Former Navy SEAL Nittany Lion ‘Hawk’ honored in moving ceremony

Former Navy SEAL and Penn State football player Rick “Hawk” Slater was the victim of an emotional sneak attack on Saturday when a group of former Nittany Lions and longtime friends had him. surprised by revealing that a room in the university’s Student Veteran Center had been named in his honor.

Slater arrived at the event not knowing he was the guest of honor, until a close friend and former PSU football teammate Justin Kurpeikis blinded him to the news. Kurpeikis, a 2001 All-Big Ten first-team defensive end who went on to enjoy a five-year NFL career, had to hold back tears as he spoke to and about his boyfriend at the ceremony .

“This is how much you mean to us,” said Kurpeikis (see video above). “As we put it all together, the thing we talked about the most was, for the rest of your life, and your son’s life… (he) will have a permanent place of honor. No one will ever be able to do that. remove. It will be here forever. And all we hope is that every time he comes here some of us can walk in with him – and with you – and tell stories about it. that you mean to us. We love you, mate, and we hope you enjoy it. So everyone … “

And with that, Slater, who seemed to be misty, entered the room called “The Falcon’s Nest”. A plaque says the coin was named “In honor of Richard” Hawk “Slater, our teammate and friend. “

One wall in the room features his Penn State # 53 jersey framed and with a Navy SEAL trident above it. A photo of him serving as a Navy SEAL is on one side of the jersey and a photo of him as a Penn State boxer (more details in a moment) is on the other.

“Look at this,” Slater said, entering the room. ” This is another thing. Slightly hampered from recent foot surgery, Slater was greeted into the room by former PSU offensive tackle Keith “Goon” Conlin, who gave him a big hug.

If you don’t know Slater’s story, you should. Upon graduating from high school, he spent 11 years in the Navy (the last nine as a SEAL) before joining the Penn State football team in 1998 – when he was 28. Slater was a 6-foot-1, 248-pound defensive tackle, and despite the age difference with his teammates, he has become a revered figure in the program due to his tenacity and fearlessness. He was also a member of the school’s club boxing team and won the National Collegiate Boxing Association heavyweight championship as a senior in April 2001.

After graduating from PSU, he was living in Brazil when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. Slater immediately converted to SEAL and spent more than a decade serving the country around the world, including several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His decorated career as a SEAL ultimately spanned over two decades.

In the summer of 2012, when Penn State’s football program was rocked by NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal, then coach Bill O’Brien asked Slater to speak to the team. He obliged, and the 20-minute “Charlie-Mike” (mission continuation) speech became a legend among the PSU players on this squad, most of whom chose to stay and rebuild the program rather than move to. other schools.

“The tradition is starting over now with the new guard – you men,” Slater told the team. “Character, to me, is when all seems lost, and people are looking for foxholes and life rafts to jump in – or excuses to find. There is this guy who stays. He will stay and say, “Bring it. Oh yeah, and make mine a double. ‘ ”

“It was amazing,” linebacker Glenn Carson said later that summer. “It’s definitely one of the speeches I still think about today. It changed my way of thinking a bit. He taught us what it means to be on a team.

For the 2012 season, O’Brien decided to honor the players who followed the program by allowing them to have their names on their jerseys – a first for Penn State. But before that even happened, longtime PSU gear man Brad “Spider” Caldwell decided to honor Slater by presenting him with a jersey with his name on the back.

That same jersey is now framed and hung on the wall in “The Hawk’s Nest,” the site of Saturday’s emotional sneak attack.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Retired US Marine Steve Manuel for shooting the video above (this is a must-see material) and the photos below.

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