Onward State’s 2023 End-Of-Season Awards For Penn State Football
It’s that time of year, folks.
It’s not Christmas time, at least not in this post. Instead, it’s the end of another season of Penn State football. While the Peach Bowl and Ole Miss still remain on the schedule, we’re knocking out our end-of-season awards for the Nittany Lions now.
So sit back, warm up the fireplace, and check out what we thought about Penn State football this year with our superlatives.
Game Of The Year: Ohio State
This award isn’t meant to say that Ohio State was the most entertaining game of the year. It was pretty clear from the start that Penn State was going to lose in a slow, drawn-out defeat. This simply means that this game defined the season.
Once Penn State lost to Ohio State, the playoff was out of reach. It was always going to be the Peach Bowl.
Most Valuable Player: Chop Robinson
Yes, Olu Fashanu may have been better to some. But Chop Robinson made the biggest impact on this team throughout the whole year, and it wasn’t close.
Robinson was a force to be reckoned with in the trenches. He established himself early and often, recording four sacks and two forced fumbles. Even when he wasn’t hitting the quarterback, Robinson was causing problems for offensive linemen, chasing the quarterback, and stuffing running backs at the line of scrimmage. Robinson had help from a talented defensive line, but there were moments when he was a one-man show.
Offensive Player Of The Year: Kaytron Allen
There were times this year when watching Penn State’s offense made us want to gouge out our eyes, lay them on the press box desk, and then light the eyes on fire. On the bright side, that rarely happened when Kaytron Allen had the ball.
Allen was the best player on this offense that wasn’t Fashanu. KeAndre Lambert-Smith didn’t look like a top receiver, Drew Allar had some pretty terrible throws at times, and Nick Singleton just got misused. But through it all, Allen’s shifty feet and angry running were consistently a danger to opponents.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Adisa Isaac
That’s right, two defensive ends for two-top awards. The best part of Penn State’s game was its defense, and the best part of the defense was the defensive ends. This is all logical.
Isaac was just that good this year alongside Robinson. Isaac might not have had the same numbers, but he was a consistent force nonetheless. In fact, all three of the Nittany Lions’ best defensive ends (Robinson, Isaac, and Dani Dennis-Sutton) were so good that Penn State put all three of them on the field at once. Isaac’s been through the wringer with Penn State, and it’s nice to see him get his flowers. Farewell, sweet prince. Have fun in the NFL (presumably).
Special Teams Player Of The Year: Daequan Hardy
This one was a no-brainer. Daequan Hardy took over the punt returner position about halfway through the season after several weeks of poor decision-making from Kaden Saunders. The move was instantly noticeable, and Hardy returned two punts for touchdowns against UMass on his first day on the job.
Hardy’s numbers didn’t keep up to that extension, but they were still pretty great. He clearly knew where the ball was coming down, was able to gain some yardage, and generated a lot of positive moments on special teams.
Assistant Coach Of The Year: Manny Diaz
Manny Diaz created the country’s best defense, full stop. Say what you will about how Ohio State and Michigan beat Penn State. Penn State’s defense was second to none this year. The secondary, admittedly, had its gaps at times. But the Nittany Lions were still so good that the only people able to find those gaps consistently were a Heisman contender, Marvin Harrison Jr. and another Heisman contender, JJ McCarthy.
Penn State had the best total defense in the nation and the third-best scoring defense in the nation. It was a blast to watch, even when the offense wasn’t great. If Diaz takes a job somewhere else this offseason, we can’t blame him.
Freshman Of The Year: Tony Rojas
Linebacker University’s enrollment is strong, folks.
Jameial Lyons had a shout for this award, but Tony Rojas just stood out more on the eye test. He had an impressive strip sack against Maryland and finished with 16 tackles on the year. As the year wore on, Rojas started seeing action earlier and earlier in the game until he was no longer just a garbage-time player on the defense but a trusted competitor. It’ll be exciting to see what he does next year.
