Canadian-Born Players Lead the way in Penn State’s Victory over Rutgers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Quarterback Christian Veilleux is cool and collected by nature, but Saturday’s affair required every ounce of the freshman’s calm demeanor.
The Ottawa, Ontario, native was pressed into action in Penn State’s 28-0 win over Rutgers due to redshirt senior Sean Clifford coming down with illness. He entered after Clifford’s ineffective start, in which he completed just two of eight passes for 23 yards.
In over three quarters of playing time, Veilleux tossed three touchdown passes and completed 15 of his 24 attempts for 235 yards. His solid performance came as no surprise to veteran players like fifth-year senior Jaquan Brisker.
“You see some freshmen that come in and just joke around, but he comes in with a plan,” Brisker said. “They threw him in there and he showed that he was ready for the opportunity.”
With the game scoreless late in the second quarter, Veilleux led the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown drive.
Faced with a third and goal from the Rutgers 8-yard line, Veilleux found Jahan Dotson to open up the Nittany Lions’ scoring and get the Nazareth, Pennsylvania, native his 10th touchdown grab of the season.
“He did a great job, rolled out, created some space and delivered that ball in time in the perfect place,” Dotson said. “That’s just a testament to who he is, very poised, very calm and controlled.”
Veilleux was hardly the only player from north of the border who stood out in Penn State’s Senior Day and regular-season home finale. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Malick Meiga had just one catch on the afternoon, but it was an impactful one, as he galloped 67 yards for his first career touchdown.
Parker Washington, who hauled in a team-high six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown of his own, was ecstatic about his roommate Meiga’s performance.
“I was so excited for him when he made that play today,” Washington said. “I know he’ll be able to do that more in the future.”
Both Veilleux and Meiga have been limited to reserve roles this fall, but Saturday they performed like seasoned vets.
Another one of Penn State’s six Canadians on roster that delivered a stellar performance was safety-turned-linebacker Jonathan Sutherland. A more frequent contributor on the blue and white’s special teams units, due to a team-wide outbreak of the flu, Sutherland was asked to start at linebacker.
In his unfamiliar role, Sutherland picked off Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt for the sole turnover of the game. Typically a positional teammate of Brisker’s, Sutherland drew the appreciation of the Nittany Lions’ leading tackler against the Scarlet Knights.
“He did an amazing job, especially playing a new position,” Brisker said. “He’s very unselfish. Coach asked him to play linebacker today and he didn’t even hesitate. He just played linebacker and he did a great job.”
James Franklin’s program has six Canadians on roster, including one of the Nittany Lions’ top tacklers in linebacker/defensive end hybrid Jesse Luketa.
Recruiting players from north of the border has become a priority for Franklin, and their talents were on full display in Penn State’s seventh win of the 2021 campaign.
For more local players like Dotson, who hails from just a few hours driving away from University Park, the commitment Canadian-born players have does not go unnoticed.
“It’s pretty cool to see those guys flourish, because I know the sacrifices those guys made to be able to play over here in the States,” Dotson said. “They work twice as hard as we do to get an opportunity to come over here and play. I’m really proud of those guys, happy for those guys.”
Though Sutherland’s career donning the blue and white at Beaver Stadium may have come to a close with the culmination of Senior Day, he understands the importance of not only him, but his fellow Canadians showing out in Big Ten matchups.
“There’s a bunch of guys back in Canada who’d die to be in the position we’re in,” Sutherland said. “Just taking full advantage of it is definitely what we’ve been doing.”
The youth football community in Canada is tight knit and Sutherland said he and other Canadians have long trained together. Players like him and tight end Theo Johnson have been frequent contributors throughout the season.
For Sutherland, though, he hopes having fellow Canadians like Veilleux and Meiga stand out will motivate more players from his homeland to journey south for collegiate careers. To have them all performing well simultaneously was a welcome sign in Sutherland’s final go-around at Beaver Stadium.
“To see all the hard work pay off and all the sacrifices,” Sutherland said, “it was a great thing to see.”
Andrew Destin is a fourth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.