O Captain, My Captain: Penn State Heads Into 2022 Season with Veteran Leaders At The Helm
As Penn State’s 2022 team captain announcement arrived last week, some new leaders emerge for Nittany Lions while others resume their roles.
Ahead of the team’s season-opening matchup with Purdue, quarterback Sean Clifford, hybrid linebacker Jonathan Sutherland, defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, safety Ji’Ayir Brown, center Juice Scruggs and long-snapper Chris Stoll are the six players who will be donning the ‘C’ for the Nittany Lions.
Due to the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted all players because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clifford and Sutherland headline 2022’s captain class as sixth-year seniors. The pair becomes the first four-time team captains in Penn State history.
“It’s an honor from my teammates and coaches,” Sutherland said. “My leadership has kind of developed as I really started off just trying to lead by example, but throughout the years, I find myself having more of a voice on the team to help the younger guys as they go through their transition.”
However, the fact that the two are recurrent captains doesn’t mean it was a given. The captain title must be something that’s earned each and every day.
“Just because you’re elected captain one year, doesn’t mean the next is guaranteed at all,” Sutherland said. “You still have to be a leader and lead by example and display leadership qualities to your teammates for them to feel confident enough to elect you as captain [again].”
Mustipher is the sole other Nittany Lion resuming his role as a captain, as he will wear the patch for a second consecutive year. Mustipher plans to be back on the field for the start of 2022 after missing the latter half of 2021 due to a knee injury where the defense sorely missed his presence.
There are three Nittany Lions who hold the title of captain for the first time ever in blue and white - Brown, Scruggs and Stoll - who all earn the honor in their red-shirt senior season.
Brown stepped up in a big way on the back end for the Nittany Lions in 2021. He was tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions (6) and received a third-team All-Big Ten selection to compliment his efforts.
“I never envisioned how I was going to get here, what I was going to get done, what kind of stuff I was going to accomplish… I just knew I was going to get here one day, but I never [thought about] the team captain stuff,” Brown said. “I'm very appreciative of everything because it's like ‘wow, man’, I went through a lot growing up as a kid and you get to see how my story is unfolding. It's amazing to see.”
Scruggs feels somewhat similar. Scruggs came back from a back injury suffered in a scary car accident early in his Penn State career, and since has become an important piece in the trenches for the Nittany Lions after starting all 13 games in 2021. Now, he aims to build off of how far he’s come in a captain role.
“It’s definitely a great honor to have the respect from your peers, the people on the team, the coaching staff and everybody that's involved with Penn State,” Scruggs said. “[I can’t even fathom it] to be honest with you… where I was at to where I am now, it's just a blessing.”
Chris Stoll, the final member of Penn State’s 2022 captain crew, has started 35 career games at his position and is a fundamental reason that Penn State has put together some of the best punting units in the country the last few years.
The Nittany Lions will be led into battle by their captains for the first time in the 2022 campaign against Purdue on Sept. 1. in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Zach Donaldson is a fifth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.