If the Penn State football program ever recovers from the sanctions the NCAA handed down Monday, the school should avoid installing statues of anyone involved. But somewhere at Beaver Stadium, the words senior linebacker Michael Mauti said Wednesday need to be inscribed in stone.
"We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy," Mauti said. "This program was not built by one man, and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man."
One of the stranger side effects of the NCAA's hammering of the Penn State program is the re-recruitment of its players by Penn State and by everyone else. Wednesday, Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich spoke for a group estimated by reporters to be about 25 players who announced their commitments to the Nittany Lions. Unlike when many were in high school, there was no table full of hats. Just a bunch of guys standing on the practice field affirming their decision to ride out whatever comes next.
Penn Staters should consider themselves lucky to have such loyal players. After all, the most powerful people at Penn State until last November were the ones who put these players in their current predicament. While I may not be fond of the way the NCAA punished Penn State, it is indisputable that Penn State's uppermost leadership did something horrible (covered up child rape) and put the program in a position to be punished. The players have every right to turn their backs on the school and the football program whose leaders let them down.
VIDEO: Penn State players' commitment ceremony
Some players will do just that, and they deserve zero criticism if they choose to transfer. For the players thrown into this situation, there is no wrong decision. For many, there are multiple options. Notable for his absence Wednesday was tailback Silas Redd. Redd was reportedly headed to Chicago to represent Penn State at Big Ten media days, and there is no doubt he is the one of the most desired of the group upon which NCAA president Mark Emmert conferred free agency on Monday. But early afternoon, Penn State sports information director Jeff Nelson sent a release informing media that no players would be representing the Nittany Lions at media days.
At Pac-12 media day on Tuesday, USC coach Lane Kiffin couldn't answer questions about specific players, but he could mention that the Trojans' biggest depth concern is in the running game. Curtis McNeal will be expected to carry an awfully heavy load. If USC could add Redd, a rising junior who rushed for 1,241 yards last year, to an offense that already includes quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, it might have the nation's best run/pass combination. On Tuesday, Redd's father, Silas Sr., said this to The Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner: "Cis a student-athlete at Penn State University, period," the elder Redd told the paper.
USC certainly isn't the only suitor for Penn State players. Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien told ESPN Radio on Wednesday that Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, Central Florida coach George O'Leary and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz have called to tell him of their intentions to recruit Penn State players. Other coaches have begun recruiting, but without the courtesy call to O'Brien. Plenty of other schools could use a back such as Redd or a linebacker such as Khairi Fortt, so for many of Penn State's players, the next few days or weeks will feel like high school all over again.
Some consider it dirty pool for coaches to recruit the players on Penn State's roster. This is foolish. There is nothing unethical about letting Penn State players know they have options. The NCAA has chosen to allow it, and with good reason. Players deserve to know all their options before many of them make a decision about where they will play or from which school they receive a degree. That said, let the coaches handle the recruiting. Awful Announcing rounded up some of the tweets sent to Redd in the past few days, and they range from disturbing to pathetic to disturbingly pathetic.
A word of advice for the coaches: Don't send assistants to recruit the players on Penn State's campus. (I'm looking at you, Illinois coach Tim Beckman.) Also, stay away from their apartments. No one needs to see a six-figure power-conference assistant doing a Lloyd Dobler impression. It's unseemly, and it's unlikely the players at Penn State want to transfer to a school that employs quasi-stalkers.
While Wednesday's renewal of vows showed Penn State has not lost its entire team, it did show how much work O'Brien has left to do in re-recruiting his players. Penn State could play with 25, but that wouldn't be easy. Chances are O'Brien will soon receive re-commitments from quite a few more players, but the situation remains tenuous. With almost 40 players on the roster with four years of eligibility remaining, the players the Nittany Lions would need most to contribute in 2013 and beyond are prime targets for other programs.
The next week or so will seem a little like the run-up to National Signing Day, with players announcing commitments or flips. Some will choose a different path. Some will follow in the footsteps of Zordich, who will finish his career in State College. "We're proud of who we are," Zordich said Wednesday. "We're the true Penn Staters. We're going to stick together through this. We're going to see this thing through."