Penn State Football

Franklin, community on Penn State jersey change: ‘We play for the name on the front’

A similar sentiment was echoed throughout State College and beyond on Thursday morning after Penn State football announced its decision to remove player names from the backs of jerseys this season.

“We play for the name on the front.”

What was a 125-year tradition will return this season. Names were added to the jerseys in 2012 under then-head coach Bill O’Brien as a way to honor the players who stuck with the program and university through troubling times.

Offensive tackle Angelo Mangiro was one of these players.

“In 2011, my first season in Happy Valley, it was a season the nation will never forget,” he said in a statement on his Twitter page. “The players and staff on that team could have easily been crushed by the immense pressure surrounding the program; however, we didn’t because of the logo on the front of the jersey.

“We played for that logo, each other, and the former players. When Coach O’Brien came and put names on the uniforms to honor the players that stayed; I was extremely moved. I understood the history that surrounded our program and the basic whites and blues. I was thankful for Coach O’Brien to make that tough decision, and I felt that it was very appropriate at that time.

“But, that was then and this is now. We honored those who have stayed. There are only six of us left (Ben Kline, Kyle Carter, Matt Zanellato, Anthony Zettel, Carl Nassib, and myself). We have had our time to be honored...With Coach Franklin, it is time for us to get back to our traditions and put everything behind us. We play for each other, former letterman, our family’s (sic), for Thon and the Four Diamonds, our fans, and for this amazing university.”

Kline was simple in his reaction, tweeting “No names, all game.”

Zanetello posted his statement as well.

“It was an unbelievable honor to start my Penn State football career wearing the traditional, iconic jerseys without players’ names on the back,” he wrote.

“This morning, I learned that I will have the privilege of finishing my career the same way. Only six players have had the unique experience of starting their psu (sic) football careers without names on their jerseys, wearing those jerseys for three years, and now will be able to finish the same was that we started...

“...We are honored and humbled with the opportunity to honor Joe Paterno and the decades of lettermen that have played before us.”

One of those lettermen was former Big Ten Player of the Year (2005) and NFL player-turned-analyst Michael Robinson. He weighed in as well, tweeting that it is “time to get back to the basics.”

Penn State trustee Al Lord was also supportive of the decision.

“I’m delighted. We are!” he said. “The guys I respected came to this school because of the uniform, not to change it.”

Scott Shirley, a founder of Penn State’s Lift for Life fundraising event and of charity Uplifting Athletes, said it says a lot about head coach James Franklin and his vision for the program, while honoring those who stuck with Penn State through trying times.

“In a way, it kind of memorializes the guys who didn’t want to give up on Penn State,” he said. “You’ll never have any question about who those guys were.”

Franklin gathered some of his players and lettermen Bob White, Kenny Jackson, Keith Conlin, Jack Ham and Justin Kurpekis, among others, to tell them the news first — though as he said, this move has been in his plan since day one.

“Restoring some of the history and tradition, I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Franklin said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “I think what Bill (O’Brien) did was the right thing at the right time, and I think this is the right thing to do at the right time moving forward.”

Terry Smith, who is the only former Penn State player on Franklin’s current staff, played for the Nittany Lions from 1987-1991 without a name on his back.

“The last three years were special and needed to have the names on their jerseys,” he said. “But we have to get back to some core values that Penn State football really is and what an historic moment today is for us.”

Players celebrated by passing out new team posters all over downtown State College on Thursday night, much to the pleasant surprise of fans.