HAPPY VALLEY (AP) – Former Penn State lettermen Troy Drayton and Reggie Givens were in the middle of a football camp in Florida when someone shouted out to Givens: “Hey! Check your phone.”
Looking down, Givens saw a group chat with former Penn State players on the news of the day: Penn State football announced it would remove player names from the backs of its jerseys this season — returning a tradition many alumni never wanted to see go away.
“I had goosebumps reading that message. ... Words can’t describe how this made me feel,” Givens said. “To say, ‘It made my day,’ is not strong enough.
“This predates everyone with the program. This was not a Joe (Paterno) thing. It’s a Penn State thing.”
Starting in 2012, then-Penn State coach Bill O’Brien honored the players who stayed during NCAA sanctions by placing the year “2012” among the list of undefeated and conference championship teams displayed inside Beaver Stadium. O’Brien also placed players’ names on the back of Penn State jerseys.
“Their commitment will never be forgotten,” Penn State coach James Franklin said in a statement Thursday.
“However, it’s time we bring back the tradition that represented Penn State for 125 years. We are a strong family, playing for one goal, one university and there is only one name that truly matters, Penn State.”
The move is incorporated in the team’s branding campaign for 2015. Penn State’s athletics website, GoPSUSports.com , opened Thursday with the picture of two players sitting on a bench with no-name jerseys and the phrase, “There’s only one name that matters.” The commemorative poster for the season also features the phrase, “Black Shoes. Basic Blues. No Names. All Game.”
Givens, who started at linebacker as a true freshman and had a standout performance as a senior in the 1992 Fiesta Bowl, called the move to put names on the players’ jerseys “heartbreaking.”
Steel-High graduate Troy Drayton, an All-American tight end at Penn State in 1992, had felt so strongly against the uniform change in 2012 that he stopped watching games.
“Don’t mess with the uniforms,” Drayton said. “That’s part of the reason why you go to Penn State. That’s why you want to play Penn State football. People need to cherish those traditions. They were put in place for a reason.”
“It was awkward,” Givens said about watching games since the uniform change.
With the no-name jersey tradition returned, Drayton will once again watch games.
“Coach Franklin made the right decision,” he said. “Coach Franklin truly understands Penn State and its traditions. I think he allowed us (the alumni) to have a voice.
“This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time — especially dealing with Penn State football.”
Central York graduate and former Penn State defensive lineman Kyle Baublitz was one of those players whose career included both styles of jerseys, playing with and without his name on the back. He enrolled in January 2010 and remained at the school through the sanctions.
Baublitz admits he liked the initial change to place names on the back of jerseys. But as an alumni, he wanted the team to go back to its long-standing tradition of no-name jerseys. Stripping away the names felt more natural, in the way players were taught not to show off and put themselves above the program.
“Thinking about Joe, he was all about family and team, and this is just one example of that,” Baublitz said. “It never had to do with the individual, it’s about everyone’s contribution to the team.”
When he learned about the move to resume the tradition: “I had a smile on my face,” Baublitz said.
His sentiments echoed Penn State senior offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro.
“I understood the history that surrounded our program and the basic whites and blues,” Mangiro said in a statement. “I was thankful for Coach O’Brien to make that tough decision, and I felt that it was very appropriate at that time. But, that was then and this is now. ... It is time for us to get back to our traditions.”
Givens added: “I think Joe is up there smiling.”