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The odd relationship between NIL, children’s books, and Penn State football

Ultimately, these books are about so much more than just NIL for Penn State football. They’re a way to connect with the community.



ep 24, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) looks down the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Central Michigan 33-14. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

You just don’t bring up some topics without expecting a hearty discussion. It would be best if you never mentioned politics at the dinner table. You probably shouldn’t ask, “so when are you two going to have a baby?”. And you probably shouldn’t bring up name, image, and likeness (NIL) when discussing college football unless you’re prepared for a rowdy debate.

As with most controversial subjects, the loudest voices with NIL exist on the opposite ends of the spectrum. According to these factions, you either support the complete professionalization of college athletics, or you’re anti-athlete.

Those with an opinion somewhere in between have likely been pulled back and forth since NIL became legal last summer. For every harmless car deal or tweet supporting a local restaurant, swirling rumors of signing bonuses and last-minute deals make recruiting season feel like NFL free agency.

But, lost in the uproar of chaos and indignation, some athletes use their platforms for purposes beyond themselves. For example, this fall, Nittany Lion standouts Drew Allar and Landon Tengwall collaborated with an upstart publishing company to write children’s books to give back to their communities.

Exit 56 Publications enters the fray of NIL

After 40 years with IBM, Andrew Vodopia was looking for a way to stay busy in retirement. Vodopia cherishes reading with his grandchildren, so he began to explore how to make children’s books. Vodopia found these books are primarily self-published and represented a perfect avenue for turning a passion into something more.

At roughly the same time, the NCAA was adopting policies to allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness. Vodopia said his son approached him about the change in NCAA rules. The new landscape was not only a potentially untapped market but also provided an opportunity for young athletes to express themselves.

With that, Exit 56 Publications was created.

In the early days of NIL, Vodopia attempted to navigate the flurry of new guidelines and state laws just like everyone else.

Now, most schools have staff dedicated to NIL, who work with student-athletes to provide the contact information for businesses with future NIL opportunities. But, according to Vodopia, “back then, most schools wouldn’t even talk to you.”

However, Penn State was one of the few schools willing to provide the contact information of student-athletes for NIL opportunities from the onset. Vodopia said the athletic department is “definitely ahead of the game.”

While most inquiries received radio silence, Penn State quickly responded to Vodopia with an opportunity.

College athletes and children’s authors – where do they intersect? 

Initially, you may think any willing athlete might fit the mold to be the subject of a children’s book. However, the process can be somewhat selective.

First, Vodopia was looking for underclassmen athletes. This is because the drafting process for one of his books can take up to four months. By the time Vodopia publishes the books, older players with more name recognition could be on to their next phase of life.

Second, Vodopia wanted athletes who appeared to fit well with their teams. This decision was both idealistic and practical. Good teammates display many qualities that make sense for books geared toward children. In the transfer portal era, it also wouldn’t make sense to work with players who may leave their current schools before they could publish a book.

Early on, Vodopia had two players in mind at Penn State.

Landon Tengwall emerged as a mainstay on the Nittany Lion offensive line by the end of his freshman season. Beyond that, Tengwall fit the mold of Vodopia’s first successful book. Three linemen from Michigan published this story with Vodopia earlier this year,

Vodopia also identified highly touted incoming quarterback Drew Allar as a good fit for a children’s book. Actually, it was Penn State that first floated the idea of connecting Vodopia with Allar. “You know, we have the number one quarterback recruit in the country,” the university told him. Like most fans, Vodopia quickly recognized the 5-star quarterback as the future of the Penn State offense for the foreseeable future.

However, there also needs to be interest on the student-athlete side. Vodopia worked with Penn State to get in touch with Allar and Tengwall. Much to his delight, both responded saying they were on board to become some of Exit 56’s first athlete-authors.

From on the field to on the page

Working with Allar and Tengwall was immensely satisfying on a personal level, according to Vodopia.

To start, Vodopia worked with athletes and their families on a series of question-and-answer forums. These questions helped Vodopia understand Allar and Tengwall better. As a result, he could create stories allowing athletes to connect with fans. Typically, freshmen don’t speak with the media at Penn State, similar to most major programs.

Vodopia wanted to help fans understand what the players are like after they step off the field. For example, Allar shares that he is a frequent golfer who can drive the ball over 300 yards. Tengwall relives his days as a standout water polo player in his book.

