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Lost in the Line of Duty

DicksonThe tragic and as yet unsolved murder of Pennsylvania State Police corporal Bryon K. Dickson in an apparent ambush late Friday hits closer to home with the news that Dickson ’03 was a Penn Stater. A seven-year veteran of the state police, Dickson was killed in a shooting at the Blooming Grove barracks in rural northeast Pennsylvania that also seriously wounded a fellow trooper. Federal agents have arrived to help in the investigation, and authorities are urging anyone with information to call the state police hotline.

According to his obituary, Dickson and his wife, Tiffany Antos ’02a ’03 H&HD, had recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Dickson also leaves behind two young sons.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 16, 2014 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Twenty Years On, Still Perfect

I think I’m finally over my jet lag from five terrific days in Dublin, and just in time: There’s a home opener to be ready for.

The Nittany Lions’ meeting with Akron is notable for a few reasons, not least that it’s James Franklin’s home debut. But as both a 1995 grad and the guy who spent untold hours on the phone this past spring and summer with members of the ’94 Lions, I can tell you I’m almost as excited about the reunion of Penn State’s last undefeated team as I am about the game itself.

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Carter, Collins, and Brady, three of the stars of the unstoppable ’94 offense.

Alumni Association members by now should have their copies of our Sept./Oct. issue, which features that great shot of Ki-Jana Carter ’95 on the cover, and, inside, an oral history on that team’s epic comeback win at Illinois. While the magazine piece focuses on the Illinois game—well, really the whole trip to Champaign, a surreal experience that the players, coaches, and managers recount in the issue—it’s just an excerpt from our much larger oral history of the ’94 Lions, tracking that squad from raw recruits into arguably the greatest offensive team in college football history. I spoke to nearly 30 guys for that one, and it was very much a labor of love. If you haven’t already, you can find the entire piece over at The Football Letter Blog.

The reunion is well timed not only with the 20th anniversary of that team, but with the emergence of true sophomore Christian Hackenberg as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Hackenberg’s record performance against UCF in the season opener, following his terrific freshman season, has some people wondering (prematurely) how he ranks with the best QBs in program history. Well, the guy who tops that list, Kerry Collins ’94, is expected back this weekend, as are arguably—key word here—the best running back (Carter), receiver (Bobby Engram ’95), tight end (Kyle Brady ’95) and offensive line in school history. There are lots of worth guys in the argument at all those positions, but the fact that so many guys from that one team are in the discussion tells you just how phenomenal that team was.

For so many reasons, it’s impossible to compare this year’s team—still limited by sanctions, and with a brand new coaching staff—to Joe Paterno’s veteran, talent-laden ’94 squad. But based on some of the things I heard repeated time and time again by Carter, Collins, Engram, Brady and nearly everyone else I spoke to from the ’94 squad, there’s plenty that this year’s Lions would be well to mimic: Work hard, put aside egos, never doubt what you’re capable of, and never miss a chance to laugh. Solid advice for any football team—and, I suppose, for life in general.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

 

September 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm 3 comments

“Clear and Unanimous” Choice Sandy Barbour is the New AD

DSC_5582_Sandy_Barbour[1]Eminently qualified, but with some tough questions to answer, Sandy Barbour was introduced Saturday as Penn State’s new director of athletics.

Barbour, who until earlier this month had worked for nearly a decade as the AD at UC Berkeley, met reporters Saturday in the Beaver Stadium press room. Introduced by President Eric Barron as the “clear and “unanimous” choice for the job, the 54-year-old Barbour described Penn State as something of a dream destination. The Maryland native presented the move as a sort of homecoming, and said Penn State “represents the opportunity to have it all.” She’ll officially start work on Aug. 18.

