July 28, 2012
Days after the NCAA’s delivery of unprecedented sanctions to the Penn State University football program – $60 million in fines, a four-year ban from post-season play, a reduction of new scholarships from 25 to 15 over the span of the next four seasons and five years probation – the level of camaraderie still existent among those student-athletes comprising the current Nittany Lions’ team seemed unshaken – and, some might suggest, even stronger than ever.
It was a mindset clearly on display early Wednesday morning on the State College campus, with more than 30 players collecting outside of PSU’s football practice facility with the sole purpose of declaring – without smiles or other corresponding fanfare - loyalty to a program linebacker Mike Mauti said had historically taken pride in “fighting through adversity.”
The words of Mauti and his teammates, as provided here byThe Morning Call , were emphatic, yet straight-to-the-point: “No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we’ve got here. None of that’s ever going to tear us apart. Right now all we can do is put our heads down, and we’re just going to work. That’s all we can do. We’re going to fight for Penn State, fight for each other, because this is what Penn State’s about …”
“We want to let the nation know that we’re prou d of who we are,” added senior fullback Michael Zordich. “We’re the true Penn Staters, and we’re going to stick together through this. We’re going to see this thing through, and we’re going to do everything we can for the university. We know it’s not going to be easy, but we know what we’re made of.”
The comments of Mauti, Zordich and the rest of their teammates present Wednesday morning were a striking and telling declaration of faith and love for those – players, past and present, administrators, coaches, family, friends and fans – who have long stayed true to Penn State University and its storied football program.
Yet painfully absent from Wednesday’s rally was arguably Penn State University’s best current player – junior running back Silas Redd, who last year led the school in rushing with 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns.
The exa ct reasons why Redd elected not to be part of Wednesday’s rally are matters of speculation only …
Still, it is hard to ignore the fact that two days earlier – and just hours after the NCAA sanctions were announced Monday morning – Redd received a request from the University of Southern California to discuss the possibility of his transferring – without penalty, a stipulation the NCAA was careful to point out as a reminder that it was seeking to punish an institution – Penn State – and not the student-athletes that comprised its athletic programs – to Los Angeles to play for the Trojans.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin, talking to members of the media at Tuesday’s Pac-12 Media Day, would neither confirm or deny that he and his staff at reached out to Redd via Penn State’s Athletic Department.
He did, however, continually emphasize that USC’s primary concern was, asESPN.com reported, “running back depth” and his staff would “have to do a good job there developing depth.”
So to did he acknowledge that as head coach of a program coming off its own set of NCAA sanctions, “[You] gotta look at the whole picture and figure the whole thing out. We’re obviously in a different situation because of limited scholarships. We’re not gonna give out any details on it, but, yeah, we’ve looked at everything.”
By Thursday, USC’s interest in bringing Redd in as a member of its 2012 squad had become undeniable. Sources close to Penn State football reported that Redd met with a PowerPoint presentation-armed Kiffin for three hours in Connecticut and things had gone “really well.”
By Friday morning, papers throughout the country were telling readers Redd’s college transcripts were already being processed by USC’s admission’s office and the running back himself was expected to travel to Los Angeles Saturday in order to make an official visit.
Even Trojans quarterback Max Wittek, who played Pop Warner football with Redd in Connecticut as a child, entered the fray, telling the Los Angeles Times (perState College.com ), “I told him I was sorry to hear about everything that came down and that it was obviously a difficult situation. But I tried to sell USC to him a bit. I’d love to have him here.”
Redd’s response to Wittek’s reaching out to him? Comments the quarterback, “He said thanks … [and] that he was definitely interested and was just trying to take the right steps to decide what he was going to do.”
Where has Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien been throughout this process? Openly advocating for Redd to stay in Happy Valley, by all accounts. It is clear that O’Brien met with Redd immediately following the announcement of the NCAA’s sanctions Monday morning andState College.com notes O’Brien went so far as to meet with Redd and his family once more in Chicago during Big Ten Media Days this week.
