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Virginia QB Rocco connected to PSU

9/3/2012

A framed photo of a young Michael Rocco still hangs in the family room, one where he's grinning wildly while straddling the Nittany Lion statue and wearing a Penn State sweatshirt.

Because of his family's connections to the university, Rocco grew up strolling the sidelines of Beaver Stadium and donning clothes embroidered with that Lions logo. His grandfather, Frank Sr., served as an assistant under Joe Paterno. And his father, Frank Jr., played as the backup quarterback during the 1982 national championship season.

Now, Michael, Virginia's starting quarterback, is watching film to find weaknesses in the team he once rooted for.

"I'm treating it like just another game," Michael Rocco said Monday. "Even though it's a childhood memory of mine, I'm at UVA now."

Rocco has started 14 consecutive games and believes the Cavaliers' penchant for four-receiver sets could cause problems for his family's alma mater. He threw for 2,671 yards last season, the most for a first-year starter in school history, and held off Alabama transfer Phillip Simms for this season's starting job.

He's currently on a path to challenge some of Matt Schaub's school records. But, three years ago, it seemed as if he might have instead been on a path once traveled by his father -- or at least toward a destination other than Charlottesville.

Michael grew up dreaming of stepping through Penn State's south tunnel to 110,000 screaming fans, his father said. So, when Joe Paterno ushered the Rocco family into his office after a senior football camp, the family was hopeful.

Michael's father said his son so clearly outshone Penn State's other recruits -- Rob Bolden and Paul Jones -- that the coaching staff couldn't ignore him. Bolden already accepted his offer, Paterno told them. And they expected a commitment from Jones, so there was no room on the 2010 roster for another quarterback.

But what if Michael grayshirted?

"We went back to Virginia and processed a few things," Michael's father said. "But we just never heard back from Penn State and I think, as time went on, he really felt that as much as Penn State was his dream school, that Louisville was the best when it all got boiled down.

"They really didn't do a great job of communicating during that period."

When coaching changes struck Louisville, Michael decommitted and searched for a nearby school with a pro-style offense. He found Virginia and coach Mike London, who had just replaced Al Groh.

And when Bill Lazor -- an assistant with seven years of NFL seasoning -- joined the Virginia staff, Michael was sold.

"I don't really have hard feelings toward Penn State," Michael said. "I'm happy where I am now."

Michael's father said it will be a bit surreal when he watches Saturday's game from the stands. Then again, it was a unique experience last Saturday when his son rolled over a Richmond team coached by his brother, Danny Rocco.

"I'm proud to be a PSU alumnus," Frank Jr. said, "but my son is my son, and I'll be praying on every down and hoping to take down the Nittanies just this one time. And then, hopefully, they can rally and have 10 great games the rest of the year. I think they deserve it."