Link to Penn State’s past finds home with Appalachian State

There’s a familiar name on the Appalachian State coaching staff who will be marking a homecoming of sorts today when Penn State launches its 2018 season at Beaver Stadium.

Greg Gasparato is in his first year as the Mountaineers’ safeties coach.

His father, the late Nick Gasparato, was on the Penn State staff from 1981-82 and 1984-88, coaching the offensive line when the Nittany Lions made consecutive appearances in the national championship game and won it all with their all-time signature moment, the 14-10 win over Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

Right about that time, Greg was born in State College but relocated before he was 3 years old when his dad moved on to the high school ranks in the south.

Young Gasparato returned after his brother, Mike, committed to the Nittany Lions as a running back in 2000.

“State College has always been a big part of my life,” Gasparato was saying in a phone interview after practice this week. “Living there and growing up in that environment has played a huge role in what I’ve become today. It’s always neat to go back and visit, and it will be neat to come into that stadium and coach a game there.”

Gasparato, 31, graduated from State College Area High School in 2005, having played under Al Wolski and Dave Lintal.

“My dad was also on the staff for a couple years,” Gasparato, who played college football at Wofford, said.

Gasparato’s first coaching job came at Juniata under current coach Tim Launtz.

“It was fantastic,” Gasparato said of his Juniata experience. “It gave me a chance to get my foot in the door, and it was unbelievable. It’s a program that treats people the right away. There are a lot of special people there.”

Launtz, then in his first season (2011) as head coach, immediately saw and appreciated a coach’s son.

“He comes form a great pedigree,” Launtz said. “You could tell from Day 1, Greg was destined to succeed in the coaching profession. He had an outstanding football IQ, and he’s a grinder. He would put in the time that needed to be put in to do it right, and what I remember most is he related very well to the players. He did a very good job for us and was well ahead of himself.

“From a very young age, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.”

Nick Gasparato, who also coached at South Carolina in 1992, died in 2007 after a heart attack at the age of 52.

The family is also coping with heartache as Mike Gasparato is currently hospitalized with an aggressive form of testicular cancer that has spread.

A GoFundMe page that says “the Gasparatos need our help,” has been set up for the family, and Lift for Life founder Scott Shirley told Lions’ 2-4-7/FightonState, “Mike a fighter. We’re all pulling for him.”

Mike and his mother were hoping to attend today’s game.

“He was diagnosed with cancer in January and had surgery, and it came back very aggressively a few weeks ago,” Greg said, adding his brother has been in the Lexington Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina since Aug. 6. “I know he really wanted to be at the game, and then this happens. Life throws you curve balls sometimes. He’s battling.”

Greg, who spent three seasons on Wofford’s staff prior to moving over to App State, will work from the booth. He knows he’ll get an eyeful of Penn State’s offensive talent.

“Their athletes stand out, but to me it all starts with the quarterback,” he said. ì(Trace) McSorley is a heckuva player. He’s got the intangibles. He can extend plays, make plays with his legs and his arm. It’s hard to coach some of the things he does. He’s a tremendous player with a lot of weapons around him. They lost a great running back, but they’ve got a lot of players behind him.

“We’ve got our work cut out.”

Either way, he intends to enjoy the trip.

“It’s two eras in my life that have been so big,” Gasparato said. “My dad always taught me when you can be at a place with good people who do things right, stay there. Just being around the coaches at State College and Penn State was a very big piece of our lives. My mom, dad and brother all graduated from there. And I’m so blessed to be where I am right now.”

Rudel can be reached at 570-946-7527 or