McGloin is your starter

This is my column that will run in Saturday’s paper, but I figured I’d post it here:

Put Bill O’Brien’s first major decision as Penn State’s head coach in the win column.

Prior to Friday’s Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament in State College, O’Brien told reporters that he informed the team that senior Matt McGloin will be the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback when they host Ohio on Sept. 1.

While McGloin isn’t the most talented QB on Penn State’s roster — that’s sophomore Paul Jones and it’s not even close — he certainly gives the Lions the best chance to win games.

Rob Bolden, who is surprisingly still with team after rumors of an inevitable transfer, has struggled so much the past two seasons that there was no way he’d be under center. And while Jones showed glimpses over the past three springs — he enrolled at PSU for the spring semester in 2010 — he struggled in the classroom too much to count on him on the field at this point.

That’s not to say Jones won’t start at some point this season. By hitting the books hard in the spring and summer, Jones will be able to give the coaches confidence that should he be needed, whether because of an injury to or ineffectiveness by McGloin, he can be trusted.

Naming McGloin the starter now, more than a month before preseason practice starts, was the right call by O’Brien.

“When you go into training camp you got to make sure that one guy is getting the bulk of the reps,” O’Brien said. “You don’t have time to give three guys equal reps.”

The past two preseason practices were dominated by a quarterback battle, won each time by Bolden, that the offense struggled early on because of it. When you’re splitting first-team reps between multiple quarterback candidates the offense builds no chemistry. One player is soft spoken (Bolden) while the other has no problem speaking his mind (McGloin).

While there are many players to replace on both sides of the ball, the hit on defense is so severe that Penn State is going to have to score points to win games early on.

There is a ton of talent on defense, led by tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Gerald Hodges, but losing All-American tackle Devon Still, both starting ends and the entire secondary will put a ton of pressure on coordinator Ted Roof and his assistants to turn inexperienced talent into results.

The offense has its share of holes to fill after the graduation of four offensive linemen, leading receiver Derek Moye and versatile fullback Joe Suhey. With the return of standout tailback Silas Redd, reliable receiver Justin Brown and injury-bitten tight end Garry Gilliam along with promising talents like receiver Allen Robinson, running back/receiver Bill Belton and true freshman tight end Jesse James, McGloin will have the weapons to put points on the board.

Don’t forget about kicker Anthony Fera, who gives O’Brien a good option if the offense can’t always get in the end zone.

It also shows that O’Brien can make a pressure-filled decision and do it the right way.

While competition at every position is a great thing, having a position as important quarterback settled before camp is important. Now O’Brien and his coaching staff can work on making the Nittany Lions’ offense better instead of answering constant questions on who would be under center.

In the end football is all about results and O’Brien knew McGloin gives Penn State the best chance to win to start the season. It’s really as simple as that, so there was no need to string it out and O’Brien didn’t.

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A few gut punches

With spring practice under way, the next era of Penn State has officially begun under Bill O’Brien, but off the field it’s been a rough stretch for the Nittany Lions.

Redshirt freshman defensive end Shawn Oakman was kicked off the football team late last month, with charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and retail theft filed last week. The apartment of senior wide receiver Devon Smith and former defensive end Jack Crawford was found to have drugs in it during a search on March 14. No charges have been filed against either Smith or Crawford, but O’Brien was aware of the situation and declined to comment during Monday’s press conference.

Recruiting, off to a hot start with the commitments of quarterback Christian Hackenberg, tight end Adam Breneman and defensive end Garrett Sickels in the past month, has slowed a bit. While offensive lineman Brendan Mahon and defensive end Curtis Cothran committed to the Nittany Lions in the past week, once thought to be PSU leans Mike McGlinchey, an offensive lineman from Philadelphia, and Ryan Switzer, a wide receiver from West Virginia, both decided to go elsewhere. McGlinchy committed to Notre Dame during a visit over the weekend and Switzer is off to North Carolina.

