Entering the season, Shippensburg University quarterback Brycen Mussina did not know that he would be leading the Red Raider offense in the 2018 season opener against Clarion.
In fact, that decision was not made until the final second.
“Coming into camp, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” Mussina said. “I knew there were some older guys and I just tried to challenge myself and do the best that I could to improve over camp. I’m glad I got here in the spring so I could get to know everybody. The guys brought me in really well and I really appreciated that. They respected me right away. It was kind of a late decision and I just tried to run with it, once things got started.”
The choice ultimately paid off, as the redshirt-freshman transfer from Lafayette College not only was the only quarterback in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) to average more than 300 yards passing per game, he also led the conference in passing touchdowns (32) and passing yards (3,376). Mussina finished the regular season tied for second in all of Division II football in touchdown passes, while ranking sixth in passing yardage — resulting in a 2018 PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year Award.
“Coming into the season, I didn’t expect that,” Mussina said. “I have to thank everyone around me because they were the ones who really made it happen. Coach [Jesse] Correll and Coach [Mark] Maciejewski were doing an awesome job and my line was great all year. We were one of the lowest teams in the conference in sacks — and I’m not very mobile so that’s saying something.”
Along with Mussina’s offensive line, having last season’s PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year in redshirt-sophomore receiver Winston Eubanks, along with fellow receivers in redshirt-sophomore Charles Headen and newcomer — the 2018 PSAC Player of the Year — redshirt-junior Josh Gontarek to throw to made Mussina’s Saturdays a lot of fun.
“It’s unreal,” Mussina said. “We’ve got guys who don’t get the ball very much who would be No. 1s at other places. It’s pretty unreal but it’s pretty fun for me and it’s great for the team because those guys are making plays all the time. I give them a lot of credit. They all swallow their pride to produce for the team and that’s what you need to be successful.”
The season was a rollercoaster for the Red Raiders in 2018, full of late-game heroics and heart-stomping defeats, but SU did eventually finish 6–5, winning its final game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) to keep Maciejewski’s winning-season streak as SU’s head coach alive. It was SU’s first win over the Crimson Hawks since 1988.
“I think that was huge, especially for the young guys,” Mussina said. “It was a great way to send out the seniors. I think they were happy with that, no matter what happened the weeks before. Coach was really happy to win that, and it made something out of the season. Everyone was a little disappointed on where we ended up, but we made something happen in that game.”
The victory also drew attention on Twitter from one of the Red Raider football team’s most prestigious alumni — John Kuhn.
“Been wating for this day for a long long time. Congrats to @ShipFootball and the men who finally ended the streak. I can hear The Horse playing proudly,” Kuhn tweeted after the game.
“I think that was awesome,” Mussina said. “Everyone came together and John Kuhn mentioned us on Twitter. That was pretty cool for all of us, especially with how the season was going, and it was a really good way to end it.”
Between Brycen’s impressive freshman campaign and his father, Mike Mussina, be- ing induced into the MLB Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, it has been a successful and ex- citing year for the family. Brycen credits his relationship with his father as something that really helped him succeed in football, without the pressure of a now-MLB Hall of Famer in his ear.
“He doesn’t say all that much; he isn’t crazy like everyone might think he is,” Mussina said. “Everyone is always asking what my dad says about this or that, but he isn’t always in my ear about things. I call him every other night or so, to just talk about things and see how things are going. He gives me the basic advice and it’s the stuff that your dad tells you.”
With all the success that Mussina had in 2018, the focus now shifts to 2019 with the momentum from the big 45-21 victory at IUP. While SU’s defense losses a batch of key seniors, the Red Raider offense should remain, for the most part, intact.
“I’m really excited,” Mussina said. “I know a lot of other guys are really excited as well. We’ve got a lot to do and we left a lot on the table after being in so many close games. I think we can learn from those losses that we had as well as the success since we had a little bit of both. We should have a lot to offer.”