“I just got chills hearing you say that,” he told a reporter during a conference call this week. “I didn’t even know that. Wow. That’s huge.”
In 2005, his redshirt freshman season, Gaines backed up All-American Tamba Hali on Penn State’s Orange Bowl-winning team. On Saturday, he will be competing for his second shot at a Bowl Championship Series appearance. If the Nittany Lions win their season finale, the fifth-year senior defensive end will become a two-time Big Ten champ and will very likely find himself starting the Rose Bowl in his final college game.
But first things first. For the Lions to win their third title since joining the Big Ten, they must defeat Michigan State on Saturday, no simple task. The Spartans are averaging just under 27 points a game, thanks largely to tailback Javon Ringer, whose 20 rushing touchdowns lead the nation.
Gaines said the Lions’ defensive line is wary of both Ringer, who ranks third in the nation with an average of 140.7 rushing yards a game, and his powerful offensive line.
“He’s strong, fast and explosive, and he’s running behind a huge O-line,” Gaines said. “The plays I’ve been watching on film, he’s running behind those big guys and he sneaks into a gap and takes off. He has those big guys up front, and they’re real aggressive. And Ringer is a hard worker. He’s strong as an ox. He’s not just a little guy; he can hold his own. So we have to be ready, and we have to gang-tackle.”
Gaines has lately been bothered by an ankle sprain. He started the Indiana game last Saturday but was pulled in the first quarter and didn’t return. The coaches told him to rest up and get ready for Michigan State.
Gaines said he took part in noncontact drills Monday and Tuesday. He said his ankle feels OK when he’s moving forward but continues to hurt when he tries to move side to side. Still, he said he has no intention of sitting out a game of such significance for the Nittany Lions.
“I’m playing Saturday, don’t worry,” he said. “This is for the Big Ten championship, and I’m playing for that.”
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