Players try to focus on game, not scandal

College football players are taught that the games are the focal

point. It’s what they do all week, build to a crescendo for


When the real world intrudes, it’s difficult to put the

distractions in a box, go out on a field and keep score.

But that’s precisely what Penn State’s players plan on


”You have to. I mean, what are we going (to do), come out and

lose all of our games because of this?” offensive tackle Chima

Okoli said Wednesday. ”You know what I mean? At the end of the

day, you have to own up as a man and take care of responsibilities

and that’s what we’re going to do.”

In the midst of a scandal revolving around a former assistant

coach having sex with young boys – and the coverup that followed –

Penn State’s players will try to put aside a world of distractions

and play a game against Nebraska on Saturday.

Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions’ coach since 1966, told the

players in a team meeting on Wednesday that he would step down at

the end of the year. Other administrators and coaches are likely to

be cut loose as well.

The players, meanwhile, will do their jobs. That means to play

games at home against Nebraska, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin over

the next three weekends.

They were left to try to figure it all out while hanging onto

some sense of normalcy by following their weekly routine of

practice leading up to a game. Although there will not be much

normal or routine about anything from now on.

”It is difficult, obviously,” safety Drew Astorino said.

”We’d much rather not have to deal with these distractions and

just focus on the team and focus on this game. But this is

something we have to do.”

He has no worries that the Nittany Lions will come undone from a

week of allegations, admissions and embarrassments.

”I think we’re going to be OK on the field,” Astorino said.

”I love playing with these players, I trust these players, I care

about these players more than I care about anybody right now. I

think we’re going to come together as a unit, as a group of guys,

as we have done so far throughout a tough week. Saturday, that’s

exactly what we’ll need to do and what we’ll be able to do.”

On his Twitter account, Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin

tried to compartmentalize the crazy things happening outside the

locker room.

”i do not expect this dilema to alter our level of focus and

accountability. Last home game of the year!! lets do it,” he


Under normal circumstances, this had the makings of a happy

weekend in Happy Valley. The 12th-ranked Nittany Lions, usually the

pride of the campus, are having a banner year at 8-1 overall and

leading the Big Ten’s Leaders Division with a 5-0 record. This is

Nebraska’s first trip to State College as a member of the Big Ten.

The game also marks Senior Day, a last chance for the faithful at

Beaver Stadium to say thanks to those playing their final home


On Tuesday, while fighting through a mob of reporters to drive

his father to Penn State’s practice, Scott Paterno was asked how

the coaching icon was feeling.

”He’s getting ready for a football game!” he said, thoroughly


Getting ready for a game, particularly for college kids aged 18

to 22, is never easy in the midst of such titanic change.

Eric LeGrand, a junior defensive tackle, fractured the C3 and C4

vertebrae in his neck while making a tackle on a kickoff in the

waning moments of Rutgers’ game against Army on Oct. 16, 2010. He

was paralyzed below the shoulders.

The very next week, the Scarlet Knights had to play at

Pittsburgh. And his teammates, their minds elsewhere, had to take

the field.

”Outside of football all of us are thinking about Eric,”

Rutgers defensive end Jonathan Freeny said. ”But once we step on

the field, get to the top of the stairs … it’s all about

football. Once we get back off the field Eric is back in our


It’s clearly difficult for players to shove aside bigger issues

to play a game.

It was an entirely different set of circumstances at Ohio State,

where NCAA problems led to coach Jim Tressel’s forced resignation,

star quarterback Terrelle Pryor leaving for the NFL a year early

and several players being suspended for accepting improper

benefits. Every day throughout this past summer, there seemed to be

another revelation, another humiliation.

One of the Buckeyes, punter Ben Buchanan, has an idea what the

players at Penn State are going through this week. He said all the

problems in the offseason made it much easier than having something

blow up in the midst of a season with a big game just days away –

as is the case with the Nittany Lions.

”It gave our team a chance to really kind of assess the

situation as a whole. It gave us a chance to have some leaders

emerge when some of our leaders were, sadly, taken away from us,”

he said this week. ”Just looking at Penn State, I know they’ll

have to have a quick turnaround with everything that’s happened

with them.”

McGloin was trying his best to address the Nebraska game and not

everything else that everyone else was talking about.

”I cant comment on what is going on with these allegations and

scandal which has spread throughout the university,” he tweeted.

”But i can promise this. We will continue to fight towards our

goal, a Big 10 championship.”

Okoli said the responsibility to regroup lies with the kids, not

the adult coaches. He said he and his teammates would have to make

the best of a bad situation.

”In times like this, where you have outside distractions, all

we can do is come together,” he said. ”All we have is each


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