Ready, set, football

After an almost two-year hiatus, the Penn football team is back in action this Saturday evening, on the road against Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

The 144th season of Penn football kicks off this Saturday evening against Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Due to the pandemic, the last time the Quakers took the field was on Nov. 23, 2019, against archrival Princeton. Senior linebacker Brian O’Neill says it feels good to be back with the team. “One of the big things that we missed is definitely that team atmosphere,” he says, “just being around everybody and that smell of football in the air. It’s an exciting time right now.”




Ray Priore, the George A. Munger Head Coach of Football, says one of the strongpoints of this year’s team is leadership, with a handful of fifth-year seniors: O’Neill, wide receiver Lewis Gibson, wide receiver Preston Norwood, running back Isaiah Malcome, and defensive lineman Prince Emili (who is actually a sixth-year senior). Along with senior center Trevor Radosevich and senior linebacker Jake Heimlicher, O’Neill, Malcome, and Emili are co-captains. “It’s great to have all three of those guys back with us for another campaign,” Priore says.
Two classes of players, the Class of 2024 and the Class of 2025, have never played in a varsity game, but on the defensive side of the ball, the Quakers have a wealth of players with varsity experience at key positions. Emili, senior Matthew McElroy, junior Micah Morris, and senior Khalil Lewis up front; Heimlicher, O’Neill, and senior Tanner Long in the middle; and junior Jaden Key, junior Kendren Smith, senior Mohammed Diakite, senior Malcolm Strickland, and senior Jason McLeod Jr. in the secondary.
Through preseason camp and early season practices, Emili says the younger players have been adjusting well. “They’ve been getting a good amount of reps,” he says. “They’ve been running the plays, recognizing formations. They’ve been holding their own very well.” A piece of advice he has passed down is “lean on the upperclassmen for advice.” “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he says, “whether it is about football, play calls, assignments, or even what classes to take, when to take them, and who to take them with.” O’Neill says the spring ball season allowed a lot of the younger players to get reps, which are now paying dividends. “With more reps, you get more experience, and they slowly start coming along,” he says. “You start seeing some kids making some big plays.”
Aside from the obvious annual goal of winning the Ivy League championship, Priore says the goals for the season are to be productive, develop the team and players, and continue to develop team leadership and execution. Once preseason camp concluded, all eyes were focused solely on Bucknell and not thinking too far down the line. “We really take it day by day,” he says. “We can’t be thinking about games in November, we have to worry more about games and times and opportunities in September.” O’Neill and Emili say winning games and the conference championship is top of mind. Says O’Neill, “If we become Ivy League champs, everything else will fall into place.”

Text by Greg Johnson, Photos by Eric Sucar