Editor’s note: Every day, from now until Penn State football’s Class of 2017 reports to campus June 24, we’ll highlight a different one of the Nittany Lions’ 17 incoming signees. Today is Day 13 of the 17-day series.
In this installment of our ongoing series, we caught up with four-star quarterback Sean Clifford — the Nittany Lions’ first commit of the Class of 2017 and an Elite 11 alum whom you might soon find downtown snacking on breakfast in The Corner Room.
Clifford was integral in taking a leadership role in forming and maintaining this class. And he wasn’t shy about sharing his Penn State goal: Winning a national championship. So we decided to get to know Clifford on and off the field by asking the Ohio native about his favorite Penn State I-told-you-so moment, his saxophone playing, what he’ll bring to the football team and more.
Check out the in-depth Q&A below:
Q: One of the interesting things about you isn’t just your competitive nature or ability. It’s that you were Penn State’s first commit — in July 2015 — so you didn’t just jump on the bandwagon after the Rose Bowl run. So I’ve got to ask, being from Ohio and being that first commit, what was your favorite I-told-you-so moment this past season?
A: Being from Ohio and getting looked at by Ohio State and not going to Ohio State, that night we beat the Buckeyes was the big I-told-you-so moment or I’m-in-the-right-spot kind of thing. It really showed that Penn State is going to be competing in big games like that. So that was definitely the moment for myself and for a lot of the guys in general.
I was actually at a house with all my buddies and, just to see that final sack go down and being with a couple of my friends that are diehard Buckeyes fans — and you know how Buckeyes fans are; they eat, sleep and breathe Buckeyes football — so just seeing their facial expressions and getting to rub it in a little bit. Like I said, the competitive nature came out. And I’m not even playing yet, and it was still definitely a great moment for myself.
Q: Since you’ve been anticipating playing at Penn State for two years now, I imagine you probably understand just how important fans take the tradition and history here. So let me throw a hypothetical your way: If you were building a Mt. Rushmore for Penn State and had to pick the four big figures of Penn State football, who’d you go with?
A: That’s a tough one. I’m biased obviously, so I’d have to throw Coach (James) Franklin on there with what he’s doing now. LaVar Arrington would be up there, Christian Hackenberg and then Joe Paterno, of course, with all the wins he had. So those four would be my Mt. Rushmore.
Q: Hackenberg is definitely the most intriguing pick there. Why’d you decide to go with him?
A: I think his commitment. I compare his commitment to my commitment when it comes to staying with the team no matter what. They were obviously going through a lot harder times when he was committed with the sanctions going on, and he stayed committed to the team. There were a lot of trials and tribulations for Penn State in the time I’ve committed, but I’d like to think I stayed true and tried to keep Penn State on everybody’s minds. So, probably, I put him up there because I’d like to think of him as a role model for myself.
Q: You seem like a good sport, Sean, and we want fans to know you off the field too. So let’s keep you on your toes: What is the weirdest thing about you?
A: I definitely have one I could tell you. I wouldn’t say it’s a weird thing, but one of the things I like to do — I’m not the best at it, but I’d like to think of myself as a good player — I like to pick up the saxophone. I play the saxophone. I used to take piano lessons when I was really young and, in middle school, you had to play an instrument. So I looked around, and I picked up the saxophone and tried that. So did that for two years, stopped in high school a little bit, but then I picked it up last year and started doing it again. I enjoy it; it’s kind of relaxing.
Q: So future Sean Clifford roommates beware?
A: Yeah, exactly. (laughs) Mac Hippenhammer should beware of the saxophone.
Q: Let’s keep this line of questioning going. Fill in the blank here. Sean Clifford is a big nerd when it comes to ____________ .
A: When it comes to binge-watching TV shows, I’d say.
Q: Well, that begs the question: What’s your favorite TV show to binge — or what’s the last one you’ve binged?
