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Player retirements hit Penn State hard

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Trace McSorley, Wednesday after practice. - JARROD PRUGAR / DKPS

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When college football is discussed, retirement is usually reserved for coaches, but at Penn State it's been the players who've done the retiring.

"At some point, your career is going to come to an end and you'll have to switch gears at that time," James Franklin said while addressing the media at the Lasch Complex Wednesday night. "For these guys, they're able to get started on them a little earlier."

Each situation is different: For defensive end Ryan Buchholz, who retired Wednesday, chronic back issues put an end to what was a solid career as a Nittany Lion; it was a shoulder issue that ended the career of quarterback Jake Zembiec while heart conditions ended the careers of cornerback Jordan Miner and offensive lineman Nana Asiedu.

Miner joined Buchholz in announcing his retirement Wednesday with a Twitter post, making it now three players Penn State has had retire since training camp began, joining Zembiec last week.

"With those two guys, both have been class acts in every aspect of our program," Franklin said. "They both had tremendous futures in front of them, and still have tremendous futures in front of them. It's just going to be different now."

While health is ultimately paramount, decisions such as retiring do send ripple effects throughout the program which makes it difficult for all involved.

"It's challenging for them, it's challenging for their parents, it's challenging for us as a staff in terms of managing a roster and depth," Franklin said. "But most importantly, it's difficult; this is their dream, and in our game it's going to come to an end at some point."

Making a decision of this caliber is a team effort with the coaching staff are usually some of the last people to find out.

"It starts with the kids, the medical staff, and their parents. We're, a lot of times, the last people to know. I think we have an idea that there's some ongoing issues because these aren't anything that just comes up overnight," Franklin said. "In the back of your mind, you're hopeful that it's going to work out, but you also think the kid's been dealing with something for a long time; it's challenging."

When those injuries and issues don't get better, difficult decisions and conversations are had with all parties involved. What makes those conversations difficult isn't the decision itself, the body and doctors usually make those, it's the fact those decisions are final.

"To be honest with you, they're hard because they're coming to me and it's the finality of it, but it's not a conversation in terms of what to do," Franklin said. "When they come to me, it's already pretty much done. I think, although you know it's coming and you have an awareness this is a possibility, I think it's the finality of it that's still tough."

More from the availability ...

From Franklin:

• On the defensive ends without Buchholz: "It's not like it was a shock to us. We knew it was a challenge for him the last couple of years. I think Shareef (Miller) and Yetur (Gross-Matos) are doing a really good job. We've got a lot of depth there: Yetur, Shane (Simmons), Shareef, obviously. I still feel good about our group."

• On defensive end Shaka Toney: "Shaka, it's funny because everybody talks about him in the pass game and questions him in the run game because he's not the biggest guy. Shaka's powerful, he plays really strong, functionally he plays the game really strong and explosive. He plays the run game better than you think for a guy who's a little undersized. Obviously, a few more pounds helps him have even a bigger presence there. I also think it's going to help him in the pass game because although he had tremendous speed rush, there were some times when people got their hands on him, people could wash him by."

 On Big Ten issues: "I think for us, as you know, I always want to be aware of what's going on in our community, what's going on in our conference, and what's going on nationally so we can learn from those things. I'm not a judgmental person. I want to take experiences and learn from them, once again, because I don't have all the information so it's hard for me to judge or make opinions. I do know that we need to grow and learn and evolve, as well, so when these things are going on at other places, it's an opportunity for us to take a step back and see where are we at. I can't speak about what's going on at other places, we just try every single day to do things the best we possibly can, but also learn from other experiences that are going on around us. Whether that's in our conference or whether that's nationally or whether that's things that happened on our campus, we always want to have discussion and dialogue around these topics so we can do a great job representing Penn State."

From defensive end Shareef Miller:

• On the loss of Buchholz: "Honestly, losing a player like that with a lot of experience, who played a lot of good football for us, it's tough, but we've got guys here who are ready to step up. It's a sad situation, he's my brother. We both came in the same class and it's just sad to hear that, but I wish him the best."

• On who could step up: "I think Yetur is going to be a really good player. Shane Simmons and Shaka, those three guys have been really good this whole camp. Yetur is a big kid, he's a freak, he can do everything. I kinda just take things from him watching his game."

• On where he stacks up against Nick Bosa: "Obviously, Nick Bosa, I respect his game. He's a really good player, but I'm a really good player too. I work hard everyday to be the best, that's just me. I know what I bring Saturdays to the Penn State team. Everyday I'm just grinding, working to be the best."

From punter Blake Gillikin:

• On his role in the kicker competition: "They've all hit really good balls. It's going to be a really hard decision to pick between the four of them. Obviously, the coaches can't really watch us during the summer, but I could get out with them as much as I want. Just trying to get hold and get snaps with them to kind of get this whole thing jumpstarted and get this rolling as fast as possible."

• On developing into a leader: "I think I've grown as a leader and not just by example, but as a vocal leader. In high school, I never really wanted to say anything to the team. I was a specialist and didn't really feel it was my place. The way they accept you on this team, I feel more comfortable now doing it as part of this program."

From quarterback Trace McSorley:

• On teammates retiring: "It's definitely tough to see guys have to go through that. It's something you know they've worked their entire lives, they've given everything to this sport. It's been their dream to get to this point and even beyond this point, so it's tough to be able to see that. At the end of the day, they made the call because it was in the best interests of their long term future. It's tough to be able to deal with that and swallow that pill, but you just have to tell them 'we love you and we support you.'"

• On Michal Menet, his new center: "Michal's done a really good job as far as stepping into that role and taking ownership and taking leadership of that role. He's been really good with, if there's somethings not comfortable, coming and asking me. For him, this being his opportunity this year, he's kind of an older guy that's getting that opportunity, so he knows what it takes. He's done a really good job and I think we're all really excited."

From offensive line coach Matt Limegrover:

• On the mindset of the offensive line: "It's changing everyday. I think the competition is a big part of that. Those guys we talk to everyday about our mindset and one of the things is being physically dominant, being relentless finishers and having great offensive line pride. Everyday I reinforce that, and everyday you see somebody take another step further."

• On changes in the body type for the tackle position: "One of the big things is these guys are training so much earlier. They're starting their training in junior high so these kids that you had ... they may have been athletic, but they were overweight so you couldn't really tell. Long before they get on our radar they're starting to train, so now when I see guys they're a lot more college-ready in high school."

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