Also, former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, a two-year starter for the Terps but in search of a new school and eligible to play immediately because he finished school at Maryland and intends to go to graduate school, picked Wisconsin over Penn State on Wednesday. What makes it even harder to swallow for PSU fans was that O’Brien was at Penn State on Monday to take in the Nittany Lions’ first practice of the spring.

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Recruiting updates

Penn State picked up two commitments last week, while also losing another long-time commit.

Princeton, N.J. lineman Wendy Laurent committed last Tuesday, while Harrisburg defensive end Evan Schwan committed during an official visit to Happy Valley over the weekend. Schwan, who played for Class AAAA state champion Central Dauphin, finished his senior season with 78 tackles and 17 sacks to earn All-State honors and a spot in the Big 33 game. Laurent, who played at the Hun School, was a first-team All-Prep selection. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder will play along offensive line, most likely at guard, for the Nittany Lions.

Philadelphia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg will not be part of the 2012 recruiting class. A PSU verbal commitment since July, Mornhinweg will end up at Florida. Another former PSU commit, Massachusetts defensive back Armani Reeves, committed to Ohio State over the weekend.

Jeannette safety Demetrious Cox committed to Michigan State on Monday. He has been considering Penn State and Ohio State as well. Barring any last-minute surprises it appears Penn State’s class, which stands at 19 commits, is finished.

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Lions add QB

Penn State picked up a verbal commitment from Cairo, Ga., quarterback Steven Bench on Tuesday.

Bench, who had been committed to Rice, took an official visit to State College over the weekend and was extended a scholarship offer by the Nittany Lions coaching staff. Bench, a three-star prospect, is listed as a dual-threat QB.

Philadelphia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, committed to Penn State last July, but took an official visit to Florida last week and will visit Virginia Tech this weekend. Mornhinweg visited Penn State two weeks ago, but rumors are that the new coaching staff sees him more as a safety than a quarterback. He did not reaffirm his commitment during his visit to PSU.

On all the coverage on the death of Joe Paterno, I’ve found it quite ironic that some media members who painted him as a villain just a few months ago have changed their tune after the 85-year-old Paterno died Sunday of complications from his lung cancer. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzeswski, someone who had been in Paterno’s corner from Day 1, said it best in this interview he did with ESPN on Sunday.

I heard from Gary Finkler, who is a graphic designer, about a piece he did on Paterno for his website. I thought it was well done. Check it out when you have time.

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Four in, one out

Penn State’s recruiting class grew by four over the weekend, but also lost a key player.

Baltimore’s Trevor Williams and Da’Quan Davis, teammates at Calvert Hall, Buffalo, N.Y. running back Akeel Lynch and Camas, Wa., wide receiver Jonathan Warner all verbally committed to Penn State over the weekend. The Nittany Lions did lose West Roxbury, Mass., defensive back Armani Reeves, who de-committed from Penn State over the weekend and eliminated the Lions from consideration.

Williams, a wide receiver, and Davis, a defensive back, were both committed to West Virginia before opening up their recruitment earlier this month. Lynch, who ran for over 2,000 yards as a senior at St. Francis, was committed to Boston College. Warner is the son of Penn State great Curt Warner.

Reeves, a high school teammate of Cam Williams, who dropped Penn State for Ohio State last week, is down to Michigan and Ohio State, where he officially visited last week.

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Thoughts on JoePa

We all knew this day was coming, sooner rather than later unfortunately.

When news broke that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had lung cancer I knew it would only be a matter of time before the terrible disease claimed his life. Even as his family tried to say it was “treatable” there was very little chance in my mind that a then 84-year-old man would be to able to not only fight off the cancer but deal with the chemo and radiation treatments that go along with it.

Still, the passing of not only a coaching icon but an iconic human being is almost too sad for words. Even after the child sex abuse scandal involving one his assistants cost him his job, Paterno never wavered from the man he was throughout his entire life, especially the past 61 as a football coach at Penn State. Don’t think so? What other person would donate $100,000 to the school that turned its back on him, firing him after over six decades of service via a phone call at 10 p.m. on Nov. 9?

