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Former Quaker Joey Slackman during last season's matchup against Columbia on Oct. 14, 2023.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

When Joey Slackman first came to Penn in 2019, he was bound for the wrestling mat. Now, four years later, he leaves the Red and Blue as one of the program’s most decorated athletes on a different surface: the gridiron.

On Monday, Slackman — a senior defensive lineman for Penn football — was awarded the Bushnell Cup, given to the Ancient Eight’s most outstanding players on offense and defense. The honor further etches Slackman’s name in the Quaker history books, making him the tenth player in program history to earn the honor and the first since linebacker Tyler Drake in 2015.

While accepting the award, Slackman thanked Penn for "taking a chance" on him, and emphasized how much the team has helped him grow.

"Not only am I honored to be here, but I'm honored to be a part of this program," Slackman said. "From where my career started to where I am now, I wouldn't be on this podium if you didn't give me a chance a couple years ago."

Credit: Ethan Young Joey Slackman comes out on the field before the home game vs. Dartmouth.

After being under-recruited as a football player coming out of Commack High School in New York, Slackman committed to Penn with the intention of suiting up for the Quaker wrestling team. A New York state wrestling champion during his senior year, there was a time when Slackman believed his days on the football field may be over.

But after reaching out to coach Ray Priore and securing a spot on the roster, Slackman’s football dreams were reignited. Though he initially pursued the idea of being a dual-sport athlete, Slackman eventually committed his full attention to the gridiron — a move that, at the time, was something of a leap of faith.

But now, it is clear Slackman’s shoulders were always meant for pads. Over three seasons in the Red and Blue, Slackman has left an indelible mark on the program, racking up 25 career tackles for loss and multiple All-Ivy honors. And as his Quaker career comes to a close, the Ancient Eight’s highest individual honor is a fitting final note.

Slackman is currently in the transfer portal for his final year of collegiate eligibility, and he has garnered immense interest from big-time programs, including Florida, Auburn, and Michigan. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Slackman described recruiting the process as “surreal” and said that the bevy of offers is especially shocking given the minimal interest he received coming out of high school.

But regardless of where Slackman ends his collegiate career, his time in the Red and Blue will never be forgotten. Without Slackman, Penn would be missing an integral piece of the football program’s history. And without Penn, Slackman may have never found his way back to football at all.