Local Stars Feeling Penn State Fallout
By Keith Mills
The fallout has begun from the Penn State football sanctions, and it impacts every one of the 96 players currently on the Nittany Lions roster. That includes five players from the Baltimore area: Adrian Amos, Trevor Williams and Da'Quan Davis from Calvert Hall; Donovan Smith of Owings Mills; and Brian Gaia of Gilman.
Amos is a sophomore, Smith is a redshirt freshman while Gaia, Williams and Davis are all freshmen getting ready for their first season of Penn State football.
"I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the university forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement. "I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.
"I was then, and I remain convinced, that our student-athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season."
But how many of O'Brien's current players stay at Penn State remains the issue. After NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions on Monday and said the current Penn State players had permission to transfer to any school, there has been an all-out assault on some of the team's best players from college coaches all over the country.
It led Smith, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman from Owings Mills, to post this on his Twitter account on July 22: "Stop asking if im transferring im staying at PSU no matter what I love my school."
Time will tell how many of Smith's teammates feel the same way. The Nittany Lions are banned from playing in any bowl game until the 2016 season. Like the NCAA tournament in basketball, bowl games, and a chance to win a national championship, are a huge factor in which school a potential player attends. But don't be surprised if there isn't the mass exodus from Penn State to other programs that some predicted.
Though Joe Paterno had been coaching at the school since 1950 (he was named head coach in 1965), more and more players during the last 10 years were committing to Penn State almost as much for the tradition and history of the program, the reputation of the school itself and the relationships they developed with some of the Nittany Lion assistant coaches.
Paterno still garnered a tremendous amount of respect within the high school community, in and out of Pennsylvania, but nowhere near as much as he did during the Nittany Lions' glory days of the 1970s and '90s. Baltimore was always represented well in State College, Pa. Edmondson's Charlie Pittman was part of Paterno's first recruiting class in 1965, earning All-American honors in 1969 and playing two years in the NFL, including one season with the Baltimore Colts in 1971
Eric Jonassen was one of the nation's premier offensive linemen when Paterno recruited him in 1985 out of Mount St. Joseph, while Bryant Johnson of City College played wide receiver for Penn State and is about to begin his ninth year in the NFL, his second with the Arizona Cardinals.
In the case of the current Baltimore-area players, the link to the school and the football program is Larry Johnson, now the team's defensive line coach, who handles most of the recruiting in both the Baltimore area and the state of Maryland. Johnson once coached at McDonough High School in Charles County, where he won state championships in 1983 and '85 before being named the head coach at T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va.
O'Brien retained Johnson, whose sons Larry and Tony both played for Penn State, last fall, as well as defensive coordinator Ron Vanderlinden, the former head coach at Maryland.
Penn State's program is also unique in that the school itself also attracts its share of blue-chip players. Penn State alumni are scattered all over the country, though the majority still live predominantly in either Pennsylvania or its surrounding states -- New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Ohio. Players committed to Penn State not just to play for Paterno and the storied Nittany Lions program, but also to continue a family tradition that may span generations.
Being a member of the Big Ten Conference also gives the school an edge in recruiting, because there is no other Big Ten school in the region. One of the best conferences in the country, the Big Ten offers its players a chance to compete at the highest level, against some of the finest players and coaches in the country.
Another reason why there may not be a mass exodus out of Penn State is it's just not that easy to transfer. Transferring isn't the hard part. That's just a matter of transferring transcripts and grades via the computer to a new school, and physically moving to another city or town. It’s a routine that hundreds of collegiate athletes repeat every year, in every sport at every level. The hard part is actually fitting in at a new school and program, whose depth charts have already been set and whose locker-room chemistry has usually already established.
Incoming high school freshmen may have an advantage against veteran upperclassmen, because there have been no real relationships established as yet in the Penn State locker room. But for every other member of the Nittany Lions program, especially established upperclassman, creating an identity with new teammates and a brand-new coaching staff is not easy. It remains the top deterrent keeping juniors and seniors from transferring schools -- they just don't want to start over.
"They've just got to rebuild," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "They've got to rebuild their reputation, and they will do it. I hope all those boys stay there and fight their way back."
This time last year, O'Brien was beginning training camp with the New England Patriots as Bill Belichick's offensive coordinator. Now, he'll be trying to convince a group of confused and shocked 18- to 23-year-olds to stay at State College and sacrifice a lot of personal goals and dreams because of the sanctions for a team-wide mission that promises to be as challenging as anything they've ever done.
Posted July 25, 2012