Led by juniors Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall, it’s hard to believe the three of them combined to add up to six-years’ worth of game experience. Images like Hamilton’s coming out party in Ireland, Blacknall’s catch in the end-zone to tie up the Whiteout win that was stolen by refs in 2014, or Godwin carrying a whole sack of buckeyes on his back as he rumbled towards pay dirt last year in Columbus, only serve to reinforce that they’ve been major contributors to a program trying to find its way out of the hole it was unfairly thrown into. It’s no secret that the sanctions became a major blow to the O-Line, but for this group, they caused little damage and for that we should all be thankful as they head towards their prime years in blue and white. Last year, Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins joined the ranks and provided a few highlights of their own. The triple threat of Godwin, Blacknall, and Hamilton presents a tall, long receiver to defend deep, whereas Polk and Thompkins provide the blazing speed that makes them hard to catch. Two newcomers, who I suspect will make their presence known early on, are redshirt freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irving Charles. Both arrived in Happy Valley highly touted out of the great state of New Jersey. They were mentioned often during last year’s training camp, and will compete for playing time from the onset.
Speaking of our neighbor to the northeast, with all due respect to Tom Pancoast and redshirt freshmen Jonathan Holland and Nick Bowers, the situation at tight end rests in the hands of another New Jersey-native, Mike Gesicki and he has redemption written all over his face. The 2015 season was a trying one for Gesicki, a junior who has already been on the field for two full seasons, to say the least. His difficulties have already been over-analyzed and beaten to death, so I prefer to look forward to his future and atonement instead. One thing that has always stood out to me about Gesicki is his work ethic and commitment. I lost count of how many times I have seen him way off in the background of a post-practice interview with Coach Franklin, hitting the blocking sled after everyone else has left the field. That hard work will pay off and once combined with his freakish athleticism, Big Ten linebackers and safeties better watch out. The tight ends are an integral piece of Joe Moorhead’s new high-octane offense, and will be leaned on heavily. If this year’s spring game was any indication, Gesicki and Pancoast are both up to the challenge. Newcomers Holland and Bowers have tremendous but unproven upside and will be needed for depth as they acclimate themselves.
As I was writing this article, it struck me how much we’ve already witnessed out of this unit. Some of these memories part of highlight footage, but we’ve also witnessed the struggle as they’ve grown into their own on the gridiron. Kids that came to Penn State mostly because of an opportunity to contribute right away. They have all contributed in their own way and have a lot of opportunity looking ahead. As we come to a close on our look at this season’s offensive positions I am reminded why our future looks so bright in Happy Valley. Whether it is the triple threat at wideout, Mike Gesicki’s shot at redemption, that four-headed monster at running back, or the Big Uglies along the O-Line, they all have one thing in common. They all got the early playing time they were seeking and collectively took the lumps and bruises that accompany going up against the big boys in the rugged Big Ten Conference. They already represent the new era of Penn State football and have the scars to prove it. After two seasons of the big boys kicking dirt in their faces, that new breed of Nittany Lion is back again; older, wiser and with a shot at redemption within their reach. And we haven’t even begun to look at the defense yet! Hold on tight folks, I have a feeling the best is yet to come.