The Nittany Lions instituted a new welcoming initiative for their youngest players: earning their stripes. Literally.
At the start of fall camp, the incoming freshmen didn’t have stripes on their helmets. They had to earn them on and off the field.
“We talk about giving these guys feedback of when they’re starting to figure it out based on our standards and expectations. But to give them something tangible to say, ‘Look you’ve really doing a good job for us,’” Penn State coach James Franklin said after practice Wednesday. “It’s how they are in meetings, how respectful they are to the senior players, how coachable they are, are they going to class consistency, are they working hard in the weight room? It’s everything.”
All four early enrollees — Lamont Wade, Mike Miranda, KJ Hamler and Brelin Faison-Walden — had their stripes entering fall camp. Quarterback Sean Clifford was the first one to earn his in August, while defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and safety Jonathan Sutherland secured theirs sometime since.
The newest Nittany Lion to do so was offensive lineman Des Holmes, who was recognized with cheers and clapping in the team huddle after Wednesday’s practice.
Redshirt junior safety Nick Scott called it “a pride thing.”
“We want to see guys that want to be here learning and developing their game,” Scott said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of if you haven’t earned your stripes. It just means we want to see more from you.”
Facing the best
Senior cornerback Grant Haley — a guy with 25 starts under his belt — has faced teams with plenty of NFL talent at wide receiver. Michigan’s 2016 squad with Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson comes to mind.
So when asked who’s the best wideout he’s faced, Haley had options. After taking former Nittany Lion receiver Chris Godwin off the board, the corner made his choice: Ohio State’s Michael Thomas.
Thomas — a Buckeye from 2012-15 — was shut down by the Nittany Lions in 2014, but scored in the 2015 meeting when Haley started as a sophomore.
After Ohio State’s 2015 season, Thomas left for the NFL and was a second-round selection by the New Orleans Saints.
“The speed he has to him and the physicality,” Haley said with a hint of disbelief. “He was a good test coming at a younger age. I think in the long-run it helped me going up against bigger receivers.”
“I had a couple people tell me I should try out for the WWE.” — Scott, on his emphatic, viral tackle against Pitt