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Former PSU players react to bowl eligibility

9/8/2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This is the moment that former and current Penn State players have waited for over the past two seasons.

The worst of the sanctions is over. The Nittany Lions can be bowl eligible, and their scholarships will be restored completely in time for next season. Penn State has survived a fate worse than the "death penalty" -- and former players who endured all this couldn't be happier.

"It's happened, it's over with, and we just need to be thankful with all that's happened the last two years: our teams, coach Bill O'Brien, James Franklin, this Penn State community, everyone," former cornerback Stephon Morris told ESPN.com. "We are all one. I'm just very, very excited. I was jumping up and everything when I heard it; that's no lie."

Alumni began texting feverishly as soon as the news hit. First came former Sen. George Mitchell's recommendation that the sanctions be all but eliminated, and on its heels came the NCAA's official announcement.

Center Matt Stankiewitch, a senior when the sanctions hit, can still remember the scene in the players' lounge when NCAA president Mark Emmert appeared on TV and hammered the program. For eight minutes, he decried everything wrong with Penn State. And Stankiewitch's teammates just stared at one another, gutted. At the nearby student union building, dubbed the HUB, some students gasped or openly wept.

"This is the total opposite of that feeling," Stankiewitch said Monday afternoon. "It's uplifting, it's gratifying, it's a great feeling to have. It's totally different. It's two different worlds."

These players -- in addition to several others -- may no longer be on the team, but they say Monday's news caused them as much, or more, happiness than the current players. Penn State is a community, a family, they said, and if that weren't the case, then they never would have made it this far.

"I never had a doubt in my mind about Penn State getting through the sanctions," said wideout Allen Robinson, now a second-round draft pick with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Penn State wasn't just about a bowl game. It was about football and being with some of my best friends and having the opportunity to play with those guys like John Urschel.

"Playing at Penn State isn't just about bowl games. There's no place like Beaver Stadium; there's no place like Penn State. We lost the first two games my sophomore year, and we still had like 100,000 fans the next game. I don't think that happens everywhere."

Within an hour of the news, Morris had already contacted several former teammates -- such as LB Michael Mauti and DT Jordan Hill -- to share in that joy. No one, outside of these Nittany Lions, gave them much of a shot at first to make it through these sanctions.

Monday's announcement all but made that official. So, Morris said, the players he contacted are spreading the word: No matter what bowl Penn State makes it into, the recent alumni -- the ones who kept a team together through the university's darkest time -- plan to be there. In droves.

"We got to go to a bowl game and represent," Morris said. "We travel great already, but whatever bowl we go to, we're going to completely dominate that area. This is big for all of us, for all the former players, for all the guys. This feels awesome."

Morris received a few texts about PSU's eligibility but didn't wholly believe them until he saw the ESPN ticker scroll along the bottom of his television. First, he called his mother. Shortly thereafter, he called former teammate and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

And Obeng-Agyapong told ESPN.com that one word came to him while he watched Monday's events unfold: validation.

"We stuck together through Penn State's toughest time," he said. "So for that ban to be lifted, it validates us sticking together because we stuck together for a reason. We knew what the NCAA was doing was wrong, and we weren't going to let them get the best of us."

The NCAA allowed players to transfer without impunity that first year. Only nine players initially took the offer. A lot of critics wrote off these Nittany Lions, but the former players said they never had a doubt.

Monday was a celebration, they said, and it's one that should stick with them awhile.

"With another school, maybe this is the end for them," Morris said. "With Penn State, we were disappointed, but we never held our heads down. We always thought we were going to make something good out of that equation. We always wanted more."