Penn State deals with annual troubles
Once again, Penn State's preseason football camp has become an exercise in dealing with distractions.
A report on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" ran a week before practice began, questioning coach Joe Paterno's control of the program. Several days later, Paterno dismissed defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor from the team for undisclosed reasons. They had been among six players suspended since the end of the 2007 season. Wide receiver Chris Bell previously had been dismissed from the team for an incident in which he was charged with threatening a teammate with a knife.
A year ago, safety Anthony Scirrotto was a Penn State player trying to ward off distractions as well as prepare for football season. He'd been charged with multiple felonies in connection with an April scuffle at an off-campus apartment. By this time last year, the list of charges had been reduced, but it was not until February 2008 that Scirrotto had closure by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor of defiant trespass.
Scirrotto, a team captain in his senior season, understands in retrospect that his legal situation divided his attention last year.
"You don't like to think of it as doing that, but I feel a lot more relieved this year without having to worry about talking to my lawyer and things of that nature, that I don't want to ever have to deal with again," he said. "Obviously, it's easy to tell that I feel a little bit lighter on my feet. I feel that things are going a lot smoother this summer."
Linebacker Navorro Bowman dealt with being suspended after an October altercation during a dance at the school's student union.
Bowman indicated he has absorbed a hard lesson.
"Just pick your troubles wisely. Just stay out of trouble," he said. "Everybody learns from their mistakes and I did learn from it."
Bowman was dealt a personal blow this summer when his father died.
"My teammates ... supported me and came to the funeral," he said. "That meant a lot to me."
Senior Rich Ohrnberger, a starting guard, has managed to steer clear of legal entanglements, but he's found himself visiting Paterno's doghouse because of his impish personality.
His epiphany, he said, was "figuring out that you're an adult now and you're being perceived that way, you have to act that way."
Ohrnberger was reluctant to specify his behavioral changes.
"I don't know," he said. "The little kid stuff that doesn't fly any more. We're big boys now."
Measuring the impact of distractions on a team is, at best, an inexact science.
"It's not like we're waiting around with bated breath for the next person to get in trouble," Ohrnberger said. "I feel like even though maybe some of that bad publicity and losing key players and things like that for different reasons hurt us, it might have helped us come together a little more as a team."
Penn State has no monopoly on off-field distractions, judging by recent headlines.
Georgia linebacker Darius Dewberry did $2,100 damage at a hospital Sunday morning and became the fifth player for the No. 1 Bulldogs to be suspended for the season opener.
Wisconsin running back Lance Smith has been dismissed from the team after being expelled from a first-offenders program he was participating in following a dispute with a girlfriend that resulted in battery and disorderly conduct charges.
Kentucky quarterback Curtis Pulley, who was vying for the starting job, has been booted from the team. He missed last season with academic problems and has been dealing with traffic charges and a marijuana citation this year.
Oklahoma dismissed incoming freshman wide receiver Josh Jarboe. After signing with the school in February, Jarboe was charged in a March incident of having a gun on school property. That situation had been dealt with, but Jarboe sealed his fate by showing up on an Internet video rapping about guns and shooting people.