To his credit, O’Brien seems to have done all the right things when it comes to Redd, with Penn State’s embattled coach telling the running back – as he has all his players – that the football program is far from dead despite the sanctions. Games will still be broadcast on national television and a crowd of 108,000 will continue to pack Beaver Stadium for each and every home game PSU plays.
Still, O’Brien has an incredibly difficult, uphill battle to fight when it comes to the stability of his pro gram as a whole, with the coach claiming that all of his players have been recruited by other teams’ coaches, with several receiving as many as 50 scholarship offers to play for other programs.
“Our players are in our building right now and they don’t want to leave the building because there are coaches from other schools in the parking lot waiting to see them,” O’Brien toldESPN Wednesday morning during a visit to its Bristol, Connecticut headquarters. “These kids don’t want to leave Penn State. They want to play for Penn State. It is my opinion these coaches should leave them alone, but if they don’t want to leave them alone, they should make sure they give me a call before they try to recruit them,” he added.
This being said, though it would be easy enough to speculate O’Brien hadn’t done enough to keep Redd on campus if in fact the running back leaves for greener pastures out West, Penn State’s head coach can hardly be faulted if Redd’s name doesn’t don the PSU depth chart at tailback this fall, but, instead, appears in media guide’s released by the University of Southern California.
And, in truth, neither can Redd be faulted for not traveling what many would call the moral highroad in this scenario, sticking with his teammates and playing out his remaining years of eligibility prior to presumably being drafted by an NFL team either in 2013 or 2014.
USC, after all, is a program poised for a run at a national championship in 2012. It is in need of a quality ball carrier to help get it there, however.
Kiffin undoubtedly provided a hard sale to Redd, stressing how quickly talented players like himself pick up the Trojans’ offensive system (think the stream of freshman All-Americans USC has produced over the last several seasons) and how receptive current team leadership is to the possibility of Redd being added to the backfield.
And in many ways, as suggested by Ted Miller ofESPN.com , Redd is a natural fit for the current situation at tailback for USC. Matched with current starter at tailback, Curtis McNeal, the Trojans could arguably field “the nation’s best backfield tandem,” with Redd serving not only as “an insurance policy” to an oft-injured McNeal, but also bringing to the team an ability to catch the ball unlike any player currently slated to work out of the backfield.
“Redd would be a huge get for the Trojans,” Miller concludes, and “one that addresses a need area with a proven, ready-to-suit-up star.”
Given Redd’s outstanding abilities, his not taki ng up the opportunity to play for USC might be the worse thing he could do at this point in his collegiate career – though, certainly, the mythos perpetuated by Redd’s remaining at Penn State would likely be the stuff of legend and carry with it its own set of rewards.
Were the same opportunity confronting Redd now offered to any other player, it would be hard to imagine a different outcome other than transfer serving as a concluding chapter.
Still, that Redd, O’Brien and Penn State football are currently forced to ponder such a proposition is sad and disappointing. It is, however, not unique, with additional names – redshirt junior punter / kicker Anthony Fera, redshirt sophomore linebacker Mike Hull, junior tight end Kevin Haplea, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki and junior middle linebacker Khairi Fortt – also tied to ongoing discussions of other possible transfers facing Penn State football.
Mauti may have ignited the passion of Penn State supporters everywhere when he said pointedly Wednesday, “This program was not built by one man, and it’s sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man.”
The unfortunate reality of the situation in State College currently is not as clear cut as Mauti would have us believe, however.
The actions of one man – and those who sought to cover them up – may indeed not tear down Penn State football.
They do, however, seemed poised to create a disturbing amount of damage, the collective whole of which will undoubtedly leave Penn State football and those who play it significantly scarred both now and for much of the foreseeable future.
And most prominently carrying the key to that Pandora’s Box?
For right or wrong, Penn State running back Silas Redd.