Barbour’s resume is impressive. Prior to 10 years at Cal—where she led a department that supports 28 varsity programs and won 19 national championships during her tenure—she worked as an assistant AD at Notre Dame and Northwestern and also served an eight-year stint as AD at Tulane. A two-sport standout at Wake Forest, she owns a master’s degree from UMass and an MBA from Northwestern, where she also worked as an assistant AD. She knows college athletics from a coach’s perspective—she was a field hockey and lacrosse assistant at UMass and Northwestern—taught a course on sports management at the University of New Orleans, and even spent a summer as a production intern at the Fox Sports affiliate in Chicago

Media coverage of her time at Cal paints Barbour as a passionate advocate for and supporter of student-athletes, while offering harsh appraisals of her efforts in two key areas: Graduation rates and budget management. While most of Cal’s teams graduated at high rates under Barbour, the rates for football and men’s basketball were among the lowest rates for any major conference program. As for budget issues, Bay Area media were particularly critical of Barbour’s handling of a costly facilities upgrade—a process complicated by the fact that Cal’s aging Memorial Stadium rests atop an active fault line, requiring hundreds of millions in additional costs to make it safe.

Without redirecting blame, Barbour said the low graduation rates of Cal’s highest-profile programs were “unacceptable,” and said she “learned a number of things in that situation that will benefit Penn State.” Barron said he called Cal’s chancellor to ask about Barbour’s role, and was told that “Sandy was a champion for the success of the students, and was putting on considerable pressure to make the situation improve.”

DSC_5785_Franklin_Barbour_BarronBarbour will face very different challenges at Penn State, where she takes over from Dave Joyner ’72, ’76g, who took the job on an interim basis in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, played a lead role in the hiring of both Bill O’Brien and James Franklin, and oversaw three largely successful years for Nittany Lion teams. Noting how the university “stayed together” through the scandal, Barbour said, “I really admire your recent record of looking in the mirror, and recognizing the need to be better.” Barron said Joyner will continue to serve as AD until Aug. 17, and thereafter in a consulting role helping Barbour in her transition.

The location of the press conference, and the presence of James Franklin, who joined Barbour and Barron afterward for photos on the Beaver Stadium turf, emphasized the central importance of football to the athletic department. Barbour referenced Penn State’s reputation as the “Beasts of the East,” adding “I have no doubt we’ll return to that under Coach Franklin.” But she emphasized that, both in football and across the board, Penn State teams under her leadership won’t settle for regional success.

“We aspire to national championships in each and every one of our 31 sports,” she said. “That’s what we’ll work toward every day.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

 

July 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm 6 comments

From the Magazine: Ben Kline

As a Penn State linebacker, Ben Kline knows all about the pressure of living up to a legacy of greatness. It’s good experience for his other role: president of Penn State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes.

Photo by Cardoni.

Photo by Cardoni.

A redshirt junior linebacker, Kline is the latest Nittany Lion to lead the founding Uplifting Athletes chapter, a charity benefiting rare disease research which was started in 2003 by former Lion Scott Shirley ’03, ’04g. In the time since, UA has expanded into a national organization with student-run chapters at nearly two dozen college football programs. But Penn State still sets the tone: When the Lions host their annual Lift for Life event on Saturday, July 12, they’re expecting to surpass $1,000,000 raised for kidney cancer research.

“It’s really grown, and it’s something our team has really rallied around,” says Kline, the featured athlete in our July/August issue. “It’s become one of those traditions that’s built into Penn State football.” Much like Linebacker U., it’s also a tradition of excellence whose departed greats have left very big shoes to fill. In the case of Uplifting Athletes, the biggest belong to Eric Shrive ’13, the former offensive lineman who preceded Kline as president, and who raised more than $100,000 for UA during his time at Penn State.

“I was close with Shrive, and all the guys that were doing it before, and I saw what they did and how they put their hearts into it,” Kline says. “The guys on the executive board this year, we’re all close, and we’re thinking about it constantly—how we can grow it, how we can make it better.” Next week’s Lift for Life event is the chapter’s primary fundraiser, but thanks to that constant brainstorming, the team has hosted other events—popping up at Nittany Lion basketball games, or kid-friendly activities at local parks—that provide more opportunities to raise precious funds.

