INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s path to success last season was paved in part by the efforts of wide receiver Chris Godwin and defensive end Garrett Sickels.
Godwin produced one of the greatest bowl performances in recent memory in the Nittany Lions’ 52-49 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl. He caught nine passes for 187 yards and two scores — all Penn State bowl records. Sickels ignited a pivotal 24-21 upset against Ohio State with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the second half.
Both opted out of their senior seasons and declared for the NFL draft within three days of the Rose Bowl. Both admit it was a tough decision to leave Penn State, but both are excited about their futures.
“It was incredibly difficult,” Godwin said. “It was arguably one of the more difficult things I had to do in my life. Not only because of the potential for next year, but those are my brothers. We’ve been through so much over the past three years.
“We had fought through so much adversity. We had a really successful year. Above all, they’re my brothers and I’m going to miss them, but I’m not worried about their success next year. I have all the faith in the world in their abilities.”
Godwin (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) impressed observers at the NFL combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, tied for fifth among wide receivers. He tied for first in the 20-yard shuffle drill, tied for second in bench press repetitions (19), tied for sixth in the 60-yard shuffle drill and finished in the top 12 in both the vertical jump and broad jump.
But most scouts and team personnel pay more attention to game tape. Godwin’s statistics jumped in his 2015 year. He finished with 69 catches for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, he caught 59 passes for 982 yards with 11 scores for the Big Ten champions.
Godwin also produced in bowl action, even outside his record-breaking Rose Bowl performance. As a freshman, he caught seven passes for 140 yards and a score against Boston College in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl. He hauled in six passes for 133 yards against Georgia in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl.
Since leaving Penn State, Godwin has worked out with former Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson. Godwin touts his team-first approach and his toughness as intangibles he’ll bring to his next team.
“I’m not afraid to do the dirty work,” Godwin said. “I’m not afraid to block. I take a lot of pride in blocking, in being at the right place at the right time, making contested catches and things that I’ve proven that I can do in my college career.”
Sickels (6-3, 261) finished the 40-yard dash in 4.90 seconds. Last year he led the Big Ten with 43 pressures. He earned second-team all-league honors with a team-best six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He also registered 47 tackles.
A New Jersey native, Sickels grew up a lifelong Penn State fan and said he followed the Nittany Lions more than the area NFL teams. His passion for Penn State was why he stayed true to the school even as the program was hit with major sanctions through the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sickels made that evident in meetings with NFL team executives.
“I never committed to Penn State to go to a bowl game,” Sickels said. “And (when) the sanctions came out, the first thing I did was call Christian (Hackenberg) and Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson, Adam Breneman and ask them and all those guys in my class, ‘What are we doing?’
“We all came to the same conclusion. As far as we know, we committed to Bill O’Brien and to Penn State, we chose Penn State to play for the school, to play for that staff and to play for each other. We didn’t choose that school to go to a bowl game. So if we weren’t playing football, we still want to go there. That day was tough, but it wasn’t a hard day to reaffirm our commitment.
“Obviously with the way the program was at that time, to be able to finish my career this way, with a Rose Bowl win and a Big Ten championship, was huge for me.”
Sickels said his answer impressed some of his interviewers.
“They think it’s pretty cool, I think,” Sickels said. “They say, ‘That’s pretty awesome.’ ”