Penn State football finally gets back on the field
Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner and Barry Alvarez, his Wisconsin counterpart, have discussed creating a trophy for the Big Ten rivals' annual football game. It may be the only trophy Penn State plays for in the foreseeable future.
The Nittany Lions open training camp Monday under the weight of NCAA sanctions that include a four-year ban on postseason play and have cost Penn State several key players.
That Penn State didn't experience a mass exodus following the July 23 announcement of unprecedented penalties speaks to a widely shared belief among those in the program: The Nittany Lions are playing for something bigger than a bowl game or the Big Ten title.
“The revival of Penn State as a whole and the Penn State community is really sitting on our back,” junior tight end Garry Gilliam said. “If we come out and win each game and handle our business with class, that's really going to send a message to everyone in the nation and world that Penn State's still one of the top universities in the country. We have a lot riding on this season.”
That may be an understatement: Penn State will be the country's most scrutinized program this season and beyond.
The NCAA hammered the Nittany Lions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and punished the program for what president Mark Emmert said was a football culture run amok. The NCAA also waived traditional transfer rules for Penn State's current players, but the Nittany Lions suffered minimal losses, at least from a numbers standpoint.
Only nine players have left the program, and coach Bill O'Brien made it clear that those who take part in preseason practice are expected to stay for the entire season.
“The fact that we stick together through a time like this, that's going to go a long way,” senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. “We're going to look back years from now and see how special that really was. I don't think wins and losses are going to determine whether this season's successful. And believe me — I don't like losing. I hate losing more than I like winning.”
The loss of tailback Silas Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards last season, and several other starters from 2011 won't be easy to weather. One intangible that should benefit the Nittany Lions is shared adversity has made the players closer. They also won't lack motivation, given the criticism the program has absorbed.
“We don't have a bowl game,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said, “but we'll treat every game like one.”
The start of preseason drills will bring a semblance of normalcy for players who have experienced anything but in the past two weeks. Senior fullback Michael Zordich said it will be a relief to focus on blocking and tackling.
“You train all year to play football and you go through all of this stuff, and then you're finally on the football field,” he said. “You just kind of let your hair down and go play.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.