Where Nick Bowers comes from, you either root for Pitt, or Penn State. There’s not a whole lot of in between.

As a senior at Kittanning High School — located about 40 miles northeast of the city of Pittsburgh — Bowers was committed to play for the Panthers. But then, in January of 2015, he decommitted from Pitt and a day later, committed to Penn State.

“I think I’m trying to figure out if I got those people to flip from Pitt to Penn State. I’m hoping I did, and [I] worked with quite a few of them last year. a lot of them come to the games now,” Bowers said Tuesday.

Despite the fact that he’s a fifth-year senior, this will be the first time Bowers will be healthy enough to play against the school he was once committed to.

“This is my first time getting to play in this game,” Bowers said. “So I haven't really gotten to experience that whole [atmosphere]. I'm pretty excited for Saturday.”

Bowers’ prior experience with the Penn State-Pitt rivalry is a rare case, among his teammates (and even his coaching staff). Penn State has continued to recruit an increasing number of players from outside of Pennsylvania, but the biggest reason players don’t have an attachment to the matchup is the fact that they were one, two, maybe three years old the last time the two programs squared off prior to 2016.

Penn State head coach James Franklin talks to his coaches during action against Pitt on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa. Penn State won, 33-14.
(Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/TNS)
Penn State head coach James Franklin talks to his coaches during action against Pitt on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa. Penn State won, 33-14.

“This game, again, you’ve got to remember, most of our players before the last four years had never even seen,” James Franklin said.

But Franklin knows that hasn’t changed how much the fans care about the rivalry. Even if he thinks the rivalry can bring the worst out both fanbases, it has made the atmospheres at both Heinz Field and Beaver Stadium all the more special.

“The games have been awesome,” Franklin said. “ ... That first game was an unbelievable game. The environment, I think we had the largest crowd in Heinz Field history for any sporting event. I mean, that’s pretty cool.”

Even the players agree.

“It’s always a great atmosphere,” said defensive tackle Antonio Shelton. “People in the State of Pennsylvania care about football.”

Shelton, a native of Ohio, specifically enjoyed getting to play at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s always cool to play in a pro stadium, like, 'Oh, this is kind of tight,” Shelton s’aid. “I mean, nothing compares to Beaver Stadium because of the sheer size and magnitude, but it’s always cool to play in a pro stadium, especially when it’s like extremely loud like how it’s been in previous years; the scenery in Pittsburgh is cool because you’re right there on the water, things like that.”

So, maybe, at the end of the day, that’s all it is for the players who lived through this latest, four-year iteration of the rivalry: an opportunity to play in front of some rowdy crowds. Because in Franklin’s eyes, it’s pretty easy to figure out why this matchup means so much to people across the commonwealth.

“I understand the significance of it,” Franklin said. “A lot of it is just bragging rights — people going back to work on Monday. It’s all those types of things that just hits a little bit closer to home.”