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PSU seniors hope to leave program on solid footing

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 10:34 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Penn State Nittany Lions defensive lineman Jordan Hill (47) forces Temple Owls quarterback Chris Coyer (10) to fumble during the 2nd quarter at Beaver Stadium in University Park on September 22, 2012. Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Temple Owls 24-13. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Senior cornerback Stephon Morris said he started hearing “whispers” from younger players about leaving Penn State after the Nittany Lions opened the season with two deflating losses.

They reeled off five consecutive victories before losing to Ohio State at a packed Beaver Stadium in late October.

“After the Ohio State game I heard them again,” Morris recalled Tuesday, “and I talked to (the defensive backs), and I was like ‘Look, you would be stupid if you (were) going to leave here. Where would you want to go?' ”

That talk — Morris addressed his teammates in the defensive backs meeting room — may ultimately serve as a turning point, especially since sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos told Morris later that he intends to follow Morris' lead and stay the course.

Such acts are what make the contributions of Penn State's senior class impossible to quantify — and why this is such a bittersweet week for everyone involved with the Nittany Lions football program.

The seniors will play their final game Saturday when Penn State (7-4, 5-2 Big Ten) hosts Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3), and coaches, underclassmen and fans will bid farewell to players who held the program together during its darkest hour.

The seniors prevented an exodus of players after the NCAA hammered Penn State with sanctions in July, and they are confident they are leaving the program on solid footing even though underclassmen are free to transfer without penalty until the start of the 2013 season.

“The next senior class is going to take it upon themselves to keep this thing going,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “It's something we did this year, and I think it's going to be more of a domino effect.”

That remains to be seen.

If Penn State beats Wisconsin, the season will be an unqualified success. But once the glow of a winning season fades reality will set in for the underclassman.

Penn State has to weather sanctions that include a postseason ban for three more years.

And it will become much harder for the Nittany Lions as they deal with the loss of a talented senior class as well as scholarship restrictions.

“I believe everybody will be back that's eligible to be back, but I don't know for sure,” said coach Bill O'Brien, who has declined to address speculation that NFL teams will pursue him in the offseason. “I just know what I see. I see a bunch of guys that enjoy playing football for Penn State and come out every day and work hard.

“I think they know that they can achieve a lot of their goals here. Can they win a national championship or a Big Ten championship in the next three years? No, and we know that, so why tiptoe around it? I think there's a lot to play for here at Penn State and I think they know it.”

O'Brien credited the seniors for “setting the tone” as far as dealing with punishment for something that had nothing to do with them. He said it will be one of their lasting contributions to the football program.

It is also why he asked fans to be in their seats by 3 p.m. Saturday, 30 minutes before kickoff. Penn State will honor the seniors as well as their parents.

“They were instrumental in keeping this football team together when the sanctions came out,” O'Brien said of the seniors. “They really helped the community move forward. They grew up a lot here. They'll always be remembered here for the leadership that they showed.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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