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‘Speechless’: Penn State football standouts react to hearing their names called in NFL Draft

After a run on Nittany Lions in the NFL Draft Friday, several former Penn State football players reacted to finding out their new teams.



Penn State football, James Franklin,
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) and offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (70) greet fans and head coach James Franklin in the end of the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes of the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing opening round, there was a run on Penn State Nittany Lions in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft. With four selections on Friday night, Penn State football joined USC and LSU as the only programs to have a player picked in one of the first three rounds of the NFL Draft for 18 consecutive years. While the analysis in the coming days will focus on player skillsets, scheme fits, draft steals, and potential busts, the human element of the NFL Draft is often quickly lost. Fortunately, we were able to capture a small glimpse of what it was like for several former Nittany Lions on the most transformational night of their lives.

Despite the disappointment, Porter expresses gratitude for coming home

Like every year, the 2023 NFL Draft has had many twists and turns through three rounds. However, several Nittany Lions were front and center for some of the most surprising moments this year.

One of the most stunning developments from the first round was the omission of Joey Porter Jr., who was widely expected to be a mid-round pick. The Pittsburgh Steelers, where Porter’s father played, were seen as a no-brainer landing spot for the cornerback to open the second round. However, there was speculation throughout Friday about whether the Steelers would trade the pick, perpetuating Porter’s fall.

But ultimately, the Steelers brought the North Allegheny High School prospect home. Porter, who was already back in Pittsburgh, met with the Steelers’ media last night and expressed what the wait was like. “After last night, I was like, anything can happen with this draft,” Porter said. “When they were on the clock and then the time was winding down, I was like, ‘Dang, they might not get me.’ But then I saw that 412 number pop up, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m coming home.'”

Scruggs describes shock with early NFL Draft selection

On the other end of the spectrum is Juice Scruggs. Scruggs was expected to be drafted on Friday night. But almost no one thought he would jump up into the second round, where he was picked No. 62 overall by the Houston Texans.

After his selection, Scruggs joined us for a media Zoom call, where he fought back tears, trying to express what the moment meant to him. “…the moment, I can’t describe it,” he told us. “It’s everything I thought it would be and more.”

Scruggs, who was with his family, described what getting the call was like and his thoughts on his next steps with the Texans. “I was just anxious all day, to be honest…I saw that Houston number pop up on my phone, and my heart just started racing,” he said. “It’s just kind of like a speechless moment. I’m just ready to get to work.”

Amid the jubilation, Scruggs had the chance to connect with Penn State offensive line coach Phil Trautwein. Trautwein, who joined the staff in 2020, has elevated the offensive line play in Happy Valley. Scruggs attributed much of his second-round surprise selection to his former coach. “…it [the call with Trautwein] was emotional because he knew the goals that I had,” Scruggs said. “We put in a lot of work, a lot of hard times. It wasn’t always easy…He was just proud of me. I told him I’m thankful for everything he did… He’s a big reason why I’m going in the second round.”

Other Penn State football standouts find their new homes

Although they chose to have more private moments, we did get to see some of the reactions for Brenton Strange and Ji’Ayir Brown, who also went off the board Friday night.

Strange was the first of back-to-back picks for Penn State, going one spot before Scruggs with the 61st pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Shortly after his selection, Jacksonville released a short video where Strange discussed how he could be a dangerous weapon for Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The final pick of the night for Penn State football was Brown, who went in the middle of the third round to the San Francisco 49ers. Surprisingly falling into the third round, Brown could become one of the steals of the draft. San Francisco apparently felt the same way, as 49ers General Manager John Lynch told Brown that the team traded up in the third round to select him. The 49ers released the heartwarming video of when Brown found out he was heading out west.

With one more day to go, several more Nittany Lions will likely find new homes this weekend. The NFL Draft resumes Saturday, with the fourth round starting at noon.

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A third-generation Penn Stater, Matt is Editor-in-Chief for Basic Blues Nation, co-host of the podcast PSU Tailgate Talk, and a credentialed member of the Penn State football media. Matt also works as a staffer in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Matt lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and a small army of pets.