’s leader in tackles, indicating his quick coverage of the entire field when necessary. He also finished with the first three sacks of his career, two forced fumbles, and a 70-yard scoop and score against Rutgers.

The fifth-year senior made an impact even when he didn’t bring the quarterback down. Pressuring and hurrying opposing signal callers, Brown frequently forced errant decisions or wasted plays, as his lightning-quick blitzes forced a rushed ball. Brown’s season is an excellent example of the occasional dishonesty of statistics. Brown was instrumental in the defense’s success -– even if he didn’t always get credit in his stat column.

Special Teams MVP: Jake Pinegar

Despite the lingering negative perception of Jake Pinegar, the redshirt senior entered arguably the best season of his career this year. In what was a sometimes sloppy year for special teams (Nick Singleton’s game against Michigan, a punting substitution at Rutgers, etc.), Pinegar was an unexpected constant.

From Penn State’s September 24 matchup with Central Michigan, Pinegar was perfect on field goals and extra points until he missed two kicks on Senior Day. He finished the year converting 12-of-16 field goals and all but two of his 54 PATs. Pinegar also hit the first two 50-yard field goals of his career. While fans may still be reeling from his documented struggles, this was something of a rehabilitative season for the Penn State placekicker.

Assistant Coach Of The Year: Phil Trautwein

While first-year Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz did a phenomenal job revamping the defense regardless of the preseason questions, offensive line coach Phil Trautwein worked minor miracles in the second half of the season.

At different parts of the season, the Nittany Lion offensive line faced injuries to four of its five starters. Most notably, star left tackle Olu Fashanu missed the final four games of the season and left guard Landon Tengwall underwent season-ending surgery. While their absences were noticeable, the drop-off on the field wasn’t incredibly egregious.

True freshman Drew Shelton made his first career start at conference opponent Indiana and held up admirably. Sophomore JB Nelson slotted into the interior and played similarly well. It’s been a while since Penn State’s offensive line has felt like a strong suit, but under Trautwein’s tutelage, the unit felt particularly inspired this season — something that is very encouraging for the future.

Freshman Of The Year: Nick Singleton

Nick Singleton arrived in Happy Valley for his true freshman season with incredibly high expectations. The expectations were so high that they even felt unfair at times. This year, Singleton smashed those expectations and more.

In 12 games, Singleton recorded 941 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns on the ground, and a receiving touchdown. Unbothered by his competition, Singleton averaged a whopping 6.3 yards per carry. While serving as kick returner, the freshman even added a 100-yard return touchdown against Rutgers.

Singleton played so well that he sometimes overshadowed fellow freshman Kaytron Allen. Allen, who posted 1,002 total yards and 10 total touchdowns of his own, is certainly no slouch. But it’s a testament to Singleton’s explosive ability that he felt like a clear No. 1 more often than not.

Play Of The Year: Keyvone Lee’s Game-Winning Touchdown

Amid Black Out conditions at Purdue, Penn State trailed by three points during a two-minute drill. After carrying out a flawless drive down the field (in the immediate wake of a devastating pick-six), Clifford faced heavy pressure. Rolling away, the Nittany Lion quarterback found Keyvone Lee on a wide-open wheel route for six.

Though there were flashier plays throughout the year, there’s no telling what this season would have looked like if Clifford and Lee did not connect. Instead of starting the year with a conference victory on the road, the Nittany Lions would have been digging out of an 0-1 hole — and we’ve seen where that can lead.

Future No. 0: Dominic DeLuca

When the NCAA updated its jersey number rules, it allowed players to don the No. 0 for the first time ever. Seizing the change as an opportunity to create tradition, Penn State announced that it would dole out the No. 0 jersey to a player who “is a tough, dependable, disciplined, physical leader who inspires teammates with his accountability and production.” For the last two seasons, that’s been linebacker Jonathan Sutherland, but with his graduation, it’s time for a new No. 0.

