Say goodbye to the seniors who came to Happy Valley before all hell broke loose and yet managed to weather a storm unlike any other. They are the final group of men who answered the call when Joe Paterno came knocking. The year “2015” may never hang with pride on the Beaver Stadium press box, but their legacy is no less historic. Perhaps even more so, all things considered.
Now we say goodbye to Austin Johnson, who declared himself eligible for the NFL draft immediately after the game. His impending departure, along with that of seniors Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib, leaves a gaping Wild Dog hole. Finally, we say goodbye to the five-star quarterback who came to State College when most in the college football community were whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Christian Hackenberg came when he did not have to and he stayed when he could have left. He takes with him a slew of records, the poise of a professional and the face of the Nittany Lions over the past three years. No folks, it is never easy saying goodbye.
Say goodbye to the excuses from hear on out. For four years running, any win was a good win. Moral victories became the norm and a tough loss was justified with ease. “Blame it on the sanctions,” became a rally cry when things didn’t quite go our way. With the end of 2015, the time has come to tuck all of those excuses, as justified as they were, away in a cold dark closet somewhere. In 2016, Penn State will have its full complement of an 85 man roster, will have been to two straight bowl games and will have survived an era many thought impossible without nary a losing record. The likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida cannot say the same over the same four-year period. James Franklin and staff, you are now officially on the clock. I know, I know, I know….it is never easy saying goodbye.
On January 2ND in Jacksonville, Florida, Penn State rang in the New Year with a bowl game it was told it wouldn’t get to participate in four years ago. The Nittany Lions were led by a group of seniors who were told bowl games were off the table. It was not a playoff bowl or one of the so-called New Year’s Six. There were no Oranges, Roses, or Sugar involved, but it was a bowl game nonetheless. Midway through the second quarter, with Penn State trailing 17-3, a warrior who has picked himself off the turf time and time again over the last three years threw his last pass as a Nittany Lion. He launched a 51-yard bullet before walking off the field with an injured shoulder. Christian Hackenberg returned, only this time, wearing a pair of Penn State sweats and a headset. His replacement took a few series to get heated up, but once he did, redshirt freshman, Trace McSorley, informed us all that he belonged. He led the Nittany Lions back from the brink of a blowout with precision and poise much like that old warrior before him and the senior class of 2015 kept Penn State in the conversation despite futile attempts to keep them silent. No folks, it is never easy saying goodbye, but that blow becomes just a little bit softer knowing the torch has been passed along to a new group of Lions.