Penn State football head coach James Franklin announced that seniors Brandon Bell (Mays Landing, N.J.), Brian Gaia (Pasadena, Md.) and Von Walker (Mill Hall, Pa.) have been voted as team captains for the 2016 season by their teammates. Walker is a team captain for the second consecutive year.
“These captains are proven leaders on and off the field and have been outstanding representatives of our program,” Franklin said. “These are guys that have our program’s best interest in mind and they bring us together as a group.”
Bell started 11 games last season and finished third on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also ranked sixth in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally in forced fumbles (3; 0.25 ffpg). Bell opened the season on a strong note with seven tackles and a team-high 2.5 TFL against Temple. He had nine tackles in the win over Rutgers and turned in a stellar performance with his second career interception and first career fumble recovery to go along with five tackles and a sack against Michigan. Bell ended the year with a game-high 11 tackles in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia.
Gaia was the only offensive lineman to start every game last season. For his final season in the Blue & White, he is moving into the center position. Gaia has blocked for Penn State’s record-setting quarterback Christian Hackenberg, as well as Penn State freshman rushing record holder Saquon Barkley. Hackenberg became the first player in program history to throw for 8,000 yards, while Barkley became just the second Penn State freshman rusher to break the 1,000-yard mark. Gaia has started 25 games in the last two seasons since moving from the defensive side of the ball after his redshirt freshman season. Gaia is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.
Walker earned a scholarship in April 2015 after two seasons as a walk-on, including a move from running back to linebacker during 2014 spring practice. Walker appeared in 13 games last season and made two starts. He tied for fifth on the team with seven special teams tackles, including a team-best six on punt coverage. Overall, Walker made 10 stops (six solo) with a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He has also excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors last year.
Penn State opens the 2016 campaign against Kent State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3.