Penn State players have opportunity to come home

Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle Brian Gaia (72) points down the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter of the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle Brian Gaia (72) points down the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter of the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium. (Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports)

During an illustrious career at Gilman, Penn State offensive lineman Brian Gaia captured two Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles, earned all-state honors three times and was twice named All-Metro by The Baltimore Sun.

But he never played in the stadium of his favorite team, the Baltimore Ravens. That will change Saturday when Penn State takes on Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in a Big Ten Conference game.


Gaia is just one of a number of Marylanders who will get the opportunity to play before plenty of friends and family in Baltimore. Penn State boasts nine players from Maryland, and though State College, Pa., is about a three-hour drive from Baltimore and about an extra 30 minutes of so from Washington, those Marylanders get the chance to play right in their former back yard.

"I never actually had a chance to play there, but it's going to be awesome to play on the same field as people like Ray Lewis and all them played at," Gaia said Wednesday. "It's going to be cool to walk the same halls, same locker room as those players."

For other Penn State players, it will be a return to where they had some of their fondest memories. Nittany Lions cornerback Trevor Williams closed his career at Calvert Hall with three straight Turkey Bowl victories over Loyola, and two of those wins came at M&T Bank Stadium. In those two games, Williams scored twice.

Penn State safety Marcus Allen was on the Wise squad that won the Maryland Class 4A state championship in 2012 with a 12-7 victory over Quince Orchard at M&T Bank Stadium. That capped a junior season in which he recorded 70 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

"It's a cool thing," Allen said Tuesday. "It's cool playing in Maryland because that's where I'm from and stuff and a lot of guys are from Maryland. … It's going to be special for me."

There will be plenty of familiar faces both in the stands and on the sidelines. Five of the Maryland natives on Penn State's roster had scholarship offers from the Terps, according to Rivals, and interim coach Mike Locksley was the primary recruiter for some of them. Nittany Lions tight end Brent Wilkerson, along with running back Mark Allen, went to high school a short drive down U.S. Route 1 at DeMatha in Hyattsville.

"[Maryland] recruited me out of high school, but I kind of already knew by the time they started recruiting me that Penn State was the place for me," Wilkerson said. "I didn't really entertain it. I already had my mind made up."

In Wise's march to the state championship game in 2012, Marcus Allen's squad defeated a Suitland team that featured future Maryland wide receiver Taivon Jacobs. Gaia was teammates at Gilman with fullback Kenneth Goins Jr. and quarterback Shane Cockerille.

"In high school, it was awesome," Gaia said. "Kenny's a real tough kid and Shane's a real tough kid. It's going to be awesome to see them out there doing what they love, and it'll be cool to see them after the game, give them a hug and all that."

Players from both sides expect an electric atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium, especially since Penn State fans travel well. Wilkerson said he's expecting to have 10 to 15 friends and family members at the game, the most he's ever had. There's an element of familiarity on both sides, whether it's with coaching staffs from recruiting or from playing each other in high school.

"I know myself, I'm excited because I know a lot of guys on the team, a lot of guys that are from the area," Maryland middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "They like to get recruits from here as everyone knows, so I'm definitely excited and ready to go."

Neither side was willing to explicitly label Saturday's game as a rivalry matchup, even after Maryland's 20-19 victory at Penn State last November and everything that went along with it. For some Nittany Lions, coming home is motivation enough.

"It means a lot in terms of me being from Maryland," Allen said. "I've got a lot of family and friends from there. They're going to be at the game, so I'm going to try to play with a lot of emotion."