by Nate Bauer
What’s past, of course, is prologue:
After graduating from Penn State in August 2005, I had planned to leave my apartment at 110 E. Hamilton Ave. in State College and return to live with my parents before finding work. Having earned a degree in journalism with an emphasis in sports, more quickly than I’d anticipated, few other options seemed to exist.
Naive and somewhat aloof at 21 years old, I was confident that, while previous internships hadn’t yet produced a full-time opportunity, soon enough, one would land in my lap. An email from Penn State’s College of Communications listserv detailing an internship opening at Blue White Illustrated proved my instinct correct.
Studying up on the long-time Penn State sports publication and website, my correspondence with Blue White Illustrated led to an interview scheduled for the next day. Hot and humid, typical of State College this time of year, I took a bus to BWI’s Cato Park offices in the only suit I owned, black and woolen, a remnant of the high school dances I’d attended four years prior.
Through the double doors, up the stairs, and into the office, at this point sweating profusely, tie loosened, top collar unbuttoned but of no help, I was met by a vision of my future self. Dressed in flip-flops, a t-shirt, and shorts, my interviewer asked simply if I’d had any experience writing and if I followed Penn State football. Answering affirmatively in each case, I surely didn’t know it at the time, but I’d landed the gig that would shape my life in every way moving forward.
I’m now in my 17th season covering the Penn State football program as the senior editor at Blue White Illustrated. As to what that entails, the golf–course answer is fairly simple, particularly in an audience of Nittany Lions fans: Yes, I’ve made a career—a paid one, at that—of watching and commenting on Penn State football.
Though somewhat less sexy, the reality is that the title involves a lot of everything. Helping to direct and work with a staff of three other full-time writers, the responsibilities are multiple: functionally operate an independent Penn State sports website with millions of page views monthly and thousands of paid subscribers, write feature stories and breaking news updates daily, constantly cultivate sources and maintain relationships throughout the entire Penn State community, and in no small regard, fill in the gaps of photography, videography, editing, and advertising, as they are necessary.
The football (and men’s basketball, my two primary beats) is the fun part, though.
Beginning my career at the tail end of Joe Paterno’s tenure at Penn State, through the brief Bill O’Brien years, and onto James Franklin’s tenure, now in year eight, I’ve been witness to virtually every game, home and away, since 2005. That includes the brightest moments for the program (2005, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2017 seasons all come to mind) and, certainly familiar to this community, some of its worst moments, on the field and off.
Assuming an audience of interested Penn State fans here, I’ll offer my thoughts on which category the upcoming 2021 campaign might fall into. Coming off the disappointment of 2020, one in which the program was ravaged by the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, my gauge, for what it’s worth, is that James Franklin and the program are poised for a bounce back. Saddled by a sequence of events that could put Murphy’s Law to the test, Penn State’s loss of key personnel to opt-out, injury, and other misfortune proved to exacerbate the already substantial difficulties of trying to compete in a COVID-19 world.
Not that those days have entirely passed, but the ability of Franklin and the program to adjust and move forward, in some ways, already took place last season by managing to bounce back from an 0-5 start to produce a 4-5 finish. The result of those setbacks, with much of the same personnel returning this season, is scar tissue that often proves beneficial when maturation and development are key elements dictating future success.
In quarterback Sean Clifford, at positions all over the field, and maybe most notably in Franklin himself, Penn State seems to have put its past shortcomings behind it. Whether or not the Nittany Lions are able to navigate a difficult 2021 schedule, however, remains another story.
Set to travel to Wisconsin to open the season on Sept. 4, Penn State must also face SEC mainstay Auburn at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 18, and travel to two of the hardest road venues in the Big Ten in Iowa and Ohio State.
As I’ve done for nearly two full decades now, I’ll be watching, commenting, and following every step along the way.
About the author: Nate Bauer returned to the Highlands when he moved to his Locust Lane home where he lives with his wife Christina and two children. He can be seen on his front porch plying his trade on his laptop.