A Final Dispatch From The Press Box: Ryan Parsons’ Senior Column

Penn State won the Rose Bowl today.

In the game’s postgame press conference, a reporter began his question by asking Sean Clifford about the ups and downs of his career.

James Franklin cut him off.

“A lot of ups,” the head coach said. “A lot of ups. Few downs.”

Sitting in that media room, I couldn’t help but smile a little bit as I sent out one of my final tweets from the Onward State sports account. And now as I sit in Pasadena, California, in the press box of the Rose Bowl, I feel as if that sums up my experience at Penn State.

This is my final story for Onward State. My work for the blog has been wide-ranging, and often semi-stupid, but always fun. Covering football has turned out to be the pride and joy of my time in Happy Valley, so it seems fitting that I write my last article from a press box.

If you were to show my freshman-year self all of the words in this story up until this point, he would’ve confusingly laughed.

I never wanted to be a journalist. I never wanted to write about football. At my first Penn State game as a student, I had to ask the other freshmen who I wandered into the stadium with who James Franklin was.

It was only by chance I joined Onward State during my sophomore year. After a freshman year that yielded next to nothing for me socially, I wanted to find my footing. I was the first person in my family who came to Penn State and joined just a couple of kids from my 114-person high school graduating class. I thought the blog would be an easy way to automatically make a bunch of friends.

I wasn’t completely right, but I was close.

I hit the ground running when I joined. I wrote a lot, I took a lot of pictures, and I tried my best to hustle — hoping that down the line I could work my way up. I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I just kind of put my head down and worked. Luckily, it paid off.

It’s hard to fully reflect on what my four and a half years at Penn State were like. Two years as Onward State’s social media manager. Three years covering the football team. All I can say is that, unequivocally, it was perfect. It was just perfect.

I sit here in the press box the happiest I’ve ever been. I wonder a little bit what would’ve happened if Will Pegler didn’t take a chance by offering me a spot on the football beat in May 2020. Will’s now my best friend, and I ran off the Rose Bowl field today to give him a huge hug in the stands.

Today, I cried when I saw Will and I cried when I saw Sean Clifford leave the field for the final time. Clifford, like me, came back for an extra semester at Penn State. I guess I saw a little bit of myself in Clifford when he passed the torch on to Drew Allar. An end of an era, although on different scales, for both of us.

I asked the quarterback earlier this week if he remembered when he knew he wanted to come to Penn State.

“I remember I was driving in the car back home,” he said. “I was like this: I don’t think I can find another place like that. It was just a different feeling.”

I had a similar experience. I never wanted to go to Penn State. I recently found six-year-old texts complaining to my high school friends that my parents were making me drive three hours to tour a school I had no interest in. I remember, like Clifford, looking out of the car window on the way home a little bit shell-shocked. This might be home.

All these years later, I’m so glad I ended up coming to Happy Valley. The personal growth I’ve experienced is something I’ve learned to be very proud of. The opportunities I’ve been offered through Penn State and Onward State have been unfathomable.

A month ago, I walked down the bleachers of Beaver Stadium after Penn State’s win over Michigan State, which was the final home game I covered. I noticed how hollow the inside of the stadium felt and how my footsteps echoed and rattled around inside. I wondered how many people knew the stadium was like that, let alone how many people total have walked through an empty Beaver Stadium.

Little things like that were easy to take for granted while covering the team. It’s easy to remember the road trip to Auburn, the White Outs, the Rose Bowl — the big things. But, I think it’s the little experiences I’ll miss the most.

I’ve learned that life will end up feeling boring and mundane a lot if you let it. But, I’ve recently developed a philosophy that the best way to break up this monotony is to fill your life with new experiences.

And I’m just so thankful for the things I’ve experienced during my time at Penn State.

I graduated college, fell in love, drove to Tampa, learned to enjoy beer, started listening to the Grateful Dead, got in arguments, had parties busted, stayed up all night, flew to Ireland, hiked Angel’s Landing, visited 17 new states, braved a global pandemic, made life-long friends, learned to play guitar (kind of), got a job, drank lots of coffee, got glasses, had my best friend transfer away (to Utah, sorry about the loss, Davis), became a Penn State fan, stopped becoming a fan to becoming a “journalist,” ended up kind of being a fan all along, saw the Phillies go to the World Series, ate lobster rolls in Maine, survived hangovers, slept in the Denver airport, discovered Bonfatto’s, got threatened with a lawsuit by a pizza chain, and so, so much more.

A lot of ups. Few downs.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected].

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