Going into spring practice this year, we looked at the depth that Penn State returned in the defensive backfield and laughed. It was the position with the most question marks, with the fewest returning starters and contributors, and was a who's-who of "Who the heck is that guy?" for most who follow the program tangentially. Then, word started trickling out about the likely starter opposite Malcolm Willis for the other safety position in the Nittany Lions' defensive backfield.
For better or worse, Jacob Fagnano was the last in a long line of Italian defensive backs under Joe Paterno who played for Penn State. For so many detractors, this was a negative on him; he's white, so he must be slow. He was a walk-on initially, so he must be not good.
Fagnano wasn't the most athletically gifted player on the field, and he didn't always make the big plays. What he was, though, was a hard worker, tough on and off the field, and a leader on a defense full of them. He stuck with the program through its time of need, from Williamsport and always having dreamt of donning the blue and white, and was enough a champion of the PSU program that his younger brother, Jared, transferred to University Park this off season, to play as a Nittany Lion beginning with the 2013 season.
After redshirting in 2008, Fagnano didn't see any time as a RS freshman in 2009 in a defensive backfield stocked with returning talent. In his junior season, he began his tenure as a key backup, appearing in all 13 games in 2010 and 2011, spending most of his time on special teams with sporadic appearances in the defensive backfield, notching 13 tackles total in those two seasons.
Then, Chaz Powell, Nick Sukay, Drew Astorino, and D'Anton Lynn all graduated, and the cupboard left by the previous staff was pretty bare in terms of defensive backfield players, with only Willis, Stephon Morris, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Adrian Amos having seen any significant time on the field in a position where most coaching staffs like to have a healthy rotation of at least 5-6 guys for various packages.
Up stepped Jacob Fagnano. He didn't start any of the games this year before the Indiana game, the second-to-last contest of his last season, but was a fixture on the two deep, seeing significant time in every game and being an integral part of the two-deep. Fagnano had inarguably his breakout game the next week versus Wisconsin, his last one in the blue and white, recording five tackles and notching his first and only interception as a Nittany Lion in what could have been the game changer, on a fourth down deep in PSU territory near the end of the fourth quarter.
The last of what may be a different era, Fagnano will be missed for, above all else, his work ethic and dedication all aspects of the Penn State football program. He was awarded a Quarterback Club special award at the senior banquet, and graduated this past weekend with a degree in economics.
For everything he was and everything he represented (and still represents), thank you, Jake, for your committment to Penn State and Penn State football. We salute you, and we'll miss you.
For an interesting, in-depth take at Jacob and the other walk-ons of his class, including Matt McGloin, we delved deep into the BSD archives and uncovered this post. Enjoy.
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