Enter Dominic DeLuca.

DeLuca burst onto the scene during the 2022 Blue-White Game when he picked off Drew Allar. He racked up a pedestrian 27 tackles and single sack this season, but his impact outweighed the numbers. In the third quarter of the White Out, DeLuca blocked a punt for a quick score, resulting in a quick score, and he laid a huge hit on a Rutgers ball carrier to involve himself in a defensive touchdown sequence.

For his quiet, gritty performance, I think DeLuca is a strong candidate to carry on the No. 0 legacy. The redshirt freshman is not a sexy name, but that’s what makes his effort off the ball so much more commendable.

Chad Powers Scholarship Award: Dominic DeLuca

DeLuca’s contributions this season have been impressive, but what makes it even more impressive is the fact that he is a walk-on.

When Eli Manning Chad Powers unexpectedly showed up to a walk-on run-on tryout for Penn State football, he did so to place punter Barney Amor on scholarship and give the walk-on process some shine. In honor of the craze Powers inspired, this award is dedicated to a Nittany Lion who should be under full scholarship.

I would not be surprised if we see a feel-good video published on social media in the near future informing DeLuca of his status change.

Lamont Wade Award For Most Unexpected Moment: Zuriah Fisher

When defensive back Lamont Wade logged a 100-yard return touchdown against Illinois in December 2020, it came as a bit of a shock. It was only the third game of his career where Wade returned a kickoff. Where did that return acumen come from? Why wasn’t Wade returning kicks before? In his honor, the Lamont Wade Award recognizes the season’s most unexpected moment.

In the second half of this season’s matchup with Maryland, defensive end Zuriah Fisher recorded a tackle. Usually, that wouldn’t be news. But usually, a player who records a tackle isn’t reported as being out for the season before the year begins.

I’m glad Fisher is healthy and that his recovery went so well, but his reappearance came without even the slightest forewarning. Fisher went on to participate in the Nittany Lions’ game against Rutgers as well. Given that he is apparently game-ready, keep an eye out for No. 36 at this year’s bowl game. He will compete for snaps next season.

Flipps Award For Worst Press Box Food: Auburn

After the road trip from hell, Auburn greeted us with a cold double hamburger and a Ziploc bag of lettuce and tomato. I was so hungry by the time I ate that it didn’t faze me, but still not what I was expecting. It may have been the worst press box food, but it just meant more.

Sam Fremin Award For Worst Interview Question: Sam Fremin

Allow me to begin by apologizing to Mitchell Tinsley for absolutely butchering what I promise would have been a hilarious joke.

Following the Indiana game, someone asked Tinsley about a contested Brenton Strange catch that was ruled in Penn State’s favor. He went to bat for his teammate, saying the catch was clearly successful. With a retrospectively embarrassing smirk, I tried to ask him “would you ever tell us if he didn’t catch it?”

Instead, I said this:

“Would you guys ever say, that uh, y’know maybe not on the Strange catch, but y’know if there’s a contested catch, do you guys ever – on the sidelines amongst yourselves – y’know, say that was maybe a drop, y’know when you see it on the screen? Or do you guys just tow the line all the way?”

Bless his soul, Tinsley must’ve thought I was carefully asking him a question that dug beneath the surface, so he bewilderedly attempted to answer. Little did he know, I just have the comedic timing of an obituary. Damn you, high school improv, for all the undue confidence you’ve clearly loaded me up with.

Best Football Beat: Onward State

I mean, was there ever any doubt? Shoutout to each staffer that offered their elite talents to Onward State’s now award-winning coverage:

  • Ryan Parsons
  • Frankie Marzano
  • Sam Fremin
  • Gabe Angieri
  • Tobey Prime
  • Alysa Rubin
  • Annie Kubiak
  • Mikey DeAngelis
  • Kyra Cunningham
  • Teagan Staudenmeier
  • Hailey Stutzman

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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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