The State College seniors looked back on their careers and offered some words of wisdom under the lights at Memorial Field during Tuesday night’s practice.
The Little Lions hold the ceremony every year to recognize the senior class for its contributions. The players talked about how the football program affected their lives and passed along advice with their final regular season behind them and the start of the postseason looming.
“It’s bittersweet,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “You hate to let those kids go. They mean so much to you — not just as players, but as people — so that’s hard.
“But to watch their growth from when they enter the program as ninth- or 10th-graders to when they leave and the men and women that they’ve become, it’s pretty special.”
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This group of seniors isn’t finished yet, though, as the Little Lions (8-2) are set to take on Erie (9-2) in a PIAA Class 6A subregional game Friday night at Clarion University. State College has been to the state playoffs the past three seasons, and the Little Lions are looking to continue that streak this season. They’re coming off another successful regular season and playing with confidence after earning their first win over Central Dauphin since 2008 last week.
“I feel like we can go far,” senior running back Tristen Lyons said. “I’m telling everybody, don’t get big-headed and don’t get cocky, but play like you mean it. Seniors, we want to go far this year.”
State College’s postseason starts with a familiar opponent. The Little Lions scrimmaged Erie at Memorial Field during the preseason, so they know how physical their opponent will be. Lintal said the Royals play “classic, old-school football” with their single-wing offense, something the Little Lions didn’t see all year.
“They do it extremely well,” Lintal added. “They try to get more hats to the point of attack than you have, and they run power football.”
State College wide receiver Brandon Clark remembers Erie’s linemen were “huge,” but he said the Little Lions played well offensively that day. And he’s taken pride in how State College’s receiving corps developed throughout the season. While Clark and Cohen Russell have been dynamic threats in the passing game, the Little Lions have also established a consistent running game led by Lyons.
That was on display in the team’s 31-10 win over Central Dauphin last week — Clark hauled in the team’s first touchdown, Russell had 10 catches for 92 yards, and Lyons surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground. After finishing the regular season with the dominant victory, State College is now ready for postseason play.
“We’re going to put in all the energy we have into practice and go extra hard every single day,” said Clark, who leads the team with 510 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches. “We’re all excited.”
Clark is among the seniors to make his mark for the Little Lions the past few years. He was one of the team’s top receivers last season as State College started the year with a 9-0 record and finished with a 10-2 mark after falling in the first round of the state playoffs. This year, the Little Lions proved to be one of the Mid Penn’s top teams led by Clark and the rest of the seniors.
“This senior class is really a lead-by-example group of tough, hard-nosed (players),” Lintal said. “Ian Barr and Paul Olivett, Jackson Heasley, Brandon Clark, Robert Nachtman — just the toughness in that core group of guys, the commitment and the sacrifices they’ve made for this team.”
They may have taken the time to reminisce at practice this week, but they’re looking forward to extending their season in the playoffs.
“The kids embrace this time of year and know that it’s win or move on to the next sport or to the weight room, and they’re not ready to be done yet,” Lintal said. “We’re excited with this group that we have.”
PIAA Class 6A subregional
State College vs. Erie
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Clarion University
History: State College — The Little Lions beat McDowell in this PIAA Class 6A subregional game to advance to the first round of the state playoffs in 2016; Erie — This is Erie’s first season after Strong Vincent, Central Tech and East combined to form the new school this year.
Players to watch: State College WR Cohen Russell — Russell turned in a memorable performance to lead the Little Lions to victory last week, hauling in 10 catches for 92 yards and rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown on three carries. Russell ranks second on the team with 27 catches for 456 yards; Erie RB Tony Foster — During the regular season, Foster rushed for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 10.8 yards per carry and finished with four 100-yard games, including a 260-yard performance.