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Penn State Football: Seniors Captain the Ship for the Nittany Lions

by on October 27, 2012 10:10 AM

Even before today’s kickoff at 5:30 p.m. against Ohio State in Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s seniors will be in the heart of things.

As usual.

For the eighth time this season, coach Bill O’Brien will send out seniors to midfield to represent the Nittany Lions as game day co-captains. Despite a hefty 23 seniors on the roster, 5-2 Penn State is so deep into the season that nearly every senior has represented the squad at midfield.

“We’re running out of guys,” said O’Brien, who noted that he’ll need to start selecting juniors as game-day reps. Among the seniors, only back-up Joe Baker and defensive tackle Cody Castor have not represented Penn State for the coin flip.

Doing so is more than symbolic. Since O’Brien’s first day, the Penn State seniors have been the team’s over-sized heart and brooding soul.

“This team is led by a fantastic senior class,” O’Brien said when he met with Penn State’s university-wide Alumni Council this week.

“You’ve heard a lot about Michael Mauti and Jordan Hill and Matt McGloin, but there’s about 25 of those guys. Guys like J.R. Refice -- that you’ve never heard of, probably -- are fantastic kids who are going to graduate with Penn State degrees and go on to be huge successes in life. And, really, at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.”

O’Brien has repaid the favor for their commitment across the board, week by week.

Last week at Iowa, the team captains were Refice, a fullback and tight end who has never carried nor caught the ball in a game. But he is an exemplary performer on O’Brien’s Dirty Show scout team. Also serving as team captains were fifth-year long snapper Michael Fuhrman and Jamie Van Fleet, whose career ended with a torn ACL in the spring, but stayed active as part of the team

Fuhrman’s first appearance came 54 games into his career, although he is now is the starting long snapper, and his crucial fumble recovery a Penn State punt early against Illinois helped set the tone for the game. Van Fleet, despite a devastating injury, is a daily presence at practice, helping out while wearing a pair of grey sweats.

O’Brien has indicated that while he will have game day captains for the first 11 contests of the year, the players will vote on permanent captains for the year prior to the season-ending Wisconsin contest on Nov. 24 in Beaver Stadium.

His counterpart, Ohio State head coach Urban Myer, has chosen the more conventional route. Today in Beaver Stadium, you will see five Buckeye seniors at midfield: defensive lineman John Simon, defensive lineman Garrett Goebel, linebacker Etienne Sabino, fullback Zach Boren and running back Jordan Hall.

Penn State has eight fifth-year seniors. It’s no surprise, then, that the team’s three biggest leaders come from that group.

No senior force has been stronger than Mauti at linebacker. He leads the Nittany Lion defense with 65 tackles (a whopping 36 unassisted) and three interceptions, and those are just the numbers. He guides the team in every way imaginable -- and some that are not. McGloin paces the offense with a Big Ten-leading 255 yards per game passing, with 19 touchdowns – 14 passing and five running. And fullback Michael Zordich has been Mauti’s kindred spirit as an emotional leader, serving as O’Brien’s internal sounding board and as conduit from the players to the press, the coaches, the fans and the nation.

The leadership is not a once-a-week thing: From sideline to sideline, Penn State’s senior leadership is only display every day at every practice. When the Nittany Lions take a break in their daily practice routine around 5 p.m. to do a team stretch, the players line up, row after row.

On most teams, the first row – the one turned about-face to lead the squad -- is reserved for the team captains. In 2012, Penn State has not been like most teams.

Instead, every single Penn State senior occupies the front row. Their presence there is both symbolic and real. They’re been and front center all season long.


Ohio – RB Derek Day, DT Jordan Hill, QB Matt McGloin.

Virginia – LB Gerald Hodges, LM Michael Mauti, RB Michael Zordich.

Navy – FB P.J. Byers, C Matt Stankiewitch, DE Sean Stanley.

Temple – T Mike Farrell, CB Stephon Morris, LB Michael Yancich.

Illinois – S Jake Fagnano, QB Shane McGregor, DT James Terry.

Northwestern – WR/PK Evan Lewis, DE Pete Massaro, DE Brian Irvin.

Iowa – TE J.R. Refice, KS Michael Furhman, LB Jamie Van Fleet.


Recent Column:

Ten Things You Must Watch and Know About a Beaver Stadium Whiteout (Oct. 26, 2012)


Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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