Although he created the initial drafts of both books, most of the revisions and final drafting are a collaborative process between Vodopia, Allar and Tengwall, and their respective families. Vodopia describes his experience with both families as unbelievable. The humility of both families shocked him, despite Allar and Tengwall’s stature at Penn State.

While family connections tie him to Georgia Tech, writing these books has converted Vodopia to the Blue and White. He said, “it’s easy to be a Penn State fan now,” when speaking of his experience working with Allar and Tengwall.

Making an impact

In many ways, Tengwall’s “The Men Up Front” and Allar’s “The Men In Back” stand in contrast to the notions many have come to associate with NIL.

To start, the venture is about more than money. Allar announced this fall that his proceeds from the book will be used to support scholarships in his hometown Medina (Ohio) Youth Gridiron Football program. With these scholarships, children can participate regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

For Vodopia, it’s about producing something long-lasting. He expressed that Allar and Tengwall were creating something that would last a lifetime. Vodopia hopes that athletes can look back on their books with pride after their playing careers.

For Allar and Tengwall, the books will help them prepare for the future. Vodopia feels the books are outlets the athletes have used to build their professional profiles outside their budding football careers. The skills they have exposed themselves to during these books’ drafting, publishing, and marketing processes will remain useful long after Allar and Tengwall take off their helmets for the final time.

But most importantly, it’s about Allar’s 2nd-grade teacher, who sent Vodopia a note expressing her excitement to read about her former student. It’s about the dad who commented that his five-year-old son is now a Drew Allar fan after learning to read with his book. It’s about the meet-and-greet and autograph sessions Vodopia hopes he, Allar, Tengwall, and Penn State can collaborate to schedule in the coming months.

Ultimately, these books are about more than NIL. They are about connecting with fans. They allow Allar and Tengwall to interact with the Penn State faithful in a previously unthinkable way.

“Everyone gets something – it’s a win-win situation,” says Vodopia. “These books are really what NIL was supposed to be.” 


James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Two of Penn State’s biggest stars have used competition to drive their success on the field.



James Franklin, Penn State football, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Kalen King
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Iron sharpens iron is a common phrase used in football. Top players compete against each other to make each other better. The Penn State football team has had several battles that have led to individual growth. But one has stood out more than any other battle. That was between wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Kalen King. Two of Penn State’s biggest stars who used practice reps to get ready for this season. Now, early in 2023, they’re enjoying each other’s success according to James Franklin.

James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Wide receiver No. 1 and cornerback No. 1 had some heated exchanges this summer in practice. But at the end of the day, both players have become stronger because of that. James Franklin spoke about the relationship between Kalen King and KeAndre Lambert-Smith and how on Saturday night they shared their success.

Franklin said during his media availability on Tuesday, “One of the cool things that I thought happened on Saturday is after KeAndre [Lambert-Smith] scored his touchdown, on the fade ball, which I thought was a really big-time play. The first guy to meet him coming off the sideline was Kalen King. Kalen and KeAndre’s battles at practice are legendary. And I think that was a really good example, tip of the hat of Kalen seeing KeAndre being successful and KeAndre saying you’re a big part of that success because of how we go against each other every single day at practice. So, I thought that was a really cool moment for all of the players on the sideline to see.”

KeAndre Lambert-Smith has had a great 2023 season thus far

One of the biggest question marks heading into this season was who would be wide receiver No. 1 for the Penn State football team. KeAndre Lambert-Smith has answered that question with confidence. So far this season he has racked up 21 catches for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is someone that Drew Allar can certainly rely on.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Big Ten power rankings update: Penn State can’t jump Ohio State after wild weekend

Penn State football looked dominant on Saturday, but still can’t jump Ohio State in the latest Big Ten power rankings after a wild week in the conference.



Penn State Football, Big Ten Power Rankings, Ohio State
Sep 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day celebrates Chip Trayanum (19) game winning rushing touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the fourth quarter of their game at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was a wild weekend of college football in the Big Ten. We saw walkoff winners from Ohio State and Northwestern, while teams like Penn State football and Maryland cruised to dominant victories. Now that we’re fully into conference play, the pecking order becomes more delineated. How did Week 4 impact our newest Big Ten power rankings?

