Penn State Football: A Final Tribute To The Seniors
(Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the official program for the State College Quarterback Club's Penn State Football Senior Banquet, held Sunday afternoon.)
Never has a senior class in the history of college football faced so much adversity.
And never has such a group responded so admirably, on and off the field.
The Nittany Lions’ senior class of 2012 – 31 strong and united as brothers of and mentors to a dedicated group of freshmen, sophomores and juniors – will be remembered for so many reasons.
There was an amazing come-from-behind victory on Homecoming. An overtime win to end the season. Record-setting passes and catches. A 99-yard interception return that scored in every way but a touchdown. An offensive line that powered a runner named ZZ who hit 1,000, yet didn’t top it. A defensive lineman who faced injury, but climbed the hill to play one final time. Eight wins in their final 10 games. A victory over the eventual Big Ten Conference champion. And a love and respect for their fallen leader so great that they emblazoned their helmets with his number.
Such success is a Penn State tradition, one which they have been a part of their entire college careers. Over five seasons, the 2012 senior class played a pivotal role in Penn State’s 46-18 record, with appearances in four bowl games coast to coast. They played before nearly five million fans in Beaver Stadium, where they had a sterling 29-7 record, winning over 80 percent of their games before a loyal Blue and White fan base. And in 2012, they fashioned an 8-4 record, and 6-2 in the Big Ten.
The seniors were dedicated in the classroom, as well, as nine entered the 2012 season with their undergraduate degrees already in hand.
Big accomplishments, all.
But there’s a larger reason this group will be memorialized along the ring of Beaver Stadium, a big “2012” there alongside the greatest of Penn State teams, undefeated squads and championship teams alike. But none were like this season’s squad. No team ever was.
Faced with incredible challenges, senior leadership kept the team together, often by sheer will. They were the face and the heart and the soul of not only Penn State football, but of Penn State overall. “The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel,” senior quarterback Matt McGloin Tweeted when the going really tough over the summer.
Their perseverance, their will, their love of the game and their university and their teammates and their head coach – that’s what kept them together. The Maxwell Football Club recognized their success against such great odds, and honored the 2012 Nittany Lions as winners of the club’s Thomas Brookshier Spirit Award in recognition of their commitment, leadership and outstanding effort during the season.
More than two score seniors served as game captains in 2012, emblematic of the Nittany Lions’ broad and deep leadership. But at season’s end, the squad named five senior captains: McGloin, running back Michael Zordich, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, and linebackers Michael Mauti and Michael Yancich.
The guiding force since the day he was named Penn State’s 15th head football coach on Jan. 6, 2012, was Bill O’Brien. His eight wins set a record by a first-year Penn State head coach in the 126 years of the program. But what he brought to the table was much more: honesty, purpose, compassion, excitement and a belief not only in the Penn State senior class and the Penn State football team, but all of Penn State. His spirit and emotion matched that of his seniors.
“This was just a fantastic senior class,” O’Brien said after the Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin 24-21 in the seniors’ final game in Beaver Stadium. “They came to practice every day, they communicated well with the coaching staff. They’re just a great bunch of guys.
“I feel great for these kids, especially these seniors. They put in a lot of work. You go all the way back to when I first came here and started the 5:30 a.m. workouts, then all of the things that came up during the offseason off the field. You just can't say enough about these kids.
“I've been around some special teams and this is a very special football team because of the players -- and especially the seniors.”