A lot about this Penn State team will look familiar to the eyes
behind those thick, black-rimmed spectacles. There are fast,
aggressive linebackers. There's a powerful tailback behind a
big, athletic line. But there's one component not even Joe
Paterno has seen in his 47 seasons as a head coach or assistant
with the Nittany Lions. No quarterback from State College Area
High, located just over a mile from Beaver Stadium, has started
for the Nittany Lions. That should change on Sept. 6, when
fifth-year senior Mike McQueary is expected to lead Penn State
in its opener against Pittsburgh.
By the time McQueary moved to State College in 1981 as a
six-year-old, he had already fallen in love with college
football's legendary unadorned helmets--those of Notre Dame,
that is. To this day he wears number 9 in honor of the Irish's
national championship winning quarterback from 1988, Tony Rice.
It's a good thing the 6'4", 222-pound McQueary has always been
big for his age. Life can be tough for a Notre Dame fan in Happy
When the Irish stopped recruiting him--"That guy down in
Berwick, Pa., got their attention," he says, referring to his
friend Ron Powlus, the Notre Dame quarterback--McQueary, who had
taken his high school team to the state semifinals, rejected
offers from Wake Forest and a couple of other schools to stay
home. Because no local boy had ever been the quarterback at Penn
State under Paterno, McQueary's decision came as a surprise. "No
one ever thought Mike would play here," says his high school
center, Matt Rhule, a Penn State linebacker.
For three seasons McQueary waited patiently behind Kerry Collins
and Wally Richardson, accepting his role as backup while hosting
Thanksgiving dinner for the team. Whenever the Nittany Lions
have played on the last Saturday in November, McQueary has
invited as many as 25 teammates to his parents' house for turkey
and--don't tell Paterno--touch football. Two years ago John and
Anne McQueary went through two turkeys, one ham, 15 pounds of
mashed potatoes and 10 pies.
Whenever McQueary has stepped onto the field at Penn State, he
has made something happen, for better or worse. Two years ago
his last-minute, 42-yard touchdown pass in a 59-34 rout of
Rutgers precipitated a shouting match between Paterno and two
Scarlet Knights assistants, one of whom suggested Paterno had
bet on the game. Last season, when the Nittany Lions trailed
Indiana 10-3 in the second quarter, Paterno yanked Richardson
and sent in McQueary, who sparked a 48-26 victory. He returned
to the bench the next game. "If you keep your mouth shut, work
hard and do well in school, Joe is going to give you a shot,"
Paterno says McQueary's ability to make decisions reminds him of
Collins. "You've got to anticipate the window opening," Paterno
says. "You can't wait until the window opens. I never quite got
Wally to that level of confidence. This kid will have confidence
Paterno has a lot of the pieces necessary to become the ninth
coach to win at least three national championships. Linebackers
Brandon Short, a redshirt sophomore, and Jim Nelson and Aaron
Collins, both seniors, lead the seven returning starters from a
defense that learned on the job a year ago. Junior tailback
Curtis Enis is also back after rushing for 1,210 yards at an
average of 5.4 yards a pop. So is Joe Jurevicius, the fifth-year
wideout who averaged 21.2 yards on 41 catches last season. He is
one of the 28 players on the roster who know firsthand what it
takes to go 12-0, as Penn State did three years ago.
The schedule stairsteps to Pasadena. Penn State can open the
season by winning the Pennsylvania championship (Pittsburgh,
Temple). Next up is the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan and
Wisconsin come to Beaver Stadium). If the Nittany Lions reach
10-0, and if they're able to push themselves away from the
McQuearys' table, they can go to Michigan State on Thanksgiving
Saturday and deliver Paterno his 300th victory.
That's a lot to ask of a fifth-year quarterback with little
experience. But Rhule, who has played with McQueary longer than
anyone else and thinks it would be a mistake to underestimate
him, says, "What's the word? Charisma? He's got it."
522 Games Joe Paterno has spent on the Lions' coaching staff,
exactly half the number Penn State has played in its history.
Paterno's 289 victories are tops among active Division I-A
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
OCT. 11 VS. OHIO STATE The Nittany Lions' second Big Ten matchup
of the season may be their most crucial. They should be 4-0 when
the Buckeyes visit Beaver Stadium.
NOV. 8 VS. MICHIGAN Penn State holds a 3-1 edge in the series,
including a 29-17 victory a year ago. This will be the second of
five November games for the Nittany Lions.
Passing Mike McQueary Sr. 21 comp., 44 att.,
388 yds., 3 TDs
Rushing Curtis Enis Jr. 1,210 yds., 13 TDs
Receiving Joe Jurevicius Sr. 41 catches, 869 yds.,
Tackles LB Jim Nelson Sr. 82
Interceptions SS Shawn Lee Jr. 4