clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Scout Team Love: Sights and Sounds From the Fiesta Bowl

New, 9 comments

There is a great deal of credit to share for the success of the Penn State football program.

James Franklin, Trace McSorley, and Saquon Barkley get a great deal of attention as leaders of the Penn State football team. Their talent and success has been on display for the past couple of seasons and it is hard not to notice. Other players and coaches on the team work just as hard, and are as important to the team’s upward trajectory.

Reserve Players

Jason Vranic (51) and Frank Di Leo (39) prepared to put on their Fiesta Bowl Champion shirts and were happy to get some time on camera. Di Leo commented on the fact that a couple of photographers were paying attention to what are sometimes considered lessor-attractive targets; the scout team.

Don’t worry, Frank. We’ve got all the love in the world for players that contribute to the program on and off the field. While you may not find Vranic or Di Leo in the box score with any type of frequency, their presence during practice, in meetings, and in the classroom is significant. A redshirt sophomore, Di Leo was the only Nittany Lion player to speak at the Fiesta Bowl pep rally. Prior to the game, the 5’9” (that’s being generous), 222-pound linebacker could be seen talking up anyone nearby while warming up teammates. While one could be critical of his throwing form, his elbow is a little bit low for my liking, his charisma and energy are like a glowing orb that feeds anyone within hand-shake range.

Physically he is 222 pounds of torso and hair. Emotionally he has the girth to eclipse any negative vibe that would dare infiltrate the locker room.

Some of the younger guys, that may not have yet made the impact on the field that is expected from them in the future, were posing for the cameras for one of the first times in their PSU careers. Antonio Shelton (55), Yetur Gross-Matos (99) Desi Davis (12) and Des Holmes (center wearing the Fiesta Bowl Champions shirt and large smile) were invited to stand for the cameras.

Gross-Matos and Holmes were each listed at 6’5” entering the season. It’s doubtful that Gross-Matos, the talented true-freshman defensive end, has shrunk. It’s more likely that Holmes, originally a three-star offensive tackle recruit, has inched up a bit in the past few months. Franklin and his staff must have seen Holmes’ big hands and feet, and projected a growth spurt from the big man.

Veterans

Brandon Mahon went through a great deal of adversity in his time on the field with the Lions. Once pressed into service early in his career due to a lack of offensive line depth, the senior offensive lineman proved to be a versatile and valuable part of two consecutive 11-win Penn State teams. His final play from scrimmage was a false-start; not what an offensive lineman would hope for. His smile when bringing up the mistake on his own shows the humility and perseverance that was required for Mahon to weather the unique journey that fans watched him make in his blue and white uniform.

Mike Gesicki is another player that saw significant playing time as an underclassman. Early in his career he was criticized for the number of drops that he had. For the past two years, Gesicki has been one of the best tight ends in the country. Off the field he has transitioned at the same time from a shy interview to one who is assertive and very comfortable. The growth that players show on the field is often a reflection of the work that they do off the field to mature.

Ryan Bates has two years of eligibility remaining but the redshirt sophomore has played enough to be considered a seasoned veteran. Bates spoke about the team’s future.

Coaches

Ricky Rahne coached his first game since being named the team’s offensive coordinator. While Rahne was the interim offensive-coordinator during the TaxSlayer Bowl two years ago, the attention that he received leading up to this game was significant. He was asked about any pressure that he may have felt.

Brent Pry quickly made PSU fans forget about past PSU defensive coordinators, with his immediate success in that position since taking over. His voice was just about gone after spending the better part of the past four hours yelling at the top of his lungs. That did not stop him from talking about Brandon Smith and the impressive career that he was able to put together in Happy Valley.

Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover was once the assistant head coach of the Minnesota Gophers. He also is a former offensive coordinator. Following the game Limegrover seemed perfectly comfortable out of the spotlight, sitting next to his offensive line as they spoke to the media and gave credit to everyone besides their position coach. He quipped toward Ryan Bates after Bates finished his interviews that he hadn’t heard any credit given to the offensive line coach.

He then went back to answering texts from family and friends. The Penn State team has a couple of young, up-and-coming coordinators but there is a great deal of experience on the staff.

Penn State Fans

Following the game the fans did not jet out of the stadium. Instead many pressed down to the bottom of the stands to share one last moment with the team. Dozens of players made this gesture their final event from the field in a Penn State uniform before walking into the locker room in into the next chapter of their lives.