Some say the things Paterno said during his life were just for show. You know, that he didn’t care about having the all-time wins record. Or that it didn’t bother him when there were calls for him to be fired after the Nittany Lions had four losing seasons in five years from 2000-04. Or that in the wake of his dismissal that he wasn’t bitter towards the school or those who terminated him. Unfortunately, there will always be those types of people. So much for taking the man at his word.

I got the chance to cover Penn State football in 2007-08 and two personal memories of Paterno will always stay with me.

In 2007, former Pocono Record writer Andrew Kroeckel and I made the trip to State College to cover media day in August. We went out the night before, and being that I’m a Penn State graduate, I wanted to show Andrew around town. Long story short, we were out pretty late and were running behind Saturday morning. We were supposed to be at Beaver Stadium at 10:30 a.m. to catch a bus that would take the media over the practice facility about two blocks away. When we got to Beaver Stadium the bus had already left, but I knew where Holuba Hall was so I drove us over there. As we were walking through the gate and onto the outdoor practice field we both saw an older gentleman walking toward us at a brisk pace. We both figured it was some security guard coming to either ask us for ID, yell at us for being later or both. As got closer we realized it was Paterno, who gave us a wave and said, “Hey guys, thanks for coming,” before ducking into a locker room.

After Penn State throttled Oregon State in the 2008 season’s second game I was trying to figure out a sidebar to write for the following day. A week after the only pass thrown to him clanked off his hands in the end zone, tight end Mickey Shuler make three amazing catches against the Beavers. Two one-handed grabs for touchdowns and a third catch on a pass thrown about a yard behind him. So I asked Paterno what he thought about Shuler’s game a week after dropping the only pass thrown to him. His response: “It looked as if he played well. I don’t see things. Everything that you guys see. You’re probably from Harrisburg Area. I can’t just watch for some things that are happening in the game and stick my two cents in there once in a while. Shuler had a couple good catches. And I think he played well. But he’ll get better and better. I like him. I think he’s a good ball player.”

People always enjoy those stories when I tell them. Both were a big part of who Paterno was: part nice old man, part cantankerous coach in no mood for questions he didn’t feel like answering.

There will always be people whose opinion of Paterno is negative after the scandal that rocked Penn State last November. Those peoples’ minds will never be changed and that’s their right. For me, a lifelong Penn State fan, graduate of the school and journalist who covered the team for two years, my views may be seen somewhat through rose-colored glasses. One mistake, when looked at in hindsight, does not make Paterno nor did it ruin everything he did in his life. He was a man who didn’t just care about winning football games, but turning 18-year-olds in men who would benefit society. Not once was there an NCAA investigation, recruiting violation or academic scandal under Paterno’s watch. His football team consistently ranked near the top of the graduation rate and those players who didn’t value their education would never sniff the field until they realized the value of going to class.

That is how will remember Joe Paterno. So will many others.

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Recruiting is picking up

Yeah, it’s been too long since I’ve blogged, but for the longest time there wasn’t anything positive going on with the Penn State football program and I refused to beat a dead horse like so many others chose to do.

Well, with the Bill O’Brien era under way and national signing day three weeks away things are starting to pick up for the Nittany Lions.

With his coaching staff assembled, O’Brien has been able to secure a few players already committed to Penn State (tight end Brent Wilkerson is on board after taking an official visit to Nebraska a couple weeks back), get his first commitment (prep school defensive back Jordan Lucas came on board Tuesday) while extending several new offers (Alabama linebackers Beau Hankins and Harding Harper) and getting players committed elsewhere (running back Akeel Lynch and wide receiver Trevor Williams) to reconsider Penn State.

I plan on blogging much more over the next three weeks as Penn State puts the finishing touches on this class and begins to make in roads on the 2013 class (which could include talented tight end Adam Breneman from Camp Hill). Finally, it’s OK for Nittany Lions fans to have something (recruiting and not necessarily this blog) to look forward to.

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Read this column

Want to see what a Penn State student with local ties thinks about the mess going on in State College? Read this column, written by Sam Kramer, a Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg graduate who was an outstanding soccer player for the Spartans. She’s a pretty good writer, too.

