Team bond galvanizes Penn State players

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Paul Jones shook his head Tuesday morning as he recalled the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented sanctions levied against his Nittany Lions. He was confused, hurt, upset -- and undecided about a transfer.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback said he tried to keep busy that first week. When his mind wandered, he'd envision himself in another uniform -- such as Pitt, less than 10 miles from his McKees Rocks home. The same boy who proudly donned a Penn State jersey every Thursday during high school wasn't sure, not at first, whether he would switch schools.

"You kind of let your mind attack you," Jones said. "As a competitor, you'd think it would be nice for a bowl game or a conference championship. But I take the bond I have with my teammates over pretty much everything."

Jones stopped fielding calls from other coaches Friday, after 11 days of wrestling with the idea of suiting up for another team. He decided to remain with the blue and white shortly after listening to three of his teammates' impassioned speeches during the Big Ten's media days.

"If those guys can go through it, I can go through with it," he added. "I wouldn't turn my back on these guys because I know they wouldn't turn their back on me."

Jones' sentiment was echoed by most players Tuesday morning, following a 7 a.m. pep rally that attracted several thousand fans. Players constantly referred to team bonds and fan support as the main reasons for staying put.

Director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald went so far as to say this team would be "closer than any other team that ever played anywhere."

"They're going to look at each other 20 years from now and say, 'Goddamn, you remember me?' Yeah, we went through that. We helped keep Penn State strong," Fitzgerald said. "That's more important than just going to a damn bowl game."

Despite Tuesday's upbeat environment, several players acknowledged the team initially harbored some doubts after first hearing of the NCAA sanctions: 80 fewer scholarships over four years, a cap of 15 new scholarships each season for the next four years, a four-year bowl ban and a $60 million fine. Sophomore tailback Bill Belton admitted thoughts of transferring ran through most players' heads, and senior quarterback Matt McGloin said nearly everyone received at least one offer from another team.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State QB Matthew McGloin is among the players who pledged loyalty to the program in the wake of NCAA sanctions.
McGloin, a fifth-year senior, said the team stuck together because it didn't want to desert the university at its darkest time. He said transferring was never an option for him.

"That's not the type of person I am, that's not how I was brought up," McGloin said. "I'm going to stay here no matter what happens. I'm going to be true to the program and be loyal to the guys upstairs who are trying to get us prepared for the season. And, most importantly, I'm doing this for my family and the fans. They're going to stay loyal to us, so I'm going to stay loyal to them."

Only one player, walk-on backup safety Tim Buckley, has officially transferred from Penn State so far. Buckley is now on scholarship at N.C. State.

But key players, such as junior running back Silas Redd and linebacker Khairi Fortt, are still pursuing a possible transfer. Redd could announce his decision as early as today, and most players are expected to decide before Aug. 6, the first day of preseason practice.

Fitzgerald, who joined Penn State this year, said he only wants to see committed players when they open camp and hold a players' meeting.

"We want the warriors, that's what we want," he said. "After Aug. 6, we don't want the guys that are on the fence. If you're in, you're in. If you're out, you're out. So, on that meeting Aug. 6, I'm advising that just the warriors be at the meeting. That's all we want."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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