STATE COLLEGE — Blake Gillikin and Garrett Taylor stood on the turf field as night fell on Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
Their game against Rutgers was over, but the two Nittany Lions weren’t quite ready to leave. They, along with Penn State’s 14 other seniors, wanted to soak in their last minutes on their home field.
Leading up to the game, several members of the senior class shared their experiences and discussed their legacies with the program. All of those emotions and feelings culminated on Saturday.
“It’s hard not to think about it throughout the season, but you kind of keep pushing it off,” Gillikin said. “Indiana was kind of weird because I knew the next time I was here would be the last time. Probably this week was the toughest part, especially on the bus ride over here just soaking the whole scene in for the last time.”
Penn State’s senior class won its 41st game on Saturday. Furthermore, it finished its final season with a perfect 7-0 home record at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State senior offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez pondered leaving early last season but ultimately decided to return to school for his fourth year. On Tuesday, Penn State coach James Franklin recalled meeting with Gonzalez, his parents and even his girlfriend last summer to weigh the pros and cons of Gonzalez's looming decision.
Gonzalez’s message to Penn State’s returning players late Saturday evening was simple. He told me it felt like just yesterday that he arrived in Happy Valley.
“Just appreciate everything,” Gonzalez said. “Appreciate every little thing, even the workouts. As hard as they are, as tough as they are, appreciate the process. Appreciate being here, because it flies. Just the other day, I felt like I was a freshman getting here in the summer.”
Penn State’s seniors have achieved 41 wins, a feat only four other classes in Penn State history (1997, 1996, 1975 and 1974) have accomplished. The Nittany Lions also secured a 10-win season for the third time in four years.
“We got something really special here,” Franklin said. “Our kids believe that. You see it in the locker room, you feel it in the locker room. Those guys have given a lot to this community, they’ve given a lot to this university. I’m also really proud because you think of how our guys have conducted themselves off the field. You think about them in the classroom, as well.”
The seniors’ legacy isn’t exclusive to only winning games. I spoke with wide receiver Jahan Dotson, a sophomore, following the win. I asked him about the senior class' impact on the underclassmen, and which traits they leave behind that will remain with the program.
“The way that these guys prepare is just impeccable," Dotson said. "Just to see these guys come in every day, the way they work and take care of their bodies. I learned a lot from those guys, and have just taken it all in.”
The bonds shared between Penn State’s senior class were forged years ago and strengthened over time, through success and adversity, through wins and losses.
Taylor was one of the last seniors to leave the field this weekend. After the game, he offered a glimpse into what the last four years have meant to him.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Taylor said. “We’ve put a lot of time and a lot of hard work in, and we all know that, and I think that makes us a lot closer. It’s been really special to have this group of guys to go through the experience with, and to have the success that we’ve had over the last couple of years has been awesome.”