Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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M A R C H 2 0 2 4 71 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M O n t h e h e e l s o f Penn State's 11-2 f i n i s h i n 2 02 2 , Penn State coach James Franklin grumbled that one of the players most responsible for that record — ball-hawking safety Ji'Ayir Brown — was not receiving enough credit for his performance. "I don't think he's getting enough attention," Franklin said. "I don't think enough people are talking about him when it comes to col- lege football awards, when it comes to the NFL. His name should be all over the place." The San Francisco 49ers apparently agreed, choosing Brown in the third round of last year's NFL Draft with the 87th overall pick. In the 10 months since his selection, he has borne out his for- mer coach's assessment. Brown enjoyed a strong rookie cam- paign for the 49ers, working his way into the starting lineup late in the year after starter Talanoa Hufanga suffered a season-ending injury in November. The Penn State alum finished with 35 tackles during the regular season and made an- other 21 stops in San Francisco's three- game playoff run. Brown, who spent three seasons at Penn State after starting out at Lack- awanna College, headlined a three- player Nittany Lion contingent in Su- per Bowl LVIII. Also seeing action for the 49ers was backup defensive tackle Kevin Givens, while nine-year NFL veteran Donovan Smith started at left tackle for Kansas City. Brown punctuated his season by in- tercepting Patrick Mahomes early in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. The 49ers were leading 10-3 at the time and appeared poised to build on their ad- vantage after Brown gave them possession at the Chiefs' 44- yard line. But they weren't able to move the ball, and they ulti- mately lost in overtime, 25-22. Although the 49ers' season ended on a heartbreaking note, they have a defense loaded with playmakers, and Brown has found a role that should only ex- pand in the years ahead. In Feb- ruary, the 5-foot-11, 202-pound defensive back was named win- ner of the 49ers' Thomas Herrion Me- morial Award, which recognizes the team's top rookie. Once a lightly recruited prospect out of Trenton (N.J.) Central, Brown sees the honor as just another chapter in an ongoing success story. "My mind was set on becoming the best player I could be [at the junior col- lege level]," he told PennLive prior to the Super Bowl. "That led me to land a Penn State offer. When I got to Penn State, my thought process was to be the best safety at Penn State. "I just kept taking care of these dif- ferent phases in my life. Now I'm at this phase where I want to be the best safety in the NFL, and I'm going to keep work- ing to take care of that." San Francisco safeties coach Daniel Bullocks told PennLive that Brown has the potential to continue his ascent. "I think he's going to take off in Year 2," Bullocks said. "He's been consis- tent. That's one thing that you look at in players, are they consistent? Ji'Ayir has been consistent since he's been here." ■ Super Bowl Interception Highlights Ji'Ayir Brown's Rookie Season M AT T H E R B | M AT T. H E R B @ O N 3 . C O M PSU IN THE PROS The 49ers picked Brown in the third round of the 2023 draft. PHOTO COURTESY SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS PSU Football Alum Terry Killens Draws Super Bowl Officiating Assignment Former Penn State defensive standout Terry Killens made NFL history in February when he became the first person to both play in and officiate a Super Bowl. Killens, a linebacker and defensive end with the Lions from 1992-95 and a member of the Tennessee Titans team that lost to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, served as the umpire in the league's 58th title game. It was the first year in which he was eligible to officiate a Super Bowl. In order to work the league's showcase event, an official must have at least five seasons of NFL experience. "It's a huge accomplishment," Killens told the Titans' official website. "It's basically a culmination of all the hard work and dedication I've put in. … It's a reward, not only to me, but to my crew. And a big thank you to all the people who have helped me along the way and given me opportunities." As a player, Killens got on the field and made 1 special teams tackle during the Titans' 23-16 loss to the Rams, which concluded the 1999 season. He was in his fourth NFL season at the time, having been selected in the third round of the 1996 Draft by the Houston Oilers. Killens ended up spending five seasons with the franchise, which moved to Tennessee in 1997. He later played for the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks and finished his career with 83 tackles. Killens got into officiating after an unsuccessful attempt at coaching. He wanted to stay involved in sports following his retirement from the NFL and started out working basketball games before mov- ing on to junior varsity football. That led to high school assignments, and from there he moved up to Division III college games and eventually to Division I games in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. His first pro assignments were in the Alliance of American Football, a short-lived spring league. Killens began officiating NFL games in 2019. Before officiating this year's Super Bowl, Killens worked wild card and divisional-round games during the past five seasons. He was the only former NFL player on this year's Super Bowl crew. — Matt Herb

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