A: I would say, definitely, my favorite of all-time is “Breaking Bad.” I personally think that’s one of the best TV shows ever made, just from a plot standpoint. Every show puts you on the edge of your seat. “Prison Break” is another one. If you check my Twitter, I’m always talking about “Prison Break,” especially with the season that just ended. And then I would say, the last one, that I just finished, is binge-watching all 10 seasons of “Friends,” which is a great — great — TV show. I compare it to shows like “The Office” and “Lost.” I put it up there for sure. It’s an oldie but a goodie for me.
Q: You’ve been to Happy Valley quite a few times so, I feel as if you should have a go-to restaurant at this point too, so where is your favorite place to eat?
A: I would have to say The Corner Room — The Corner Room, for breakfast. Nothing better than sitting down with Coach Franklin and Coach (Joe) Moorhead. I remember one of the first times I was getting recruited by them, and they took me there. And it was definitely one of those where I enjoyed it. I’ve gone there ever since. That would definitely be one of my favorites.
Q: Let’s get back to football here. You committed in July 2015 when Penn State was still trying to find its footing, and you said back then you trusted the process. Why did you trust the process; why did you commit? And did you ever think back then the wait would be so short in seeing a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance?
A: The first part of that question is that I always wanted to commit early and be that leader in that class. I think the quarterback, the No. 1 trait is leadership because if you can’t lead the team, you can’t lead them to a win. And that’s what matters. So leadership has been ingrained in my brain, so being able to meet every single guy that comes in has been a big factor for me. But, ever since I’ve visited Penn State, I’ve gone with my gut. I try not to overthink things. And I visited a lot of places as a sophomore, and Penn State caught my eye right away. And I’ve just fallen in love with it ever since. I just followed my gut on that one. I just really believed in everything they were doing, so I take the word “commitment” very seriously. Nothing against anyone who decommits or who reconsiders their decision. It’s their life. But, for me, I’ve always been a strong believer that when you commit to something, you commit 100 percent. And when I put early on Twitter that I was committing to Penn State, I was 100 percent serious.
And, like I said, I saw something special when I committed and especially when Coach Moorhead came around and talking to him and learning his offense. I got a different feel than when I talked to other coaches around the country. But, obviously, I tell everyone that I completely saw this coming — but that’s a lie when it comes to a lot of it. I didn’t know what was going to happen this season. But I definitely like to think I predicted some of it, and I think that showed in my commitment. I knew there was something special coming to Penn State football. It’s here now. Recruits see that. Hopefully, in the next four years, we can get a national championship under our belt.
Q: I have one serious question and one weird question left for you, Sean. First, the weird: If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would you pick and why?
A: Oh, that’s a tough question. Playing the sport and being a quarterback, I’d have to ask Peyton Manning a few questions. I have a big Fathead of him in my room, and I’ve always looked up to him. So dinner with Peyton Manning would be one to remember. I’d say Martin Luther King would be another one. I’d like to pick his brain since he was such a great leader in the community, and I think I could learn a lot from him. And then, a third, I don’t really know if it’d contribute to myself at all, but I’d probably just say my favorite country artist — Thomas Rhett. That’d definitely be fun just to hang out. That’s someone I’ve always listened to, ever since he was a young artist. And country’s my favorite genre.
Q: One final question: How do you and the rest of this class want to be remembered when you do finally leave Happy Valley?
A: Yeah, that’s something we were talking about a while ago — what our goal should be as a team, or at least as a class. And it’s always weird looking four years into the future, but I did the same thing with my high school class. And, four years later, we’re state champions. So that’s probably the same course I want to go with at Penn State — set the standards as high as possible. In high school, I wanted a ring on my finger. And nothing’s changing in college: I want a ring on my finger, and I want to see Penn State football back on the map.
Overview of Sean Clifford
Hometown/high school: Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier
Height/weight: 6-foot-1/211 pounds
Recruit rankings: 4 stars (247, ESPN, Rivals, Scout)
Other scholarship offers: Auburn, Boston College, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Missouri, North Carolina, Northwestern, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia
James Franklin says: “You talk about him having a storybook year, as well. Bunch of injuries on his high school team. They end up being 5-5. Took his team to four straight championships. That guy is a winner.”