Updated Big Ten power rankings

After another exciting week of college football, some clear separation is happening in the Big Ten. The top tier of three teams is a clear upper echelon of the conference, with a bright red line separating them and the next level.

A second tier is forming and, for now, has two teams. But this could expand as we get deeper into the season. These two teams are not at the big boy level yet and have a few flaws, but have played fairly well to this point.

And below them is a lower third tier with everyone else. These teams could be ranked in any order, and it would be justified. All the teams in this third tier have major flaws. Unless they have a drastic turnaround, they certainly will not be reaching the elite part of the conference this year.

With all of that said, let’s get to this week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings.

No. 14 Indiana 2-2 (Last week 13)

The good news is the Hoosiers beat Akron. The bad news is they needed four overtimes to do it despite being 16-point favorites. The Zips had a chance to end it in regulation but missed a 32-yard field goal. The Hoosiers are still dropping to the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings this week.

It’s hard to see too many more victories on the schedule. The Terps are up next.

No. 13 Northwestern 2-2 (Last week 14)

The Wildcats pulled off a surprising victory over Minnesota Saturday night. They were down 31-10 at the start of the 4th quarter but scored three unanswered touchdowns to force overtime, where they won it in the extra frame.

Quarterback Ben Bryant had a career night with 396 yards and four touchdowns. It will be tougher to put up that kind of performance against Penn State football next week.

No. 12 Purdue 1-3 (Last week 11)

The Boilers could not stop Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen or the Badgers fast start on their way to a 38-17 home loss. Hudson Card rushed for a touchdown but threw two interceptions on a three-turnover night for Purdue.

This looks like it could be a rough first year for head coach Ryan Walters. He will face off against his old team, Illinois, next Saturday.

No. 11 Nebraska 2-2 (Last week 12)

Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg got the start again for the Huskers and was the team’s leading rusher with 157 yards. He had a touchdown on the ground and through the air as Nebraska defeated Louisiana Tech 28-14.

After an 0-2 start, the Huskers have recorded back-to-back victories. It may be short-lived as the Wolverines come to Lincoln this Saturday.

No. 10 Michigan State 2-2 (Last week 9)

The Spartans are in complete disarray on and off the field. Against Maryland, they turned over the ball five times on their way to a 31-9 defeat. They outgained the Terps in total yards, but the turnovers were absolute killers.

If Michigan State keeps it up, it may find itself even lower in the power rankings next week. But the Spartans travel to offensively challenged Iowa next Saturday night, so perhaps their fortunes will turn.

No. 9 Illinois 2-2 (Last week 10)

Illinois was down 10-0 to FAU after the first quarter and needed a comeback to defeat the Owls 23-17. After a rough outing against Penn State football the previous week, Luke Altmyer had a better day with over 300 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.

Squeaking by FAU does not breed much confidence, though. But with what is below the Illini in the power rankings, they actually get to move up a spot. The Illini are at Purdue next week.

No. 8 Rutgers 3-1 (Last week 8)

The Scarlet Knights scored on their opening drive against Michigan on a 69-yard pass from Gavin Wimsatt. That would be all their scoring as Michigan scored the final 31 points. There were plenty of missed opportunities for Rutgers, none more costly than a pick-six, with the Scarlet Knights driving in the third quarter only down 10 points. That pretty much sealed Rutgers’s fate.

This still may be a decent Rutgers team, but against its best competition so far, it failed. However, there is no shame in losing to the No. 2 team in the country, so they stay put in the rankings for the week. Up next is a sure-to-be win against FCS Wagner.

No. 7 Minnesota 2-2 (Last week 7)

Minnesota blew a three-score lead in the fourth quarter and then lost to Northwestern in overtime. Darius Taylor was a workhorse with nearly 200 yards on the ground and a touchdown. But the Gophers do not have a very good quarterback in Athan Kaliakmanis, and the defense gave up nearly 500 yards to a bad Wildcat offense.

This was a bad loss for Minnesota, but it is difficult to drop them even a spot because of what is behind them in the rankings. The Gophers will look to bounce back next week against Louisiana.

No. 6 Iowa 3-1 (Last week 5)

Brutal. Ugly. Pathetic. Those are just a few adjectives used to describe the Hawkeyes’ performance in a 31-0 shutout loss to Penn State football. They had 76 total yards and had an equal amount of first downs as they did turnovers with four each. 

