Glenn Carson is Latest in Long Line of Penn State Football's Jersey Guys
It’s mid-morning this past Wednesday on the Penn State campus. The rain starts falling hard, pushing students by the dozens through the humidity and into the buildings along The Mall.
That mass includes Glenn Carson, who slowly makes his way up the steps to the entrance of Pattee-Paterno Library.
He walks with the stiffness of a guy who’s endured roughly 25 football practice over the past 23 days.
And at 6-foot-3 and a taut 235 pounds, every inch of Carson looks like he made it to the New Jersey state high school wrestling finals. Which he did. Three times.
Otherwise, with his requisite college-issued tightly manscaped Timberlake beard, and crisp T-shirt, Carson could be one of the thousands Penn State males criss-crossing campus the first week of classes. Further proof: He’s clutching a backpack and wearing large Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.
Carson is from Manahawkin, located along the southeastern edge of New Jersey, a small ville of 2,303 known mostly for being the pass-through for tourists and locals alike as they head along Route 72 to the resort communities on Long Beach Island.
On this hot and sticky day, there’s a good chance the music pulsing through Carson’s headphones is flavored by the Jersey shore. Not Bruce, but close. For a piece on players' favorite game-day music I wrote last fall, Carson shared that his favorite music for the day-long ritual that is pre-game is decidedly New Jersey.
“Way early before the game, I’ll come out and listen to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes,” Carson said. “I’m a Jersey guy and it’s what my dad used to listen to when he was working out. It doesn’t overly hype me. It’s good listening – it gets the heart rate up, but not to the point where it makes me anxious and I have to calm down. I go through almost an entire album, although I like ‘Talk to Me’ and ‘Trapped Again.’ ”
THE METLIFE OF THE PARTY
Carson will be in his element on Saturday. And how. He is one of a dozen Jersey guys on the 2013 Nittany Lion squad, which travels to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey to face Syracuse at 3:30 p.m. in the season-opener for both teams.
Now, and dating back to at least 1951 – when lineman, knitter, minister and actor Rosey Grier came to Happy Valley from Linden – New Jersey has been a major exporter of top-notch football players to Penn State. The 1982 Nittany Lions, Penn State’s first national championship team, featured 14 players from New Jersey – 15% of the 93-man roster. In all, 10 Penn State football All-Americans came from the state, which also ranks second in blueberry production, and third in cranberries and spinach.
Carson is the perfect blend of PSU and NJ. He arrived at Penn State early in January 2010 and spent time at both linebacker and fullback his first season. And why not? Linebacker, fullback, wrestler, New Jersey. All synonyms, right?
Fast forward to fall 2013. A degree in advertising already in hand, Carson has stuck around campus for his third consecutive season as a starter and to start work on a second degree. That’s why the guy who has 24 of the three-man linebacking corps’ 25 starts is headed to the library on the morning of the third day of classes. That’s how you become a two-time Academic All-Big Ten.
Student and athlete. Hardly a culture shock. What is wrong with this guy? Nothing.
As Carson likes to say, “I’m an old-school player from New Jersey.”
LONG LINE OF LION LINEBACKERS
Carson follows in a long line of Jersey linebackers who played for the Nittany Lions, including three All-Americans: Greg Buttle, Kurt Allerman and Andre Collins. Other leading Lion linebackers from New Jersey include Chet Parlavecchio, Trey Bauer, Aaron Collins, Mark D’Onofrio and Green Bay Packers great Dave Robinson, an All-American and a member of the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Other prominent Penn Staters from the Garden State are brothers Franco and Pete Harris, Kenny and Roger Jackson, and a quintet of Collins brothers from Cinnaminson. (Both Pete and Kenny were All-Americans.) Early-era quarterbacks Milt Plum and Pere Liske came from New Jersey, as did All-Americans Lydell Mitchell, Walker Lee Ashley, Michael Haynes, Bruce Bannon and Tamba Hali.
