Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Penn State names 2008 captains

-Courtesy of Penn State University

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., April 29, 2008 – A quintet of seniors have been elected captains of the 2008 Penn State football team.

Defensive end Josh Gaines (Ft. Wayne, Ind.) and safety Anthony Scirrotto (West Deptford, N.J.) were named the defensive captains. Center A.Q. Shipley (Coraopolis) and wide receiver Derrick Williams (Greenbelt, Md.) were named the offensive captains.

In addition, linebacker Sean Lee (Pittsburgh) will serve as an honorary captain in 2008. Lee suffered a serious knee injury earlier this month that will likely keep him off the field this season, but he is planning to return for the 2009 season as a fifth-year senior.

All five of the 2008 captains are on schedule to graduate during the next year. Williams is on schedule to graduate in August, with Gaines and Shipley on track to earn their degrees in December. Lee could graduate in December or next spring, with Scirrotto on schedule to graduate next spring.

A two-year starter, Gaines played an important role in helping the Nittany Lions rank in No. 2 the nation in sacks and No. 7 in rushing defense in 2007. The only returnee on the defensive line with any significant experience going into last season, Gaines was instrumental in helping the unit make substantial progress. The former Northrop High School all-state selection has provided consistently strong play and good leadership the past two seasons. A 2007 honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection, Gaines recorded 40 tackles, with 5.0 TFL, including 2.5 sacks for minus-16 yards. Gaines, who comes from a family of 11 children, also had one forced fumble and one pass breakup.

"I was a little surprised at first when Coach Paterno said I was a captain,” Gaines stated. “I just look at it as I've got to keep doing what I've been doing. I was voted a captain for a reason, so they must like what I've been doing. I just try to lead by example and if somebody is down, I try to pick them up."

One of the squad’s most versatile and valuable athletes, Scirrotto led the Nittany Lions in interceptions for the second consecutive season in 2007. A physical player that loves to deliver a jarring hit, he has started all 26 games the past two seasons at safety and played a significant role in the success of Penn State’s Top 10 defense. Scirrotto has 10 career interceptions, moving him one away from moving into the school Top 10. The former West Deptford High School standout was fourth on the squad with 65 tackles last year, including a tackle for loss, with three interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery. His three interceptions were tied for ninth in the Big Ten. A 2006 first-team All-Big Ten selection, Scirrotto recorded a career-high 10 tackles at Michigan State last season, including 0.5 TFL, and returned an interception 53 yards to set-up a touchdown. A special teams standout, the talented and instinctive Scirrotto was on the field a team-high 1,029 snaps last season and is a probable post-season honors candidate.

A starter in all 26 games the past two seasons, Shipley anchors the offensive line. A hard-working leader for the offense, he has used his skills, tenacity and competitive nature to become one the top offensive linemen in the Big Ten. He was recognized by the conference coaches with his selection as the 2007 first-team All-Big Ten center and will be a candidate for the Rimington Award for the second consecutive year. The Coraopolis, Pa. native also is on the Watch List for the 2008 Rotary Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy. The former Moon Area High School standout was selected to the 2007 ESPN.com All-Bowl Team after the Nittany Lions ran for a season-high 270 yards in the 24-17 win over Texas A&M. He also made his first career reception against the Aggies, rumbling for four yards after snaring a deflected pass. He saw action on 997 snaps last season, fourth-highest on the team.

"It's a great honor to be put in the same category with all the great captains Coach Paterno has had before,” Shipley said. “We're just going to go about our business, keep everybody moving together in the same direction and lead by example on and off the field."

Williams enrolled at Penn State in January 2005 and has been a catalyst for the Nittany Lions as a receiver, returner and runner the past three seasons. The nation’s top prep player in 2004, Williams is a three-year starter coming off a season when he made a team-high 55 receptions, tied for No 3 on the school season list. The immensely talented and hard-working athlete gained 1,121 all-purpose yards last year, second-highest on the team. He averaged a superlative 10.37 yards on his 108 touches. Williams continued to take on a larger role in the passing game, making a team-high 55 catches for 529 yards and three touchdowns. The former Eleanor Roosevelt HS All-American ranked third in the Big Ten in punt returns, averaging 11.0 yards on 23 returns. He swung the momentum of the Notre Dame clash with his electrifying, zig-zagging 78-yard touchdown return, earning the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the second time in his outstanding career. Williams also averaged 6.3 yards per carry with one score.

A candidate for the 2008 Biletnikoff Award and other post-season accolades, Williams made 25 receptions in the last four games, lifting him into a tied for No. 4 on the school career receptions chart with 117, along with classmate Jordan Norwood and Jack Curry (1965-67). The dynamic playmaker also is No. 15 in Penn State career receiving yards (1,258), needing 262 yards to crack the top 10.

"It's an honor. It doesn't really change anything for me leadership-wise from the past three years,” said Williams. “We just want to work hard, go out and do the best we can to bring back a good season."

Lee had a superlative junior season, earning 2007 first-team All-America honors from Pro Football Weekly. But, during practice on April 11, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during practice and is unlikely to play during the 2008 season. Lee had surgery on April 28 and his rehabilitation will take approximately nine months. A rising senior, Lee played as a true freshman in 2005 and has a redshirt year available. The vastly talented, instinctive and intelligent Lee ranked second in the Big Ten with 138 tackles last year, trailing only teammate Dan Connor.

A two-time Big Ten Defensive Player-of-the-Week honoree in 2007, Lee earned second-team all-conference honors in a league that featured two of the three finalists for the Butkus Award. His 138 tackles were No. 5 on the school season list. Lee recorded double-figures in tackles in 10 of the last 11 games. An intense competitor who loves to hit, Lee also had 10.5 tackles for loss (minus-34), 3.5 sacks, forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles and grabbed one interception. The swift and strong athlete also was second on the team with eight pass breakups. A first team Class AAAA all-state selection from Upper St. Clair High School, he was tied for first in the Big Ten in fumble recoveries and was tied for No. 7 in the conference in forced fumbles last year.

A starter in the last 26 games, Lee punctuated his marvelous junior season by earning 2007 Valero Alamo Bowl Defensive Player of the Game accolades. He recorded a game-high 14 tackles, tied for most in Alamo Bowl history, to lead a defensive unit that allowed Texas A&M just three points over the final 49 minutes of the game. He also had a minus-yardage hit and a pass break-up in the 24-17 victory to earn a berth on the ESPN.com All-Bowl Team. Lee earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District honors last year and has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors twice.

"It's an honor to be a captain and join the list of players that have been a captain prior to me,” Lee commented. “I've always dreamed of being a captain at Penn State. It's a great responsibility, but we have a great senior class with a lot of leadership."

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