Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
July 25, 2012CHICAGO - For 48 hours, starting early Sunday morning on the east side of Beaver Stadium in sunny State College and running late into the night on Monday, Penn State's football program was literally and figuratively torn apart.
Not long after the Joe Paterno statue was torn down - along with the accomplishments of his players for more than 40 seasons - word leaked that the NCAA would go beyond the symbolic. With the multitude gathering its stones, a collection of completely innocent 18- to 22-year-old football players would play the part of sacrificial lambs.
Taking the podium in Indianapolis with the self-righteousness of universally culpable member institutions at his back, Mark Emmert vowed to fix major-college football, starting with a program that had never received a single NCAA violation for player misconduct.
Penn State's leaders, unwilling to show any resistance to the national narrative of an institution riddled with incompetent, child-endangering frauds, did what they've done best since the onset of this nightmare in November:
Said Rodney Erickson via prepared release, "We continue to recognize the important role that intercollegiate athletics provides for our student athletes and the wider University community as we strive to appropriately balance academic and athletic accomplishments."
Right, because academics have always been an afterthought in Penn State's athletic programs.
Without the courage to confront the NCAA's sweeping penalties, which stemmed from the justifiable revulsion at Jerry Sandusky's crimes, the reputation of an entire institution and its proud athletic tradition of academic excellence was demolished.
"Erickson has his priorities in line to just be a bandage," said a source with knowledge of the university's crisis management. "I don't care if you're a lame duck or not, you need to do something before this entire school goes down for four or five people."
Fortunately for Penn State, its alumni and students hungry for any type of positive example, new football head coach Bill O'Brien and his band of wronged student-athletes have presented themselves as the only adults in the room with any remaining sense of pride in themselves or their institution.
Having let the dust settle, O'Brien, a man with no connection to Penn State University prior to his hiring six months ago, responded positively on a national stage. Defending the virtues of the football program he's now in charge of, as well as the institution that continues to offer academic programs exceeding the standards of nearly every other public university in the United States, O'Brien has proactively addressed questions from players and their parents, national and local media outlets, and seemingly any other party looking for answers.
Beyond any reasonable expectation, given the circumstances, O'Brien put on full display the leadership qualities that led to his hiring in the first place.
And, with a fan base and community desperate for reassurance, O'Brien provided it.
"I would tell them to renew their season tickets. I would tell them to move forward. I would tell them to turn the page and get on board with a new era of Penn State football," he said. "I would tell them to continue their belief in this fantastic university that offers people a fantastic education. I would tell them to remember that they've got a football team here that is working extremely hard for this upcoming season. And, I would tell them to remember the mission of Penn State, which, as it relates to football, is the value of a world-renowned education with the ability to play great football.
"I would tell them to jump on board."
Many of his players, the keys to any type of success for the program as it attempts to move forward, have decided to stand up for themselves, too.
Starting with a string of tweets and public statements on Tuesday, as many as 43 current players have re-affirmed their commitment to compete for the Nittany Lions this season. Wednesday morning, many of them were on hand outside the Lasch Building as linebacker Mike Mauti and fullback Mike Zordich, made a public statement to a small gathering of media.
Two of the best leaders the program has enjoyed in recent years, the pair of best friends held nothing back.
"What we want to let you know is, we're proud of who we are," Zordich announced. "We're the true Penn Staters. We're going to stick together through this. We're going to see this thing through and we're going to do everything that we can for the university.
"We know it's not going to be easy, but we know what we're made of. We know that through this grind, there's going to be tough times ahead, but we know what our coaches are made of, and we know what the university is made of, and we're ready and willing to fight to stick together to get through this thing to the end.
"We have an obligation to Penn State, and we have the ability to fight, not just for a team, not just a program, but an entire university and every man that wore the blue and white on that gridiron before us. We are going to embrace this opportunity and we're going to make something very special happen in 2012."
With pathetic leadership failing to do anything to shift that focus, Penn State, as an entire institution and community, finally found the confidence it needed in a rag-tag bunch of 21-year old kids.
For fans of the football team who have always considered the program an underdog due to its high academic standards and history of holding players to high standards of personal integrity, they've just found themselves a group entirely worthy of their support.
"Yeah, no sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we've got here. None of that is ever going to tear us apart," Mauti said. "Right now, all we can do is put our heads down, and we're just going to work. That's all we can do.
"We're going to fight for Penn State, we're going to fight for each other, because this is what Penn State is about. Fighting through adversity. We're going to show up every Saturday and we're going to raise hell."
Penn State NEWS