We're at a stage now in the off-season where every week we check off a new countdown to kickoff 2019 box. Last week it was another stellar Lift For Life, back in its usual slot, side-by-side with Arts Fest. Always a highlight, it is the chance to go one-on-one with the guru behind the scenes, head strength and conditioning coach, Dwight Galt, and a handful of players made available to the media that are expected to make a ton of noise come fall.
This year’s standouts in that department included quarterback Sean Clifford, battling to earn the right to hold the keys to the offensive Cadillac and running back Ricky Slade, who’s in a dogfight of his own holding back a stable full of thoroughbreds all vying for time toting the rock. Both made it loud and clear they’ve accepted their challenge with open arms in their quest to replace a legend in Trace McSorley and someone who filled the shoes of a legend as admirably as Miles Sanders did last year, the Penn State offense is ready to explode. Music to our ears as we're still trying to wipe the taste away from an offense that never quite fired on all cylinders in 2018.
As for the annual chit chat with Galt, his body language said it all. He gave the longest interview to date after six years in charge of off-season conditioning and had a sly grin throughout as he sung the praises of both the veteran leaders as well as the incoming freshmen class that are now all on campus. To say he seemed satisfied with where the program stood as we barrel into August and pre-season camp would be an understatement. The common theme is one of motivation to prove all the doubters that have crept back in wrong.
Last Friday also marked the 50 days until Penn State Football milestone, a.k.a. halftime for all those football junkies like myself counting away the summer. Two-time All-American, Super Bowl Champion and current College Football Hall of Fame nominee Jeff Hartings held the honor, with a who's-who of Linebacker U laying in wait as we count down the 40's. Names like Lee, Hull and Short, Mauti, Cabinda, and all-time leading tackler Dan Connor are all on deck this week and into the weekend. Just another checked box as we get closer and closer to kickoff.
As the dust settled on a jam packed weekend, three more Nittany Lions grabbed the spotlight on Monday afternoon as KJ Hamler was named to the watch-list to win the Maxwell Trophy representing the nation’s best offensive player, and both Micah Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos were named Bednarek Award preseason nominees on defense. Have I mentioned yet just how darn good our D is expected to be in 2019? Only time will truly tell but the closer we get, the more I'm starting to hear rumblings that our D has the potential to be the best this millennium has had to offer. Call this a down year all you want but the thought of that being even remotely true is a scary thought indeed.
Big Ten Media Days filled the slot this week as FrankLion and seniors Cam Brown, John Reid, and Blake Gilliken invaded Chi-Town on Thursday and Friday. They rolled in as the underdogs again heading into a new era, but the closer we get to kickoff the more I’m beginning to sense a role of playing spoiler. Judging by the way our Nittany Lions carried themselves last weekend, I get the impression they’ve circled those wagons as well!