Floyd Wedderburn walked among a throng of fans streaming east
across the Penn State campus to last year's homecoming game
against Ohio State. Hoping to blend into the crowd, he made it
about halfway to Beaver Stadium before hearing a familiar
"Are you a football player?" asked one of the multitude, craning
to get an eyeful of the 6'7" 320-pounder.
"No," Wedderburn said, smiling. "No, I'm not."
August 4, 1995
Wedderburn understood people's skepticism, but it was easier
leaving them in disbelief than having to explain his situation.
The biggest man on campus continued walking but made it only as
far as the Natatorium. With Beaver Stadium just over the hill,
he turned and headed back to his dorm, knowing that he could not
bring himself to sit in the stands and just watch. Wedderburn
did not attend the Ohio State game--nor any other last season.
So went the freshman year of Penn State's first Prop 48 player.
"I watched every home game on TV in my room," says the
20-year-old Wedderburn. "I would think, Oh, man, I should be in
A year earlier, in '93, as a prep All-America defensive tackle
at Upper Darby (Pa.) High, Wedderburn had been on every college
coach's wish list. But he wanted to stay close to home and
attend Penn State, despite his inability to reach the minimum
college board score required for a scholarship. A solid B
student, Wedderburn knew that his test scores were not
indicative of his work in the classroom, something that coach
Joe Paterno was aware of as well.
Wedderburn was born and raised in Jamaica, where he stayed with
his father, Minard, until he was 12. His mother, Pauline, had
spent 3 1/2 years as a nanny in Philadelphia, saving enough
money to move the family to Upper Darby just before Floyd's
freshman year of high school. By his senior year, Wedderburn had
learned many of the fine points of American football but was
still catching up on American English.
When Wedderburn enrolled at Penn State as a Prop 48 student, the
Wedderburns took care of the bills while Paterno's wife, Sue,
took care of the verbal skills. Although practices and team
meetings are forbidden for Prop 48 students, there is no NCAA
rule against English tutorial sessions by the coach's wife. So
Sue had several meetings a week with Wedderburn to go over his
Meanwhile, Paterno downplayed Wedderburn's looming presence on
campus, never mentioning his name in press conferences and
declining interviews on the subject. Although the defensive line
was Paterno's biggest concern this spring, Wedderburn's name
never came up outside of coaches' meetings. Even some of
Paterno's players were left in the dark about Wedderburn's
"I was kind of shocked that people didn't know who I was,"
Wedderburn says. "Some of the guys on the team used to look at
me like, Man, who's that big guy, and why isn't he playing
Eventually, though, Wedderburn began making a name for himself
with his future teammates. He blew them away in the weight room
and left them shaking their heads on the basketball court.
"He does things on the basketball court that don't make sense
for someone that big," senior defensive back Brian King says.
"We were playing a pickup game, and a jumper came off the front
of the rim. He went up with two people and flushed it at 320
"I ran out of the gym," says senior tailback Mike Archie.
"Nobody's seen him play football yet, but I know one thing: I
don't want him tackling me."
Although Wedderburn still has everything to prove on the
football field--he will begin the season backing up starting
defensive tackles Eric Clair and Brandon Noble--he has already
proved himself in the classroom and earned a scholarship.
"Coming in as a Prop 48, I was real nervous," Wedderburn says.
"Then I just did my work and got help from the tutors and
teachers. Man, I would bug them every day after class. I was
told that when I went to college, I'd better use those people.
My parents are paying for this."
His family certainly got their money's worth. Wedderburn's daily
schedule began at 5 a.m. with a workout and did not end until
study hall was finished at 10 p.m. No sleeping giant,
Wedderburn wouldn't turn in until 1 a.m.
That's when he dreamed of banging helmets in practice with the
best offensive line in the country and playing before the home
fans in Beaver Stadium. "Deep down, I know I'm ready. I just
want to hit somebody," says Wedderburn, who will practice for
the first time in August. "I'm not going to brag, but if I go
one-on-one with somebody from our offensive line, I don't think
it's going to be easy for them to push me around."
But until this fall, the question will remain: Floyd, are you a