At Andy Kerr Stadium in Hamilton, New York, it is hard to miss the big Colgate letter C logo at the 50 yard line. However, when Penn football travels to upstate New York next week to take on the Raiders they will be armed with their own set of Cs, in the form of five captains who will look to make big impacts on and off the field as the Quakers chase an Ivy League title.
The five captains are junior quarterback Aidan Sayin, senior wide receiver Joshua Casilli, senior defensive lineman Joey Slackman, senior fifth-year corner Kendren Smith and the only returning captain, fifth-year senior linebacker Jonathan Melvin.
According to head coach Ray Priore, with over 25 seniors on the team there is a lot of very strong upperclassmen leadership which bodes well for the coming season.
"Those five young men always stood out from the rest," Priore said. "But I will go back and say this: they are just very representative of the full group of kids that we have in our program.”
Slackman will look to plug the hole on the defensive line left by the departure of former captain and first-team All-Ivy selection Jake Heimlicher.
"He’s got a work ethic like no other," Slackman said of Heimlicher. "So I try to emulate that, and technically when it comes to D-Line moves and working with [his] hands he is really good.”
Slackman was second only to Heimlicher in sacks last season with 4.5. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound former wrestler and native of Commack, N.Y. also finished fourth on the team last year in total tackles and earned an honorable mention All-Ivy Selection.
As the team finishes out their final few practices of the preseason, Slackman said they need to approach the season one step at a time.
"Obviously we know our ultimate goal is to win the Ivy League, but it’s a long way away and all we can do is focus on all we can do every day.”
The only junior to be selected as a captain this season, Sayin is not afraid of the bright lights. As the primary signal caller last season he gained a lot of experience leading the team on the field, according to Priore, who also said he expects Sayin to take a big step forward this season.
“What we have with Aidan is 15 games of experience," Priore said. "10 games last year, which I thought he did an outstanding job as a young player acclimating himself to the situations and the game experiences. Again he's an outstanding leader on the field.”
Sayin started all 10 games last season, leading the Quakers to an 8-2 record and fell just one game short of the Ivy-League title. He finished the season with 2344 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
“I want to be a little bit more vocal," Sayin said. "But there are so many leaders on this team, so I don't really feel like I need to make a drastic change in my leadership style.”
Joining Sayin for the coin toss next weekend will be one of his favorite targets from a season ago. Casilli led the team in the first game of the season last year versus Colgate with 10 catches for 60 yards. He finished 2022 with career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
As a captain, Casilli said it is his responsibility to make sure the team works together as a well-oiled machine.
“We’ve got some sports cars,” he added, “We just got to keep them healthy and under control.”
Casilli looks to be one of Sayin’s primary weapons this season, although the quarterback's arsenal will be without last year's leading receiver Rory Starkey Jr., a second-team All-Ivy selection, and first-team All-Ivy running back Trey Flowers, one of last year's four captains.
In addition to Flowers, the team will also be missing another former captain and first-team All-Ivy selection, offensive lineman Trevor Radosevich. According to Casilli, “[Radosevich] was kind of the heart and soul of the offense.”
Casilli is the first native of Pennsylvania to hold captaincy since fellow wide receiver and current Kansas City Chief Justin Watson had the honor during the 2017 season. In fact, Casilli grew up about a 15 minute drive from Watson and their two high schools will face off against each other next Friday. In his four years with Peters Township in McMurray, Pa., Casilli won two conference titles and was named to the Pennsylvania All-State team in 2019.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner from Charlotte, N.C. will look to build off a career year in which he earned a first-team All-Ivy selection. His best performance last season came in the Quakers 34-14 win over Columbia on Oct. 15, where he forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles, and added an interception. For his efforts, he was named the FedEx Ground FCS National Defensive Player of the Week and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week.
Smith will lead an experienced unit of defensive backs that includes 11 juniors and seniors, including two All-Ivy selections from a season ago. Smith, along with fifth-year senior Jaden Key, the other All-Ivy selection, will look to lock down opposing wide receivers across the Ivy League this season.
As the leader of an experienced unit, Smith said, “I think that it makes it a lot easier knowing that a lot of older guys know what we're supposed to do.”
The only returning captain of the bunch, the fifth-year senior recorded fifty tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble last year, earning himself an All-Ivy honorable mention. Melvin has appeared in 20 games for the Quakers since his debut in 2019
According to Melvin, as a returning captain he hopes to continue to maintain the standards set last year that helped lead the team to an 8-2 finish. However, he added that it is a new season, and there is still more work to be done if they want to win the Ivy League.
Melvin, a native of Hampton, Va., is not the first from his hometown to achieve athletic success in Philadelphia. Hampton, on the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, is also the hometown of 76ers legend and NBA legend Allen Iverson.
In terms of advice for his fellow captains, Melvin said communication is the key to being successful.
“Know that you can't talk to everybody the same way," Melvin said. "There's time for hard love. There's time for a little soft love. There’s time to put the foot down."