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Hard to believe

Those are the three words that keep coming back to me when I think about the Penn State scandal (three more words I never thought I’d write in succession).

If the grand jury report (I won’t link it here, but if you want to read it it’s easily found) is true, the horrors caused by a man (I will never type his name again and from here on out will be called “a man not named above”) are absolutely unspeakable. If the allegations against a man not named above are true, not only did he tear down the walls of trust of those he inflicted harm upon, but of people everywhere.

What troubles me to my core is the evil the kids involved experienced and still do. The grand jury report is sickening. Something like this should never happen. Children give adults they see as people who want help them their trust. After this, how can that ever be again?

What also troubles me is that as time goes on and this story is told over and over and the focus will shift that this ended the career of Joe Paterno, who said Wednesday morning that he would retire at season’s end only to have the Board of Trustees remove him as coach via a phone call effective immediately later that evening. Little will be said that, on that same night as Paterno’s ouster, the eyewitness of a 2002 incident between the man not named above and a young boy who never alerted the authorities was still employed by Penn State. Little will be said that, on the same night as Paterno’s ouster, the athletic director, who has been charged with perjury for lying to a grand jury about the 2002 incident, was still employed by Penn State and having his legal fees paid for by Penn State. And saddest of all, the victims of the alleged acts by the man not named above will become footnotes in the wreckage that is now Paterno’s career.

How could this happen? And not just at Penn State, but anywhere. How could no one have noticed this? And what is the percentage of kids who were harmed who have come forward? The grand jury report details eight victims, but what is the percentage of those who reported crimes? I can’t even begin to wrap my head around a possible number. Whatever the number, they are the true victims in this case. Not Paterno for being ousted by the BoT, not Penn State president Graham Spanier for meeting the same fate as Paterno and not Mike McQueary (the graduate assistant who witnessed the 2002 incident), whose coaching career is most likely over. The children, who put their trust in an adult and were betrayed by a monster, and their families are the only victims here. Make no mistake about it.

This is a tough subject to write about because I’m a Penn State fan. I’ve made no bones about it. I grew up watching the Nittany Lions on Saturdays and hung on every play of every game. I continued that through my college years, first at Penn State’s branch campus near Scranton, then a year at the Hazleton campus before two years and a summer in State College. Even when the Nittany Lions turned out four losing seasons in five years and everyone wanted Paterno gone, I remained loyal to the Nittany Lions and maintained that Paterno should be able to go out on his own accord.

Knowing throughout college I knew I wanted to be a sports writer and figured a day might come where I’d have to write about Penn State. I always maintained that I would show no favoritism (which to any of you read what I write on the Nittany Lions know I don’t pull any punches when it comes to my analysis and thoughts on the football program). That became a reality when I came to the Pocono Record in October 2005. As often as I’ve gave praise when deserved (when Paterno led Penn State to Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2008, a season in which I covered six of the Lions’ eight home games) I’ve also been highly critical of both players and coaches, especially Paterno (when he clearly put himself before the program last year). In this case though, I have a hard time laying blame at the feet of an 84-year-old man.

Until I know the extent of the conversation had in 2002 between Mike McQueary and Paterno, when McQueary informed Paterno about what he witnessed in a shower stall of the football building between a man not named above and a young boy, how can I justly portray guilt on Paterno? And I say that knowing that even if Paterno only knew what he testified as having been told, that there may have been, “fondling or something of a sexual nature,” between a man not named above the young boy, that Paterno could have and should have done more than just go to athletic director Tim Curley. If Paterno knew what happened, from A to Z and everything in between, and didn’t testify with that information before the grand jury, wouldn’t he be facing both perjury and failure to report charges like Curley and Gary Schultz? A grand jury doesn’t stand being mislead or lied to and I highly doubt preferential treatment would be given just because Paterno is an 84-year-old coaching icon.

When I know the exact details of the conversation between McQueary and Paterno, and they’re bound to come out at some point, I’ll know how I should feel. Until then it’s just sadness (for the victims), disappointment (for Paterno being made the scapegoat by so many) and utter disgust (for a man not named above).

