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Penn State Football: A Career Not Short On Success And Heartbreak, McSorley Belts One Final Beaver Stadium Home Run

by on November 24, 2018 9:55 PM

Trace McSorley took a running start as he prepared to crush a final celebratory home run over the north end of Beaver Stadium. The game was in hand, the party was already ongoing in the stands.

And he let it fly, the imaginary ball launching with ease, towering over the floodlights landing somewhere on the icy parking lots beyond. It marked his final pass in Beaver Stadium, a five-yard flick to freshman tight end Pat Frieremuth, his final home run in a place that had seen so many.

Functionally, Saturday evening's 38-3 win over Maryland gave Penn State's its ninth win of the year and will set the Nittany Lions up for an equally rewarding bowl game in a substantially warmer climate.

It was a game that showcased Penn State's future as Ricky Slade carried the ball with the quickness and skills that could be attached to his former five-star status. Jahan Dotson and KJ Hamler continued to show flashes of talented playmaking. The defense was led by a handful of younger players as Yetur Gross-Matos, Micah Parsons and Tariq Castro-Fields all put their stamp on the victory.

Saturday was also a conclusion of 21 careers, although none were shining quite as brightly as McSorley's. The Virginia native will leave Penn State with every major program passing record. No quarterback has won more games at Penn State, thrown more touchdowns, or for more yards in a career or in a season. He added another over the course of the game, no quarterback having completed more passes in a career, a record almost shocking that he did not already have.

He has effectively done it all. Winning 31 games and losing eight in the process.

Critics will look at those eight, almost all of them high profile affairs where Penn State - as an entire program - has struggled to win. All of them ending a bit differently for different reasons but McSorley undeniably at a center of each. He cannot avoid that fact. It is simply the truth.

It creates a difficult and perhaps unfair environment when it comes to crafting McSorley's legacy. For all of his talents and skills, he has been on the wrong end of more losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State than wins. They have not come simply because of him, but they have come under his watch.

The 2018 season has been a similarly difficult narrative -for many reasons- an awkward dance towards 10-wins during a year when Penn State has picked up four of its six Big Ten victories against programs with losing records. The winning teams, Wisconsin and Iowa, somewhat politely irrelevant wins in the scheme of the Big Ten conference. Until Saturday night it hadn’t been fun, and then for at least 60 minutes, it was once again.

But equally true, for all the moments of regret and disappointment there are twice as many moments that McSorley dragged Penn State from the depths and across the finish line. Drives against Iowa, App State. A long run against Minnesota to set-up a game-tying field goal in 2016, a comeback against Wisconsin and Indiana, perfection against Washington on third down in the Fiesta Bowl. Many of those moments masked by the bigger names, and flashier players.

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Simply put, Penn State would not be where it is today without McSorley, which is perhaps above all else, his most important contribution. Few players have a chance to genuinely impact the course of their program's future, many are placeholders in a large wheel turning over and over, a machine churning out names and numbers. Saquon Barkley might have been the most talented player of the past two seasons, but the Nittany Lions went as McSorley did.

So he will never be forgotten, never just another guy holding records in a media guide listing off names rarely spoken aloud.

"I think early on, you had Mike Gesicki making these wild plays and DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall and Saquon Barkley and so on and so forth. We've had a bunch of guys that did some spectacular things," James Franklin said earlier in the week.

"I think early on, (Trace) probably didn't get enough credit, and probably now, he's probably getting too much criticism. That's kind of the life of the head coach and of the quarterback. But he's been just spectacular. He's been fantastic, as a kid, as a player, as a leader, his whole family, they have been phenomenal."

"I think when it's all said and done....I know how he'll be looked on in this program for years to come. I think legacy is as strong as it gets, my opinion. I'm biased, but in my opinion, I think as strong as it gets."

And it is, in the end, hard to argue otherwise. One of the wonderful things about college football is that perfection is not a requirement for success, not the benchmark at which we measure seasons.

Great teams can fail to win a national title, memorable seasons can have heartbreaking losses. Penn State's quest to become elite might be hampered by the simple fact that the likes of Alabama and Clemson are playing a different game on a plane that is nearly unobtainable. The Nittany Lions are shooting for something that might not be obtainable.

Penn State does not exist in an elite recruiting footprint at the same level of the south, it competes with Ohio State and Michigan for what talent there is. There is a shortage, not a surplus of truly generational skill in the mid-Atlantic. James Franklin and his staff can try, but they will never pillage Florida for its top player whereas Alabama could show up in New Jersey tomorrow and take the top guy for the next five years. Those are obstacles that may never disappear.

So for all of his imperfections, for all of the things that you can point to that put an asterisks on his career, McSorley is a bit more admirable because of it. He might be more relatable because -- like so many of us -- he isn't the prototype, not quite perfect, much like the program he has guided for three years. He will never be the tallest, the strongest or the fastest, but he will never stop trying.

He was never a superhuman specimen, never a robotic athlete doing the unthinkable. He's just one tough son of a bitch.

Maybe that's what has made him so likable for fans over the years, McSorley is everyone, he fails, he tries, he gets back up.

And on 31 occasions, he wins.

But even he knows how sports work. It's winning and it's losing. It's who you beat and who you lose to. You could see it on his face as he sat at his locker after the Rose Bowl, you could see it in his eyes as his teammates celebrated a Fiesta Bowl victory a year later.

So is he, the heart and soul of Penn State football's modern resurgence, satisfied?

There is a pause.

"I think so, yeah," McSorley says, three years zipping through his head.

"There obviously are things that I want back and there are moments and opportunities that we missed out on, all in all, to be able to leave Beaver Stadium, especially like this with a win, yeah I'm satisfied."

And maybe that's all that matters.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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