WPIAL seniors embrace final home game at Penn State
When Miles Dieffenbach and Mike Hull took their official visits to Penn State together in early December 2009, their combined understanding of major college athletics exceeded that of typical prospects.
Dieffenbach’s dad, George, coached tennis at Pitt for several decades before his son became a sought-after offensive lineman.
And Hull’s father, Tom, helped build Penn State into “Linebacker U” as a star during the 1970s.
However, no amount of Division I lineage prepared the players, now fifth-year seniors, for the drama that has defined their time as Nittany Lions.
Dieffenbach, a Fox Chapel graduate, and Hull, a Canon-McMillan alumnus, became founding fathers for the post-Joe Paterno era.
Their official visit in 2009 came at the tail end of Paterno’s last banner season, an 11-2 campaign.
During the four-plus seasons that followed, a child abuse scandal soured the idea of “the Penn State way,” the NCAA unleashed myriad penalties that crippled the program and caused teammates to transfer, and coaches came and went.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium, Dieffenbach and Hull will walk out of the tunnel for the final time as part of a seven-player group that arrived in 2010. Penn State (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) will host No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1), and 17 seniors will be recognized.
“It’s been one heck of a journey with some awesome guys, and it’s going to be a great moment,” said Dieffenbach, a starter at left guard since 2012. “We’ve obviously all bonded together knowing that we stuck through it, have done well and thrived with all the different coaches and everything we’ve been through.”
Dieffenbach and Hull lived on the same floor as freshmen and became roommates with fifth-year senior safety Jesse Della Valle, a Shaler grad, and fifth-year senior defensive end Brad Bars.
All four were meaningful contributors by 2012, when the Freeh Report emerged and the NCAA placed a four-year postseason ban on the Nittany Lions, wiped out 112 wins and reduced scholarships, among other sanctions.
Memories of less complicated times, such as his debut as a redshirt freshman against Indiana State, and hopes for a Penn State revival kept Hull, a four-year letterman and the current centerpiece of the defense, from fleeing.
“I was really tired after that one because there’s so much adrenaline going through your body the first time out at Beaver Stadium,” Hull said. “The adrenaline is always going to be there. It’s a special atmosphere, and they’re the greatest fans in the nation.”
Coach Bill O’Brien arrived in January 2012 to usher in the post-Paterno age and left after the 2013 season.
James Franklin succeeded O’Brien and better familiarized himself with the trials and tribulations his seniors went through.
“They’re tremendous leaders and tremendous ambassadors,” Franklin said. “I’m just really, really proud of those guys, and I want to send them out the right way.”