There is a ton of finger-pointing from fans after a game like this, and they are primarily pointing at Kirk and Brian Ferentz. The good news for Iowa is that it likely will not face as good of a defense as it did with Penn State again. Iowa certainly can right the ship this week with a home game against Michigan State.

No. 5 Wisconsin 3-1 (Last week 6)

Wisconsin finally got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on its first three offensive possessions. The Badgers held off Purdue for the victory, but it came at a cost, as running back Chez Mellusi was lost for the season with a broken leg.

The Badgers get a bye week at a good time, as they will adjust without Mellusi. After the off week, they will host Rutgers.

No. 4 Maryland 4-0 (Last week 4)

The Terps cruised to another comfortable victory, defeating Michigan State 31-9. It was Maryland’s first victory in East Lansing since 1950.

Maryland’s offense, led by Taulia Tagovailoa, gets much attention, but the Terp defense has been pulling its weight. The Terps have only allowed four touchdowns in their first four games and have come up with 11 turnovers. Up next is a home date with Indiana.

No. 3 Penn State 4-0 (Last week 3)

The Nittany Lions took it to Iowa in front of a White Out crowd, shutting out the Hawkeyes. This was a redemption win for the 2021 loss at Kinnick. Most impressively, Penn State controlled the ball for over 45 minutes and ran 97 plays to Iowa’s 33 snaps.

The margin between Penn State and Ohio State looks awfully thin. Still, for now, the Buckeyes remain ahead in the Big Ten power rankings. Luckily, there is a game between the two in about a month that will settle it. For now, Penn State football travels to Northwestern next.

No. 2 Ohio State 4-0 (Last week 2)

On Saturday night, Ohio State pulled off a thrilling 17-14 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. They had a 3-0 lead at halftime, then a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter. The Irish scored the next two touchdowns, and it was not until nearly the very end the Buckeyes scored the game-winner with a Chip Trayanum 1-yard rush at the goal line. The Irish also had only 10 guys on the field for the Buckeyes’ last two snaps.

For Penn State, it was better for Ohio State to remain undefeated. The two teams appear to be on a collision course for a top-10 matchup in a few weeks in Columbus. For now, Ohio State gets a bye week.

No. 1 Michigan 4-0 (Last week 1)

The Wolverines started slow against Rutgers, but finished strong in Jim Harbaugh’s first game on the sidelines this season. JJ McCarthy was efficient, going 15 of 21 for 214 and a score. Blake Corum also had two scores along with 97 yards. After giving up an explosive play for a touchdown on Rutgers’s third play of the game, the Wolverine defense settled in giving up less than 190 yards the rest of the way and returning an interception for a touchdown.

The Wolverines will finally leave the comforts of home as they hit the road to Lincoln next Saturday.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

The Penn State football team has an outstanding culture and Drew Allar has been a key contributor to that this season.



Drew Allar, Penn State, KJ Winston Jr.
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) looks to throw a pass during the second quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Drew Allar has been phenomenal early in his Penn State football career. The physical attributes are one thing but his decision-making is on another level. Through the games he appeared in during his freshman season and the first four games this season he has played mistake-free. He has yet to throw an interception in college and because of that, the ball security for Penn State has been phenomenal. KJ Winston Jr. referred to the battles the defense had with Drew Allar and prepared them for this season.

Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

James Franklin spoke earlier this summer about how many practices it took during fall camp before Allar threw an interception. Now, we have seen that translate to the field as well. Drew Allar has gone through the first four games of the season throwing 8 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions. He has protected the ball very well. Penn State football safety KJ Winston Jr. met with the media yesterday and described what it’s like practicing against Allar.

Winston Jr. said, “I really think it’s because of all fall camp and practice going against Drew [Allar] and kind of giving our best shot at him and him giving his best shot at us. I think just you know, in practice going back and forth it allowed him to come into the game feeling comfortable. We were playing against Drew like it was a championship game every day…”

Penn State is leading the country in these areas

The Nittany Lions posted on social media all of the categories they lead the nation in through four weeks. They’re 1st in pass defense, total defense, first downs allowed, turnover margin. Then offensively they lead in fewest turnovers, and time of possession. Because of what Drew Allar and the Penn State defense did during fall camp, it has translated to the field this fall very well.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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