Consider this - in 2015, the starting defensive line for the Nittany Lions consisted of Carl Nassib, college football’s sack leader who was a consensus All-American who was a finalist for national defensive player of the year; Anthony Zettel, an All-American caliber defensive tackle; and Austin Johnson, an All-Conference performer himself.
And Garrett Sickels.
For quite a while, it was easy to forget about number 90. After all, despite the four stars next to his name and the heavy recruitment from college football royalty, the Red Bank, NJ product found himself in line behind a number of productive players for his first several years. That’s not to say Garrett Sickels didn’t play well during his time on the field in 2013, 2014, and even 2015, but when you start alongside the above trio and spend the first few years watching Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan, it can be tough to redirect the attention.
Coming into the 2016 season, there was plenty of justifiable concern about the state of Penn State’s down linemen. Indeed, Penn State hadn’t lost that much talent to the NFL all at once without known quantities as replacements since 2002’s line of Jimmy Kennedy, Anthony Adams and Michael Haynes graduated. Candidly, 2003’s defensive line performance wasn’t exactly something about which any of us would like to reminisce.
Still, despite the loss of Nassib, Zettel, and Johnson, there was Garrett Sickels. The same Garrett Sickels who had offers from every major program in America, including future national champion and national runner-up Alabama.
You could have been anywhere in the world, but you’re here with us. We appreciate that.
And so in 2016, Garrett Sickels did exactly what four star defensive end recruits who are in their third playing year (4th overall) at a college football program - they take over. Without the attention focused on three All-America candidates, Sickels shined. He led the 2016 Nittany Lions in tackles for loss (12.5) and tied Evan Schwan for the team lead in sacks (6.0). He was the catalyst for Penn State’s defensive performance in against Ohio State, sacking quarterback JT Barrett 2.5 times and terrorizing the Buckeye offensive line. He accomplished that much in the second half alone, after sitting out for the first half because he skipped a Friday class during the team’s bye week.
He didn’t pout or complain. He took his discipline standing up, then walked out on the field and led the defense to a victory over the country’s second ranked team.
It’s not a complete surprise that Garrett Sickels is leaving Happy Valley for the NFL. After you’ve had this kind of impact, might as well go make some money. In 2016, he certainly earned it.