Let the names sink in for just a second: Jason Cabinda, Mike Gesicki, Marcus Allen, DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon, Tyler Davis, Brandon Smith, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren, Grant Haley, Troy Apke, Josh McPhearson, and Tom Pancoast. Some committed to Bill O'Brien, but all began their time on the field with James Franklin.
They came when Penn State needed them most. They walked the walk when the tunnel was pitch black. They were the last to commit under crippling sanctions. Regardless of what happens on the field in 2017, the names of this senior class carry as much weight as the names that ushered in the Paterno era way back in the late ‘60s. Men like Kwalick, Onkotz, Smear, Reid, Mitchell, Harris, Kates, and Ham.
Each has his own story to tell, none more important than the other. One by one they found their way onto the field and one by one they captured our hearts. Hamilton kicked off the FrankLion era in Ireland with a monster game at Croke Park. Cabinda filled in admirably for a depleted linebacker unit during that homecoming loss to Northwestern and never looked back. Allen made his debut against the mighty Buckeyes and darn near stole the show, along with Blacknall who snagged the go-ahead touchdown to tie it up 17-17.
Gesicki was leaned upon early as a blocker and struggled to find his way, but where would we be without the early sacrifices he made? His success makes it that much sweeter. And Haley, oh Haley, the image of that #15 jersey tumbling into the end-zone is an image we will never forget and one that just gets better as time marches on.
We’ve watched them grow collectively. We’ve seen them suffer heartbreaks and celebrate as champions. We’ve cheered them on as they built Penn State into a powerhouse once again; little by little, and brick by brick. As we all struggled to ‘trust the process' they were busy pulling that rope in the same direction. The season of great expectations is but a few footsteps away and we have the senior class of 2017 to thank for keeping that ship on course.