Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A fairytale ending for Penn State's Jake Fagnano

Fagnano, perhaps, tells the story of these 2012 Lions: Overlooked, spurned, resilient.

A fairytale ending for Penn State's Jake Fagnano


He had a 94 mile per hour fastball, and his father was drafted by the Phillies. Jake Fagnano could have been a great baseball player -- but football was his dream. Penn State football, more specifically.

"He'll probably get mad at me," coach Bill O'Brien said, "but when he was growing up, if Penn State lost on Saturday he was in tears in his bedroom and he was four, five, six years old."

So what Fagnano did on Saturday -- in his final collegiate game -- was the stuff of fairytales. 

It was a career day for the safety: five tackles and a deflected pass. But the play he'll remember, probably for the rest of his life, was one of the key moments that helped seal the Nittany Lions' 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin. He intercepted a fourth-down pass in the end zone in a fourth quarter Badgers drive. Fagnano said Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips was giving Penn State's defense a couple reads that they liked, so they decided to play some man. On that play, he made the correct read.

"I guess in a way [the interception] describes my journey through Penn State," said Fagnano, who was grinning throughout his entire post-game interview. "I'm a Central Pennsylvania guy, dreaming of playing here my whole life."

Fagnano joined the Lions as a walk-on. Saturday was his second career start. Entering this season, he had 14 career tackles and spent more time in the trainers' room with injuries than on the practice field. Fagnano, perhaps, tells the story of these 2012 Lions: Overlooked, spurned, resilient.

"I've had bumps and bruises along the way," Fagnano said. "Things went my way, and things didn't. This interception just tops all the hard work and everything I put in."

Said defensive coordinator Ted Roof: "He made a big play in a big ball game in a big season tonight. That's what you hope for from guys who keep fightinig."

Fagnano's play -- Fagnano's career -- will likely be used as a recruiting pitch for the Penn State coaching staff over the next few seasons as they work through NCAA scholarship restrictions. They need guys like Fagnano willing to wak on, work hard and know results like this are possible.

"You have to work a litte bit harder," Fagnano said. "But I tell you, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I feel a lot of what happened this year is because of where I've come from and the things I had to endure - to earn a scholarship rather than have it handed to me. Looking back, I'm glad it happened that way."

-Emily Kaplan

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About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 30 years, covering covering Penn State football, Villanova basketball and other college sports, along with golf and the Penn Relays. This is his seventh season on The Inquirer’s Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976-84.

Joining Joe this season is Erin McCarthy, an intern for The Inquirer and a junior at Penn State majoring in print and digital journalism. This is Erin's first season on the Penn State football beat. She previously spent two summers as an Inquirer summer intern on the Pennsylvania and South Jersey desks. She is also an editor for the Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper. A Delaware County native, Erin graduated from Episcopal Academy.

Reach Joe at jjuliano@phillynews.com.

Joe Juliano Inquirer Staff Writer
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