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7-1 … who knew?

When I made my last post on Penn State’s football team, which was ages ago, the Nittany Lions were stumbling along and barley beating the likes of Temple. Fast forward to now and Penn State is actually a respectable 7-1 following a 34-24 victory over Northwestern, which is much better than its 2-6 record would indicate.

Finally, the Lions’ coaches decided to play one quarterback and stop the ridiculous shuffling of Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden that even Joe Paterno has no rhyme or reason. McGloin isn’t the sexiest choice at the position, doesn’t have a big arm, won’t wow with his running ability, but it’s no secret Penn State’s offense operates much better with him under center (or in the shotgun). Having a running back like Silas Redd certainly helps, but for the first time all season I was optimistic that Penn State could score any time it had the ball Saturday. Northwestern’s defense stinking had something to do with that, but I didn’t even feel that way when Indiana State was in town for the season opener.

The defense has been nothing short of fantastic with Devon Still emerging as one of the nation’s best players. From the time he was a true freshman, Still was in the good graces of Paterno. I can remember how upset Paterno was at media day in August 2007 after Still had torn his ACL and would miss his freshman season. A broken ankle nearly wiped out 2008, but Still managed to play a little toward the end of the year. He flashed potential playing behind Jared Odrick in 2009 and really broke out toward the end of last season. Having Jordan Hill next to Still this season has helped him shine, and that’s no dig at Ollie Ogbu, who was a good player but not up to Hill’s talents.

Gerald Hodges has really come on the past few weeks, trusting his ability and just playing instead of thinking so much. His interception on Northwestern’s first drive of the second half Saturday set up Redd’s 19-yard touchdown that put Penn State up by 10. Game over. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way Nate Stupar has played in relief of oft-injured star Michael Mauti, but big boys Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State await. Those teams will run right at Stupar and also try to confuse him with misdirection so his grade is still incomplete right now.

Anthony Fera has been a Godsend to the kicking game, which was an absolute disgrace the first few weeks of the season. Fera has yet to miss since taking over the kicking duties full-time and has shown a strong leg on kickoffs. The next step is to see how much range he has on field goals, which I believe stretches beyond 50 yards. He’s also done a good job punting, showing a better ability to kick in situations instead of just punting the ball as far as he could. His punt that Nick Sukay downed on the 1-yard line against Iowa is a perfect example.

So what does Penn State do in its final four games? A win this week would be big because it looks like star wideout Derrick Moye won’t return just yet from a broken bone in his foot. Justin Brown has really stepped his game up the past two weeks and the Nittany Lions coaches have finally figured out how to use Devon Smith. Getting the tight ends involved (which means actually throwing them a ball once or twice a game) would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath there. The offensive line has developed some good chemistry, although penalties like Matt Stankiewitch’s holding call on Stephfon Green’s touchdown catch Saturday, are still rearing their ugly heads at bad times. The defense has allowed some big plays in the passing game, but the pass rush has been better lately so quarterbacks shouldn’t have as much time to exploit the secondaries’ weaknesses.

The Fighting Illini have lost two straight after winning their first six, but it would be wrong to chalk them up as an easy victory. Penn State had major problems with Illinois’ physical play last year and you can be Ron Zook hasn’t forgotten that. I think the Nittany Lions eke out a victory though, with a defensive touchdown the difference.

In what could be recruiting event like the 2005 Ohio State game, a whiteout nighttime victory over Nebraska could really do big things for the program. Penn State has struggled lately in recruiting, losing offensive tackle J.J. Denman to Wisconsin, and really making little headway with other targets, but the Nebraska game could change that. I like the Nittany Lions to win that game because they’ll put Nebraska in enough uncomfortable down and distances that will make Taylor Martinez make a few mistakes.

I’ll reserve judgement on the final two games — at Ohio State and at Wisconsin — because those games are just too far away to make any kind of educated guess, but 9-1 isn’t out of the question. And that’s from someone who once thought winning six games might be a miracle.

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