Kline’s on-field status this season is unclear: He missed about half of the Lions’ games last season with injuries, and an unconfirmed report last month implied he might miss more time this fall. But regardless of his impact on the field, Kline has already established himself as one of Penn State’s most valuable players.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

July 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

A Roseberry by Any Other Name…

Photo by Mark Selders

Hall of Flavor—er, Famer—Russ Rose. Photo by Mark Selders

The Creamery pitched it. His wife came up with the finishing touch. And Russ Rose? He’s just the guy they named it after.

Russ “Digs” Roseberry was unveiled Thursday morning, and as Berkey Creamery manager Tom Palchak ’80 tells us, it’s the first permanent “Hall of Fame” flavor added in more than 20 years. Its namesake is none other than Rose, the six-time national champion-winning coach of the Penn State women’s volleyball team. Dishing out the first scoops on Thursday—and yes, your intrepid reporter sacrificed himself by eating an ice cream cone for lunch—Rose handled the honor much in the way he handles receiving coach-of-the-year awards: By quietly deflecting all the credit.

The idea came from Palchak, who initially approached Rose a few years ago; a communications breakdown led to folks at the Creamery getting the mistaken impression that Rose wasn’t interested. He was, not so much for the ice cream, but for the rare company he’d keep. “To be up there with Coach Paterno,” he says, “that’s pretty special.” As for the finished product, Russ says his wife, Lori Barberich Rose ’85, is the one who figured out how to make it delicious.

BoQD86QIUAAmj91Palchak finally connected with Rose earlier this year, and they began the process of figuring out just what Rose’s flavor would be. The coach’s starting points were caramel and strawberry—two great tastes that really don’t go together—and with Lori’s help, they settled on strawberry ice cream as the base. Wanting to keep the flavor fruity, they decided through trial and error to add swirls of black and red raspberry sauce; with the Roses’ four sons providing a ready-made taste-testing team, reviews were good. But there was something missing, until Lori Rose found it: flecks and small chunks of dark chocolate.

As it was served up Thursday, Russ “Digs” Roseberry strikes a wonderful balance between flavors and texture that it shares (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) with Creamery classics like Death by Chocolate and Alumni Swirl. It’s just really, really good. And while I’d argue there’s never a bad time for Creamery ice cream, its late-May unveiling seems appropriate: all that fruit just screams summer. It probably doesn’t hurt that the annual Happy Volley tournament starts Friday, meaning there will be something like 10,000 high school volleyball players, coaches, and family members in town for the holiday weekend. Most of them will probably hit the Creamery at some point.

I know what they should order.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

 

May 22, 2014 at 3:59 pm Leave a comment

Talking Football—the Global Version—on the Coaches Caravan

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming and Franklin find common ground at the Coaches Caravan.

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming, and Franklin find common ground on the Coaches Caravan. Photo by Mark Selders

It’s a small irony that, while riding the bus on a Coaches Caravan trip that is understandably focused on football, I’m indulging in the chance to talk at length about soccer. That’s “football” to most of the rest of the world, of course, and as men’s soccer coach Bob Warming has jokingly reminded every Caravan crowd thus far, it remains the most popular sport on the planet. Warming knows as well as anyone that most Penn Staters are more interested in “American” football, and he’s okay with that. He knows his sport is on very solid footing in the States.

Certainly it’s in great shape in Happy Valley. In Warming and Erica Walsh—both of whom are on the bus this week and speaking at every Caravan stop—Penn State unquestionably has two of the best college coaches in America. Warming, a two-time national Coach of the Year during stints at Creighton and St. Louis, has led the Nittany Lions to the last two Big Ten regular season titles. Under Walsh, who doubles as an assistant coach with the U.S. women’s national team, the women won six straight Big Ten titles from 2007-2012.

As a regular at Jeffrey Field since my undergraduate days—for a lot of reasons, it remains one of my favorite spots on campus—I’d catch most of the men’s and women’s games even if the teams were mediocre. Happily, they’re terrific, and Warming and Walsh have a lot to do with that. Being able to pick their brains on this trip—even as James Franklin jokingly yells at us to take all the soccer talk to the other end of the bus—has only clarified why they’re both so good at what they do.

