Penn State freshmen must earn their stripes - on their helmets

Penn State safety Nick Scott stopping Pitt’s Quadree Henderson on Saturday. As a captain, Scott has awarded helmet stripes to freshmen.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.  —  If you look closely during Penn State’s practice, a few players don’t have stripes on their helmets while the rest of the team does. This is because of a new system put in place that requires freshmen to earn their stripes.

How do they earn it?

“It’s everything,” coach James Franklin said. “It’s how respectful they are of the senior players, how coachable. Are they going to class consistently? Are they working hard in the weight room? It’s everything.”

Of course, on game day, all helmets have stripes. But in practice, players stand out until they earn one.

Franklin has wanted to do something like this since he got to Penn State in 2014. He got the idea from a book he read but realized it wouldn’t be feasible to take stripes away from the veterans and make them earn them back. So he waited a few years and had a discussion with the coaching staff to implement the system this offseason.

But he isn’t in charge of it. Veteran players and position coaches make the calls. Because of this, Franklin can’t put a number on how many freshmen have earned their stripes, but he estimates six or seven.

One of those players earned it after practice Wednesday: offensive lineman Des Holmes.

When a player finally earns his stripe, the team may choose to celebrate in the position room or make a big deal at the end of practice. It was the latter for Holmes.

Captain Nick Scott gave safety Jonathan Sutherland his stripe before the Week 1 matchup against Akron.

“He picked up the defense pretty fast,” Scott said. “He’s been playing fast with a lot of confidence, so we gave him his stripe. ‘Cause that’s what we really want to see. We want to see guys who want to be here, who are learning and developing their game.”