- Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN Senior Writer
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I PLAYED FOOTBALL from the time I was 6 in Norwalk, Conn., where I grew up. I was an aggressive kid, always running around. My pops was a former Marine, so I had a real disciplined childhood. My mom didn't like that my dad put me in football, because my older brother got hurt playing Pop Warner, which is where my connection to Penn State started. A coach of mine went to Penn State, and he'd bring me back jerseys and stuff. I came to like the Nittany Lions, and I went to their camps from eighth grade through my junior year of high school. Once they showed interest in me, I committed [in May 2009 during his junior year]. My parents and I sat in Joe Paterno's office and
in his living room, but he never gave me a home visit. I don't know that he had to win you over. You made a visit, they'd give you the whole tradition spiel and you were sold.
Penn State was a big part of my life. It's something I can't erase and something I wouldn't erase. When the Jerry Sandusky investigation began, a lot of people who didn't care about us suddenly had really strong opinions. It was a nightmare, especially when Joe got fired. I think all of us kind of felt like pawns. It was something I didn't sign up for. Things started to turn the corner a bit when Coach [Bill] O'Brien was hired, and then we got hit with the sanctions.
I just thought transferring to USC was a better move for me academically, socially and athletically. It was a fresh start, and you typically don't get fresh starts too often in life. I'm sure a lot of my teammates understood, but I think some of them were uneasy about it. I hope they realize now I was just doing what was best for me. It wasn't an easy decision, like, Hey! I'm going to USC! I sat for a whole week thinking about it.
The visit to USC, seeing how the team treated one another, that was a big part of it. Matt [Barkley], T.J. [McDonald], Marqise [Lee], all those guys and a bunch more welcomed me and showed that, "Hey, we're pretty cool too here on the West Coast." I'd say moving to LA was like an eight on the culture shock scale. I'm used to a New York setting, where buildings are on top of buildings. Everything is so spread out here. Everything is so much slower. I'm used to the upbeat, fast living. [Snaps fingers.] I think people here are more chill and relaxed than they are back East. And a little nicer too. Not that much nicer, but a little nicer.
I got off Twitter. A lot of my followers were the Penn State fan base, so I wasn't going to keep it just to be hated on every day. That was tough. But I'm really happy for Penn State, where the team is now. I watch my former teammates as much as I can. It felt surreal at first, but now it's just, like, I'm a
Trojan, and they're Nittany Lions. I still talk to other transfers like Justin Brown [Oklahoma] all the time. We just try to catch up on our shared experiences.
I think the Sandusky sentence will bring closure to this chapter, but you've still got the victims, you've still got Penn State as a university. You've still got a lot to work through.
38mSam Khan Jr.
3hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information