From Warming, it’s insights into the strangely adversarial relationship between Major League Soccer and the college game, and anecdotes about how soccer savvy today’s young players are about the international game. From Walsh, it’s insider knowledge about the challenges of the recruiting process and the workings of the national team set-up. From both of them, it’s good humor and an appreciation (or tolerance, at least) for a passionate soccer fan who can’t get enough of hearing all they know.

As cool as it’s been, I can say I haven’t been surprised. A couple of years ago, I sat in on a class for area soccer coaches looking to add a certificate to their resume: It started with an X’s and O’s session with Warming, who previewed that night’s game with Indiana, arguably the Lions’ biggest regular-season match. He detailed key matchups against the Hoosiers, told us certain players’ tendencies to keep an eye on, and explained the high-tech video system the program uses to fine-tune its scouting and game prep.

After watching the first half of the match at Jeffrey Field, we were joined in the bleachers by Walsh—she was in the midst of her own season, remember—who proceeded to give us an incredibly detailed halftime breakdown of what was and wasn’t working for each side. Based on her knowledge, you’d have thought she was coaching one of these teams, not running a top-10 women’s program of her own.

In both cases, these coaches gave generously of their time, showed off a remarkably thorough understanding of their sport, and conveyed that knowledge in a way that illuminated the game for all of us. Sitting across from them this week on the bus, I’ve been lucky to soak up more of that soccer intelligence. It’s been a blast.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

From the Magazine: Aaron Russell

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The men’s volleyball team’s season ended last Thursday with a five-set loss to top-seeded (and eventual champ) Loyola Chicago in the national semifinals. It was the 16th straight Final Four trip for the Nittany Lions, who fell two wins short of the program’s third NCAA championship. For junior outside hitter Aaron Russell, it marked the end of one of the finest individual seasons in Penn State history.

Russell is the featured athlete in our May/June issue, which most Alumni Association members should have received in the past few days. We chose Russell because, even before he earned first-team All-America honors this spring, it was clear he was the guy who made the Nittany Lions go. He was named EIVA Player of the Year as a sophomore (an honor he repeated this season), thanks to team highs of 366 kills and 40 service aces. As a junior this spring, he eclipsed both of those totals, leading the Lions with 421 kills and 69 aces.

Having arrived on campus as a middle blocker—at 6-foot-9, that seems at a glance his most logical position—Russell succeeded not in spite of the switch to outside hitter, but largely because of it. Longtime Penn State coach Mark Pavlik deserves some credit for that. “I was a middle blocker ever since I started playing, but Pav told me that even when he recruited me, he saw me as an outside hitter because of my athletic ability and how I can move,” Russell says. “Switching to another position, I kind of had to learn the game all over again. It kept it interesting for me, kind of helped me from getting burned out.”

Burn out might’ve been a real issue for a kid who’s been playing virtually his whole life. Volleyball very much runs in the Russell family genes: Aaron’s father, Stewart Russell ’86, played for the Lions, and Aaron’s brother Peter, a 6-foot-5 senior outside hitter, just wrapped up his Penn State career. Stew got both boys playing the sport at an early age, and once Peter signed with the Lions out of high school, it figured Aaron would follow suit. But after growing up in Maryland and always following the family path, Aaron thought hard about trying something new. “I kind of wanted to do my own thing,” he says. He boiled his college choices down to Penn State and UC-Irvine, another national power, but an official visit to Happy Valley sealed the decision: “I loved it here.”

He’ll be back for one final season next year, without his brother but with international experience (he played with the U.S. junior national team in Turkey last summer) and the lessons learned by almost reaching his ultimate goal this spring. The 2015 national championship will be played at Stanford, meaning the guy who almost played his college ball in California will get one last chance to show those guys on the West Coast what they’re missing.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

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