Following a Saturday in State College that involved a 4:45 a.m. alarm, a tailgate, scrimmage, The Diner, the Creamery, the carnival and a flat tire, I woke up on Sunday morning looking for some relaxation. I turned to my DVR to re-watch the Blue-White game, complete with Mike Mauti commentary, this time from the dry warmth of my own couch. Having already seen the game, not much surprised me between the white lines. However, the one thing that I did notice as strange was all the talk about leadership. Who will be the leaders? Who will take over for Mauti? Which players have the ability to lead?
I don’t mean to imply that replacing Jordan Hill, Mike Zordich and Mauti will be easy, but the Nittany Lions are set for many years in the “leadership” department.
On the current roster, 18 of the freshmen and sophomores were part of the 2012 recruiting class. That class signed their letters of intent to play at Penn State less than three months after “it” happened in Happy Valley. Several players, both committed and otherwise, turned their backs on PSU during that time. There were questions swirling about the coaching change and NCAA sanctions. Jokes were made and insults were slung. To put it mildly, being a Nittany Lion wasn’t the cool thing to do. To those 18 players, none of that mattered. Wise cracks didn’t outweigh the chance to gain a meaningful degree while playing big time football at a prestigious institution. While others lined up to walk away from Penn State, those 18 young men led the way into Happy Valley to “restore the roar.” That’s leadership.
Last July, sanctions were handed to Penn State that will keep them out of postseason play for the next three years. Scholarship restrictions will make simply competing a difficult task. Players being recruited by Bill O’Brien and his staff had not yet entered their senior years and had more than six months to make a final decision regarding their college careers. While some players again turned their backs on Penn State, this fall will feature 18 new players who woke up early one morning in February to fax in their signatures, committing to play football for and attend the Pennsylvania State University. Many of them admitted that missing bowl games was an unfortunate reality, but that being a part of Penn State made the sanctions seem trivial. That’s leadership.
Despite the dark cloud portrayed around the Penn State football program, the last 15 months have seen that same program add 36 young men from all four corners of the country, lining up to stand proud as Penn Staters. While the easy thing would have been to turn their backs on Dear Old State, these young men embraced it with open arms.
Let us also not forget that the upper classmen on the roster all had the opportunity to leave last year after the sanctions. Hell, it’s rarely mentioned because it seems to be a non-issue, but the entire roster still has that option. While some of the players decided last summer to pursue greener pastures, each member of the current team accepted the fact that their post-season college careers had come to an end. To them, it became about upholding the Penn State tradition. It became about blocking out the noise and playing tough, smart football. Penn State football.
On the field, replacing Matt McGloin and Stephon Morris will not be an easy task. The experience of guys like Hodges, Stankiewitch and Massaro can be attained only through time. Depth at linebacker will be an issue and new playmakers will be sought in the defensive backfield. There’s a question mark at quarterback and the offensive line will have to gel. However, when it comes to finding new leaders for the Penn State football team, you don’t have to look very far. The entire roster is made up of them.
Follow Tim Tolley on Twitter.