STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Many Penn State fans have become familiar with the annual Beaver Stadium "White Out," as well as the first ever "Stripe Out," which spectators pulled off for the Rutgers game last month. But for Saturday's noon game against Illinois, a group of Penn State alumni and students is gathering support for a "Purple Out' in honor of Penn State alumna Kayla Nakonechni. She died earlier this month at 24 after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
Her friends are encouraging spectators to wear purple, Nakonechni's favorite color, or gray, the color for brain cancer awareness. The event organizers include her boyfriend and Penn State alum John Tecce, of Downingtown. He met Nakonechni through Nittanyville, the tent city students set up the week before each home game to get front-row seats.
Nittany Lions football, Tecce said, was one of her greatest passions. The Carbondale, Pa. native continued to show her dedication to the team even as her health deteriorated.
During the four football seasons she spent in Happy Valley, Nakonechni made nearly every Nittanyville campout and home game, Tecce said. Even when she took off the fall 2013 semester to undergo chemotherapy and radiation, she still attended six Penn State football games, he said.
One of those games was the season opener against Syracuse at Metlife Stadium, two weeks after Nakonechni underwent brain surgery.
"The only time I saw her cry in the weeks before her surgery was about potentially missing that game," Tecce said. "She was so happy to be there, even if she had to wear earplugs."
At the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in December, the last game Nakonechni attended, she watched Penn State defeat Boston College in overtime.
She particularly loved wide receivers Derek Moye and DaeSean Hamilton, Tecce said.
After Nakonechni's death, the football team reached out to show support. Team members sent a card, signed by the whole football staff, to Nakonechni's family, and Penn State coach James Franklin tweeted a photograph of Nakonechni with his condolences.
The family of late coach Joe Paterno has also continually supported Nakonechni and her family, Tecce said.
The "purple out" coincides with the university's annual THON game, for which 50 percent of non-student ticket sales benefit Penn State's dance marathon. THON raises money and awareness for children battling cancer, and was another one of Nakonechni's passions.
She stood for 46 hours as a THON dancer during her junior year, and after being diagnosed with cancer, became a THON beneficiary herself. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in biology, Nakonechni planned to attend graduate school and pursue a career in pediatric medicine.