An early-morning rally and last-minute social media campaign couldn’t keep star tailback Silas Redd from leaving Penn State for Southern California.
The 1,200-yard rusher opted Tuesday to leave a Nittany Lions program facing heavy NCAA sanctions handed down because of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Among the penalties was a four-year postseason ban and scholarship declines.
The NCAA gave Penn State players the option to transfer immediately and play for another school this year. Redd visited USC over the weekend and heard coach Lane Kiffin’s pitch to be a key cog for a Trojans team expected to be highly ranked and contend for the Pac-12 title. The junior with the dazzling spin move will have two years of eligibility.
”We welcome Silas Redd to the Trojan Family,” USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement. ”He is an outstanding student and athlete.”
A Tuesday in Happy Valley that began with more than 2,500 fans showing up at dawn to greet the Nittany Lions for offseason workouts ended with disappointment. Penn State fans had taken to the Twitter hashtag ”StaySilas” to try to convince Redd to spurn USC.
Now Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien may need to rely on a converted wideout, sophomore Bill Belton, to carry the load at tailback instead of one of the Big Ten’s best rushers. Redd became the second player to leave Penn State for a new program since the sanctions were announced July 23.
Penn State said later Tuesday that tight end Kevin Haplea was also no longer with the team. It was unclear where the junior, who started one game last year, was headed.
Backup safety Tim Buckley, a former walk-on, was the first player to leave Penn State in the wake of the sanctions. He joined North Carolina State on Monday.
And then, there is the case of Rob Bolden, the former starting quarterback, who was dropped from the roster this week as well. But Bolden was granted permission to speak to other schools before the NCAA sanctions were handed down, and the demoted signal-caller last year had also pondered leaving.
LSU has shown interest in Bolden, but he’s yet to choose a destination.
O’Brien said last week at Big Ten media days in Chicago that he didn’t anticipate losing any core players. It took less than a week for that to change.
Still, Penn State has fared relatively well in terms of roster defections, especially given the severity of the NCAA penalties. While Redd was Penn State’s top offensive weapon, O’Brien hasn’t lost any other starters or top backups.
O’Brien had also said last week at Big Ten media days that more than 50 players had said they would stay. Six 2013 recruits have also reaffirmed their verbal commitments.
Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner wished Redd and the other transfers well. ”I think that certainly we understand and it’s within their purview,” Joyner said in an interview Tuesday night with The Associated Press at an evening football function.
He added the low number of transfers was ”a great testament to Bill O’Brien, and the kind of person he is, the kind of coach he is and the kinds of players these are overall.
”This team has a lot of unity.”
Most players interviewed after the rally and voluntary workout said they hoped Redd and others would stick around, but would honor their decisions regardless.
”Each player came here for different reasons and with different objectives,” tight end Garry Gilliam said. ”When it comes down to it, I’d like them to stay, but if they don’t, I’ll respect their decisions.”
The rally was evidence of the Penn State community’s resolve to stand behind the Nittany Lions that remain. Serenaded by a pep band, at least 2,500 blue-and-white backers, alumni and local business owners cheered outside the football building Tuesday in support of the players caught in the middle of one of the worst episodes ever in college athletics.
Fans lined the sidewalks to slap high-fives and shake hands with the Nittany Lions as they snaked their way to the workout. The scene resembled the team entrance to home games at Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays.
Inspirational quotes from Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine and Vince Lombardi were posted in the windows of the building. ”It isn’t whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up,” read one quote attributed to Lombardi, the Hall of Fame NFL coach.
”It was so cool. I couldn’t believe how loud it was,” fullback Michael Zordich said. ”This just goes to show why we’re still here and why we’re going to fight this thing through.”
Former player Keith Conlin, a local businessman and online radio show host who helped organize the event said he wanted current team members ”to know that we have their backs.”
”These kids, they’ve been fighting an uphill battle for eight months, and it’s nothing that they did,” he said. ”We’re not going to leave them and run away.”
As for Redd, he’s taking his considerable rushing talents to a program not unfamiliar with NCAA discipline. The Trojans, too, have been sanctioned by the NCAA – for rules violations committed during the 2004 and `05 seasons.
”At USC, we’ve seen both sides of this issue, having lost a number of players to transfer due to our NCAA sanctions in 2010. But Lane Kiffin and his coaches would not be doing their job if they did not try to improve our team every single day,” Haden said. ”There is a specific need here for a player like Silas Redd, so Lane and our coaches recruited him within the guidelines set up in this instance by the NCAA.”
Linebacker Khairi Fortt – like Redd, a junior from Connecticut – has considered, Cal, Florida State and Kansas, his father, Guy confirmed in an email to The Associated Press. The Stamford Advocate first reported details of Fortt’s recruitment.
The younger Fortt, a top reserve for Penn State, liked his visit to Cal but loves his Nittany Lions coaches, his father said. His decision could come by midweek.
Penn State opens training camp on Aug. 6, the deadline for any other current players to request a transfer to play right away. The season opener is Sept. 1 vs. Ohio at home.
O’Brien also called a team meeting for Tuesday evening, after which Joyner said about 300 former Penn State players showed up in for a planned event to meet with the current Nittany Lions in another show of support. Joyner, a former player himself, attended but did not speak.
”This team is going to go down in history for sticking with the school and showing that loyalty,” said former player and current school trustee Adam Taliaferro at the morning rally as vocal fans cheered over the din of rock music blaring from speakers.
Most downtown businesses are displaying ”Proud to Support Penn State Football” signs on windows. Some stores have started selling shirts with the slogan ”Billieve,” playing off of O’Brien’s first name.