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Penn State players worrying about stability

| Monday, Dec. 26, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State players each have their unique stories about how Joe Paterno made recruiting visits to them or spoke to their parents, selling the program. He convinced some players to commit on the spot; a select few received a surprise visit by Paterno.

The stories have turned into memories, the memories into talking points. The players were recruited by a coaching icon and brought into a stable program where many assistants coaches never left.

In the wake of the child sex abuse scandal that led to Paterno's firing, many players say it's up to the current team to make sure their work on the field and in the classroom isn't lost by whomever ultimately takes over the program. Simply put, they don't want to see their program, and the legacy of Penn State football, go be lost.

"We have a lot of support from the Penn State community," said senior right tackle Chima Okoli, as the team prepared for its game against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2 in Dallas. "We have the best fans in the world, and this whole community, it extends. There are so many Penn State alumni, it extends beyond State College and beyond this Penn State area. I think we're resilient as Penn Staters, and we're going to come back from this."

The scandal's long-term financial impact won't be seen until years. The number of applicants at Penn State for the incoming freshman class increased by 4 percent, and Penn State still ranked third by Forbes as the most valuable college football program this past season, but Webster University economics professor told the magazine the university could lose $20 million to $30 million in the long term.

The players understand the culture of the program likely will change. Waiting more than 45 days to name a new head coach hasn't helped ease the players' minds, either.

They've been contacted via Facebook by recruits seeking advice, and underclassmen have asked their older teammates for opinions about staying or leaving.

"That's up to them and their families," senior left tackle Quinn Barham said. "It's tough to really get them onboard and keep them onboard because they're worried about their futures as well."

Barham said he doesn't know what to tell his teammates. He said he hopes a coach is named soon so players can begin to move on.

"I am a little bit concerned," All-American defensive tackle Devon Still said. "But I know the players that we have now aren't going to let this program go down the drain. I think they've worked too hard for it.

"The biggest decision that this university is going to have to make is who they're going to appoint as the head coach," Still said. "The faster they do that, the faster this team and this program can go back to where it used to be."

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