Jonathan Sutherland | A culture driver for Penn State football

Story posted November 26, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Dylan Price

Culture driver, tone setter and leader.

All the following descriptors have been used to illustrate sixth-year senior Jonathan Sutherland, who will play his final snaps in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Sutherland came to Happy Valley in 2017, and he’s one of only two four-time captains in Penn State history, alongside Sean Clifford.

Sutherland underwent a position change and like so many collegiate athletes, dealt with a pandemic overhauling a portion of his college experience.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Ontario native, but he’s found success in stability and consistency with the Nittany Lions.

His consistency as a player is something the blue and white have relied upon for six years, but the consistency within his character earned him the captaincy in 2019.

Teammate and fellow senior Ji’Ayir Brown has played with Sutherland in lockstep, both in the secondary and on defense the past three seasons.

“This guy is just as consistent as James Franklin. I think he models the core values of the team. He’s just a hell of a friend. A hell of a player. A hell of a leader,” said Brown.

Over his six campaigns, Sutherland has played 56 games and been an ironman for the Nittany Lions, playing time at safety, linebacker and special teams.

When coach James Franklin was asked about Sutherland, he couldn’t stop gushing about his adulation for the special team's captain.

“He's been phenomenal…he’s done things the right way since he arrived on campus, both on and off the field,” said Franklin. “He's just done it all the right way.”

Sutherland has always been admired by fellow players and coaches, even dating back to his high school days.

En route to an Interstate Athletic Conference title in his senior year at Episcopal High School, coach Panos Voulgaris named Sutherland a captain of the 8-1 Maroon.

Voulgaris described his former captain as one of the most special players he ever had the privilege to coach.

“He was the first one at workouts or practice and the last to leave. He set the example with his work ethic, drive, and intensity,” said Voulgaris. “He was unparalleled.”

Voulgaris expanded on this by delving into the way Sutherland commanded not just his teammates' attention but even the attention of the coaching staff.

“He knew what he wanted to accomplish and always had the desire to play at the highest level,” Voulgaris said. “His teammates and coaches were usually in awe of how he never deviated from the intensity in his approach.”

Sutherland has had a rotating supporting cast on special teams, and after making the switch from safety to linebacker last season, he now represents a veteran presence in a linebacker room that features stout underclassmen sophomore Curtis Jacobs and freshman Abdul Carter.

The converted hopes for the two of them and the other linebackers, he was able to pass down his recipe for success.

“Preparation, having a routine and really being dedicated to the process,” said Sutherland.

These crucial undertones of Sutherland’s success didn’t go unnoticed beyond being named captain.

The sixth-year senior’s impact earned him the Bob Mitinger Memorial Award in 2020, an award given to a player who “exhibits courage, character and social responsibility.”

Sutherland’s departure leaves massive shoes to fill, and it also leaves an empty jersey. The number zero jersey was created for him and has now been anointed as the representation of the special team's captain.

Sutherland has keyed in on at least two guys who could fill that void.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys, but two that just stick out to me right away are Dom DeLuca, a special teams ace and Tyler Warren,” said Sutherland.

Now Sutherland has begun to prepare for life beyond Happy Valley as he reflects on his career and where he started. He was asked what advice he would give himself if he could do it again.

“Don't focus on the outcome, but trust the process and be the best teammate you can be,” said Sutherland.

For Sutherland, consistency in his character has set him up with options galore as he departs University Park, but one option that intrigues him is coaching.

The Ontario, Canada, native is currently completing his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, a track that might just set him up to don a headset at some point.

“One of the main reasons I decided to pursue it was that several coaches and GAs in the program were in that program,” Sutherland said. “They told me about it, and I know it’s equipping me to teach and be a leader.”

If he decides to pursue a career in coaching, it’s something his former head coach believes would be suited for him.
“I would hire Jonathan in a second if he wants to be a coach,”  Voulgaris said. “It's that simple.”

Sutherland has just one game left inside Beaver Stadium and will look to wrap up his Penn State career with a bow by way of a victory over the rival Michigan State Spartans in the Land Grant Trophy Game on Saturday.

For Sutherland, his story is far from over, but as his time with the blue and white winds down, he mentioned beyond the inevitable stamp he’s left on the field, he hopes his legacy in the locker room speaks for itself.

“I hope people looking back would say, he's a guy that you would want in your locker room, he's a guy that cares and loves his teammates and would make sacrifices for the benefit of everyone,” Sutherland said.

Dylan Price is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email