"I remember shaking their hands when they came out of the tunnel and the looks in their eyes, and there are a lot of kids with emotions, because they know that this is the last time they're going to play on that field," O'Brien said of last season's Senior Day. " . . . I think what we'll do is introduce them, go back in the locker room and get refocused on the game."
A year ago, the Nittany Lions capped an 8-4 campaign with a memorable, overtime victory against Wisconsin on Senior Day. "2012" was placed on the east interior façade before the dramatic win, and though the only other years on the wall are ones in which Penn State won championships, last season's players were recognized for their commitment to the school following the NCAA sanctions against the school after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The 2012 seniors - highlighted by Michael Mauti, Matt McGloin, Michael Zordich, Jordan Hill and others - were beloved in Happy Valley. And at his weekly news conference yesterday, O'Brien said, "Ten years from now, when you look back on the last two senior classes, they'll be an important part of Penn State football history."
"[The 2013 class] stuck with this university, they stuck with this program, and they didn't have to after the sanctions came out," O'Brien added. "I think that says it all about this class."
Penn State yesterday revealed the full list of players who will be honored this weekend, and it includes three players - offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, wide receiver Alex Kenney and defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz - who all have been in the program for at least 4 years, but have eligibility remaining. The coach said he talked with all of the players about their futures, but wanted to keep those talks between him and the individual player.
Tight end Matt Lehman, a fifth-year player who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season, also will be announced to the crowd Saturday. Lehman has applied for a sixth year of eligibility, though O'Brien said the team has not heard back about whether it was accepted.
Out of the 17 seniors, nine have started most of the season, including center Ty Howle, who has worked all season with true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Howle said playing as an underclassman on Senior Day provided extra motivation.
"We play for each other," Howle said. "Me, I want to get this win for the seniors and the coaching staff, but I want to get this win for the younger guys, as well. They're the future, they're the ones who keep building upon these experiences, and I'm excited to see how it goes."
Once the senior ceremony ends, the Lions will see a Nebraska team without injured quarterback Taylor Martinez (foot), but one that features the Big Ten's leading rusher, Ameer Abdullah, who averages 133.6 yards per game.
"A player of his caliber, it's really hard to stop a player that is explosive as he is," Penn State senior safety Malcolm Willis said. "We just have to try to contain him. We have to limit the things he can do and change the looks up. We have to make sure we're a very good tackling team come Saturday."
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