This was in our football pullout in Thursday’s paper, but thought I’d post it here, too. I didn’t write too long because of space, but was able to say just about everything I wanted to.
It’s almost time for football — finally.
That has to be the thought of every player, coach and anyone involved with the Penn State football program after dealing with daunting challenge after daunting challenge since last November.
From the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the death of Joe Paterno, the hiring of Bill O’Brien and the NCAA sanctions levied last month, the Nittany Lions’ world has been changed in just about every way one could imagine.
There was some good, some bad, some sad and some frustrating, but when Ohio comes to Beaver Stadium on Saturday Penn State can turn its focus to football.
There will be a lot of unfamiliar faces, and uniform changes, when the Nittany Lions take the field.
When the NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State it allowed any Nittany Lion to transfer with the ability to play immediately. The biggest name to jump ship was running back Silas Redd, who ran faster from the Nittany Lions than he did any tackler during a stellar sophomore season that saw him gash defenses for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns. Placekicker and punter Anthony Fera also left Penn State, transferring to Texas to be closer to his family and his mother, who has multiple sclerosis.
In their places will be Bill Belton, a converted wide receiver who ran away with the starting running back job after an impressive spring practice and training camp, and Sam Ficken, who was very consistent through the preseason while continuing to refine his kickoffs.
Belton and Ficken are just a handful of under-the-radar players fans will have to learn about.
Wide receiver has the most unknowns. Justin Brown left for Oklahoma, opening up a chance for sophomore Allen Robinson to take the starting spot. Alex Kenney will play in the slot and Shawney Kersey will play on the outside.
The offensive line replaces four starters, but the addition of strength coach Craig Fitzgerald has made a major impact there.
Defensively, Ted Roof will run a unit that will take more chances in one season than the past 30 combined. All-American linebacker Gerald Hodges returns to unit that gets Michael Mauti back, too.
O’Brien has been the rock of a program that has been beaten down by critics, transfers and sanctions that included a postseason ban and scholarship reductions.
The former offensive coordinator of the Patriots will hand his offense to Matt McGloin, but more importantly O’Brien is the new face of a new day in Penn State football.