Play Of The Year: Drew Allar Touchdown Pass To Theo Johnson vs. Maryland
Believe me when I say this play made an entire press corps act like children on the playground. Several dozen Penn State beat writers were openly giggling in the Maryland press box when this happened. It was just that exciting.
Folks, what is going on?? pic.twitter.com/ORFxYlR7wd— Onward State (@OnwardState) November 4, 2023
We’d heard about Beau Pribula’s super secret package for so long that many were starting to doubt that it actually existed. It seemed like every week, James Franklin walked into a press conference and said, “Hey, we almost used Beau this week, but backed out at the last second. Just so you know.”
When it happened, Pribula’s moment was better than advertised. A well-drawn play didn’t let Pribula score, but he certainly gave Allar a perfect opportunity to find Theo Johnson standing at the edge of the end zone for the most beautiful six points we saw all season.
Dom DeLuca Award For Being A Dawg: Dom DeLuca
To nobody’s surprise, Dom DeLuca was good this year. What was a little surprising was just how good he is. DeLuca went from a cute story about a Pennsylvania native who earned his scholarship after paying his dues to one of Penn State’s best linebackers, and, to some, one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.
DeLuca never ceases to amaze. Every time you think he’s hit his ceiling, DeLuca pulls out a jackhammer and just goes to the next floor. Now the question isn’t about how high the ceiling is, it’s about how tall the building is. At this rate, DeLuca might only be a bit of the way through the Empire State Building.
James Franklin Award For Most Hated Coach: Mike Yurcich
Most years, Franklin and his contract are the biggest gripes among Penn State fans. However, this year, Franklin was lucky. He fell back on some abhorrent play calls by Yurcich to dodge much blame from fans and redirect it Yurcich’s way.
Some folks still wanted Franklin out the door after Yurcich was gone, but it seemed that most people were content with just one coach firing this season. Franklin got rid of Penn State’s biggest problem, and he got cut some slack. Hopefully, for Franklin, Andy Kotelnicki will be an upgrade.
Sam Fremin Award For Worst Question: Joe Lister To James Franklin (Twice)
Hey, that’s me!
Folks, I blew it. Not once, but twice did Franklin burn me alive on camera. The first time, I misphrased a question about Penn State’s “pass-heavy offense” that, as a whole, was statistically incorrect. I was more concerned about the starters, but I digress — I should’ve said that.
The second time I just got jumbled up when Franklin made me rephrase a question. It led to the genius interrogation of, “Do you want to score more points in the first quarter?”
The haters will try to say this award should’ve gone to DK Pittsburgh Sports’ Cory Giger for his question that made Franklin’s “skin curl.” Tough. #CoryWasRight.
Best Press Box Food: Beaver Stadium
You’ve done it again, Penn State Athletics catering people.
Along our various road trips this season, we ran into several stadiums that had some really nice food. Maryland had boxed Chick-fil-A, Ohio State had breakfast all day, and Michigan State had a popcorn machine and pulled pork. Still, none compared to the delicacies of Beaver Stadium. From Thanksgiving lunch to noodles and pulled pork, every Saturday was a blessing in the press box. Even Franklin said he wanted some of the turkey and gravy we were so spoiled with.
Best Football Beat: Onward State
A special shoutout goes out to every single person on staff who helped with coverage of Penn State football this year. Onward State is the people’s place to read about Penn State football. It’s been a blast to bring you Penn State football news. This award is shared jointly by the following people: Nolan Wick, CJ Doebler, Mikey DeAngelis, Hailey Stutzman, Keeley Lamm, Aidan Conrad, Sophie Yadzinski, Erin Conaway, Brady Miller, Brendan Wagner, and many others.
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About the Author
Our photographers were on hand to capture the sights of Penn State basketball’s return to Rec Hall.
A Cathedral Is Useless If You Never Hold Mass: Penn State Basketball Should Permanently Return To Rec Hall
Rec Hall is an intimidating place to play basketball and the Bryce Jordan Center simply is not. Why not make the switch?
“I’ve just been super interested ever since that first year trying to grow my personal THON story, get more connections to it, help as many people as I can, and be that person [my mom] is for other people.”