Carson certainly has made his mark. He is truly the elder statesman of the Penn State squad; his 24 starts are seven ahead of the next highest for Penn State (Malcolm Willis’ 17) and nearly twice as much as anyone else. He’s had 159 tackles over the past two seasons, second-most in that time, and he excels at stopping the run. He had 60 such stops last year.
Saturday’s a big game for Carson. MetLife Stadium is less than two hours away from Manahawkin, heading north up the Garden State Parkway (that’s assuming his family leaves home by 7 a.m. Saturday – and Jersey traffic willing).
“I’ve been a Giants fan since Phil Simms in the early ’90s, so I’m really looking forward to playing at MetLife,” Carson said this week. “I’ve been to the Meadowlands, but never MetLife. So I’m excited. A lot of my family is from North Jersey, like the Piscataway area, so there’s probably going to be a huge crowd for me.”
The crowd will be in Penn State’s favor and not just because of Carson’s clan. Or because Beaver Stadium is 10 miles closer to MetLife Stadium -- built in 2010 for $1.6 billion -- than Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. The Orangemen don’t travel well. Last year, in their second game of the season, they drew just 39,507 in “New York’s College Classic” against Southern California in Metlife (which seats 82,566), a contest the Trojans won, 42-29.
That’s ironic. The last time Penn State opened its season on the road was in 2000, when it faced Southern Cal in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. Penn State, ranked 22nd, ran for all of six yards and passed for 136 in a 29-5 loss to No. 15 Southern California, before a crowd of 78,902.
“As much as I hope we’ll have a ton of fans show up -- and I know the loyal ones will be there -- chances are Penn State is going to have quite a few more people than us,” said Syracuse’s first-year head coach, Scott Shafer, now in his fifth year at SU overall. “That’s reality.”
Shafer, who has just five players from New Jersey on his roster, knows what he is talking about. So does Penn State second-year head coach Bill O’Brien, whose team started the 2012 season 0-2.
“…as a program, it’s important for a lot of things to be understood here. First of all, playing at MetLife Stadium means a lot to our fans.” said O’Brien. “We have close to 40,000 alums in that area. We’ve got 12 guys on our team from that area, from Jersey. I think it's just fantastic for Penn State fans.”
The Meadowlands is a big homefield advantage for Penn State, playing there for the 14th time in school history. Penn State is 3-2 in season-openers at the old Giants Stadium.
PENN STATE BREEDING GROUND
Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey is the largest breeding crowd for Penn State students and the biggest landing spot for PSU alumni. For example:
-- After Pennsylvania, more Penn State alums live in New Jersey (26,600) than any other state. Other than PA, it also has the most card-carrying, dues-paying members (9,623) of the Penn State Alumni Association – the world’s largest such organization. And of that Jersey group, it ties with Connecticut for having the most active Alumni Association members of any state.
-- The New York City/New Jersey metro area has 34,835 Penn State alumni, ranking it among the top five in the Nittany Nation. And when you add up the New York and New Jersey alumni, there are more than 49,000 in total; that’s about one-fifth of Syracuse’s total alumni base of 244,500. (Penn State has 581,482 living alumni.)
-- More out-of-state students come to Penn State from New Jersey than any other state. Of the official total of 45,431 University Park students enrolled in fall 2012 (the latest figures available), 3,763 came from New Jersey. That’s 8.3% of all PSU students.
For me, New Jersey has always been a big part of Penn State sports.
In my early-1980s days writing for and editing The Collegian, the student newspapers’ top three sportswriters all came from New Jersey.
Best of the lot is Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci (Glen Ridge), the No. 1 baseball writer in America. The trio also includes New York Daily News assistant sports editor Will Pakutka (Hopatcong), who writes those crazy back page headlines, and Justin Catanoso (North Wildwood), head of the journalism program at Wake Forest.
Great journalists all. But they’d also have to agree – come rain or shine, fellow Jerseyan Glenn Carson spends more time in the library than they ever did.