Sanctions don't change in-state dreams
August, 14, 2012
By Josh Moyer | ESPN.com
Josh Moyer/ESPN.comFor years, players in Pennsylvania have dreamed of running through the Beaver Stadium tunnel. They still do, even now, even with NCAA sanctions and all of the negative news that has hit Penn State in the last year.STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The players carry their shoulder pads like briefcases, marching to work two-by-two as the morning dew licks the grass.
Here, the high school players are awake at sunrise, wiping the crust from their eyes before their short commute down the concrete steps of Memorial Field, three blocks from the Penn State campus.
Hours later, after the drills and the dates with the tackling dummies, many of these State College Area High School players will fall asleep to thoughts of Beaver Stadium, a hulking concrete-and-steel symbol of this community’s best days and, more recently, its worst.
For decades, players at the high school here have dreamed of running through the Beaver Stadium tunnel, stepping onto the lush green grass and looking up at a sea of blue and white in the stands. They still do, even now -- even after a tumultuous month of NCAA sanctions and the release of the Freeh Report.
"This is still the best thing we have in this area to play for. Pitt and Temple aren't even close to this level," State College senior lineman Evan Galimberti said. "I don't think that really changed anything."
High school coaches across the state echoed Galimberti's sentiment, and a recent Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll found nearly half (44 percent) of Pennsylvania residents opposed the harsh sanctions. Mike Zmijanac, the head coach at perennial state football power Aliquippa (Pa.), thinks the sanctions will eliminate just 2 percent of in-state recruits the Nittany Lions might have otherwise snagged.
"I can understand the thinking," Zmijanac said. "They want a fresh start and don't want to be tainted by this whole thing, but I'm sure they'll still go to Penn State or not based on what they've always felt."
Nowhere is Penn State's image more important than inside the commonwealth. In-state athletes account for 48 percent of the Nittany Lions' roster, and if Penn State loses State College, it loses the state. If Penn State loses the state, it loses the nation.
But for now, the majority of Pennsylvania continues to revere Dear Old State. None of the nine players who have transferred out of Penn State since the sanctions were announced came from the Keystone State. And although two in-state Class of 2013 recruits flipped, at least half of the current commitments once lived there.
"I don't get it," said State College tailback/defensive end Taylor Baird, who grew up in Texas with parents from Alabama. "I don't know what to say. I don't know why it's like this."
Galimberti understands. A lifelong Pennsylvania resident, he's missed just two PSU home games since he stopped wearing diapers. He remembers racing around the tailgate in a No. 12 jersey -- quarterback Rashard Casey at the time -- and pretending he was a member of the Blue and White.
He passes Beaver Stadium, going to and from school, every day. Seven Penn State posters -- with mantras like "All In!" and "Greatest Show" -- plaster his bedroom walls. And his prized possession remains a signed 1983 team football.
"The prestige is still there, so I don't think anything's changed," Galimberti said. "I've gone through camps all throughout the Northeast region, and everybody still respects Penn State just as much as they did before."
Fans in the heart of Penn State country, in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, seem to separate the Jerry Sandusky scandal from the football team. High school coaches and local players say they see the scandal less as a cultural problem and more as a group of men whose leadership failed.
Even in-state coaches from as far north as Erie and as far west as Pittsburgh -- both longer than three-hour drives to Happy Valley -- believe the impact of the sanctions and the scandal will be minimal there.
Penn State still has a presence in those areas, in part, because of its 19 satellite campuses.
"Will it have an effect on major recruits? Yeah, probably," Cathedral Prep (Erie, Pa.) coach Mike Mischler said. "But I have kids who want to go there regardless of the situation. That isn't going to change their minds."
And for most State College high schoolers -- and high school students across the state -- their dreams won't change, either.
College Football Top Plays: Bowl Season
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State