3 WPIAL players named captains at Penn State
The epicenter of the Penn State leadership core is a four-bedroom flat on the second floor of a State College apartment building.
By way of Pittsburgh.
The Nittany Lions announced their captains Wednesday, and three of the record seven players handling the upcoming season's captaincy are WPIAL graduates who became longtime roommates.
“We're really close — as close as anyone can get,” Mike Hull said of fellow fifth-year seniors Miles Dieffenbach and Jesse Della Valle.
“We didn't know each other in high school, but we knew a lot of the same places in Pittsburgh, and having that in common was part of what's made us so close.”
Hull, a Canon-McMillan graduate and linebacker, joins end C.J. Olaniyan as PSU's defensive captains. Dieffenbach, a guard from Fox Chapel, shares the offense's captaincy with quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Shaler's Della Valle, who contributed to every special teams unit last season, joins fellow safety Ryan Keiser and kicker Sam Ficken as special teams captains.
Dieffenbach called the captaincy designation — which is determined via election by teammates and coaches — “an awesome honor.”
“I remember (former coach Bill O'Brien) telling us that Tom Brady was saying that one of his greatest feats was being voted captain his senior year at Michigan by his teammates,” said Dieffenbach, who is recovering from a torn ACL and won't play until late in the season at the earliest.
“Being a captain here is something that is held in very high regard. Some terrific people have served as captain.”
Few times, if ever, though, have three PSU captains shared the same refrigerator or living room couch.
Or, for that matter, Xbox.
“Hobbies?” Della Valle pondered. “Usually video games.
“Anything from basketball to ‘Halo,' gun games, stuff like that. There's always a competition, there's always some yelling, but we have a good time with it.”
Dieffenbach and Della Valle had a long-running “NCAA Basketball 09” rivalry. Hull and fourth roommate Brad Bars — a senior defensive end — had a “Halo” series that, as Dieffenbach tells it, “was, like, 40-35. They've played, like, 80 games — and they're still yelling.”
Dieffenbach and Hull went on their official recruiting visit together five years ago and have been roommates throughout their time at Penn State. Della Valle moved in with them their second year.
Bars has grown close to the group, too — despite his status as the lone “outsider.”
“We're all from Pittsburgh — and then Brad is from Nashville,” Della Valle said. “So he always jokes how he's saying ‘yinz' instead of ‘y'all.' He's walking around the apartment saying, ‘What yinz doin'?'
“We've all formed a pretty strong bond — especially being from Pittsburgh.”
Until incoming freshman Troy Apke of Mt. Lebanon enrolled this summer, the roommate/captain trio was joined by only junior tight end Jesse James of South Allegheny as alumni of WPIAL schools under scholarship on Penn State's roster.
A Philadelphia-area native, new coach James Franklin recognizes traits in Hull, Dieffenbach and Della Valle that he associates with Pittsburgh-area players.
“Positive attitude, great work ethic, compete at everything you do,” Franklin said. “And those guys are willing to sacrifice to get where they want to go, as well. Blue collar, hard-nosed, tremendous pride at playing at their state institution, those types of things.”
Plus, as Dieffenbach says, “The personalities of Pittsburgh people are all kind of basically the same — the same jokes and stuff.”
Perhaps none more than Dieffenbach, the house — and team — comedian.
“Miles is the jokester, for sure,” Della Valle said. “One hundred percent.”
All the more reason that life at the Penn State football team's WPIAL — and captaincy — headquarters is good.
“It's been a really enjoyable four years,” Della Valle said. “Mostly, it's been enjoyable living with those guys.”