Matt McGloin set for final chapter
Journey molds QB from walk-on to senior leader who wouldn't abandon Lions
He donned a black headset while offensive coordinator Galen Hall preached readiness over the chants of Minnesota fans. McGloin surveyed the crowd and glanced at the large slice of blue and white. He gave a slight nod in their direction.
He didn't know it at the time, but this day -- Oct. 23, 2010 -- would set into motion the next two years of his life. When the clock struck 8:40 in the second quarter, McGloin's Cinderella story from unknown walk-on to unquestioned senior starter would take flight.
Backup QB Kevin Newsome was out with the flu. Rob Bolden had completed 11 of 13 passes for 130 yards. But at 8:40 on another scramble, Minnesota's No. 26 -- square-jawed Mike Rallis -- bowled over the quarterback near the sideline.
Bolden sat up while a trainer hurried over, placed a worried hand on his knee and looked him in the eye. Possible concussion. McGloin was up.
"Sometimes," said McGloin's father, Paul, "God works with a crooked stick."
McGloin ditched the headset and grabbed his helmet. Nearly 1,000 miles away, in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., his parents just looked at each other, dumbfounded. Matt McGloin, the third-string quarterback, had never stepped under center in a college game that counted.
Their phone began to ring. Friends slowly filed in from around the neighborhood, toting homemade cakes and hoagies. McGloin warmed up.
"I wasn't nervous," McGloin said. "I was ready for it. I've always been ready for it."
Matt McGloin grew up as the youngest of three children in Scranton, an Irish coal-mining town littered with bumpy roads and mom-and-pop stores.
His father just smiled back. "Sure, Matt," he'd say. "If you work hard."
His brothers, Paul Jr. and John, were 14 and 7 years older. And they tormented young, competitive Matt. They would never let him win -- not at football, basketball, whiffle ball. Not at anything.
Matt would sob, march into the house on South Merrifield Avenue and tell his mother it just wasn't fair. "Mom, John was passing past the line of scrimmage again!"
He strived to beat his brothers, and he never let up. By the time he turned 12, those older brothers started picking him first -- ahead of their bearded friends who owned cars or purchased six-packs. Matt was simply better.
"They were toughening me up," Matt said. "I guess it paid off."
Matt never gave up. Not at age 21, 12 -- or 5.
In kindergarten, Matt decided it was time to ride without training wheels. With pliers, he pried them off his orange Mongoose bicycle. He rode around until his mother noticed and put them back on.
Then he took them off. She placed them on again. And he took them off again.
They stayed off.
McGloin shook his head after nearly throwing an interception on his first attempt -- the third of his career -- against Minnesota. But he didn't stay down. "I knew I had to make a play," he said.
On the next possession, McGloin jogged to the huddle and no one uttered a word, he said, because they knew they didn't have to. The red-headed kid from Scranton had this.
"I Right, 46 Naked Left! I Right, 46 Naked Left!"
McGloin snapped the ball, spotted Derek Moye and launched a topsy-turvy pass. C'mon, that's good. You've got it, you've got it.
Back home, his parents jumped, then hugged, then kissed. Tears streamed down his mother's face while his father choked back his own tears.
The kid, as Joe Paterno would often call him, made it.
Penn State won that game 33-21, while more than 40 neighbors spilled into the McGloins' Scranton living room and kitchen. Everyone cheered, half in disbelief and half beside themselves after grasping how a preferred walk-on who had held no offers carried the Nittany Lions to victory.
"All our friends were wishing him the best of luck," Paul said. "But in the back of their heads four years ago they were thinking this kid was never going to see the field."
McGloin was the first to walk off the team bus the next week at home against Michigan. ("The walk seemed too short," McGloin said. "It's an incredible moment.") He led the underdog Lions to a 41-31 victory.
McGloin would account for 174 of Penn State's next 185 passing attempts. He would help guide the Lions to a 4-3 record against mostly stiff Big Ten competition. Clearly, he was QB1 -- at least that's what McGloin believed.
When the final whistle sounded in McGloin's last high school football game -- a 27-22 loss to Garnet Valley in the state quarterfinals -- he stood near the field and embraced his father for five minutes.
His father wept, and McGloin wouldn't lighten his grip. Both knew, without saying a word, that this might be the end for McGloin's dreams of playing on that big stage. That young boy who smiled and pointed to the TV might not get his wish.
Doubts crept into McGloin's head. Where would he go? Where would he play? Would he play?
"To not know what school you're going to ... it's tough on you mentally," McGloin said. "One of my tackles had 45 offers, one of my tight ends had 40 offers, and you're just wondering, 'What am I doing? Why am I not getting any looks like these guys?' "
Sporting a thin beard in Week 4 of 2011, McGloin awaited reporters in the media room. He knew what was coming.
The red-faced backup looked sunburned and uneasy after the Eastern Michigan game, running his fingers through his hair or scratching the back of his neck at most questions.
Why aren't you starting?
"I have no idea," McGloin told a reporter who asked what it would take for him to walk off the bus first. "Whatever they want to do, I'm going to have to accept."
"I can say this now," McGloin told ESPN this month. "But I think what happened was they thought we were going to lose this guy if he didn't start or that it might look bad for recruiting. And I think it got to the point where the best player didn't start."
Paterno said at a Week 7 news conference that McGloin was no closer to winning the starting job. Even the next Tuesday -- four days before McGloin's first start of the season, against Northwestern -- Paterno said he still couldn't decide on a signal-caller.
McGloin would approach the Paternos inside the Lasch Building for answers. But he said he never found any. The team argued in the locker room, and an awkward tension grew between him and the offensive coaches.
He was in the dark -- frustrated and doubting -- and that mindset carried onto the field.
"All my attention was on, 'I have to make this throw here' or 'I have to make this read here,'" he said, "because I was constantly looking over my shoulder. I knew if I slipped up at all, my opportunity and reps were going to get cut down. So I had to treat every day like it would be my last rep."
McGloin finally started against Northwestern, leading the Lions to a 34-24 victory. The 6-foot-1 quarterback started every game afterward but the TicketCity Bowl, after a brief locker room scuffle with Curtis Drake led to a concussion.
And, after McGloin led the Lions to a successful end to the 2011 season, Bill O'Brien named McGloin the 2012 starter on June 1. Bolden was granted a release from his scholarship in July.
McGloin forced a smile, donned an orange Illinois cap and stood behind his friend Hubie Graham on national signing day in 2008.
Orange was Matt's favorite color. A woman from church, who also loved the shade, sneaked Matt a dollar bill every time he wore the color. And when he was allowed to dress himself in grade school, he'd gallop downstairs in orange everything. "He looked like a freaking safety cone," said his oldest brother, Paul Jr.
But orange didn't make him happy this day. He was glad for Graham, but this was something he also wanted for himself. He yearned to lean over that piece of paper, pose for cameras and put on his own school cap.
"My heart broke for him," said his mother, Cathy.
Shortly after signing day, former Penn State assistant Dick Anderson extended an invitation to the McGloin family for a Happy Valley visit. Matt's father pulled into the first parking spot he found. "How big can the campus be?" he asked.
The Fighting Irish fans had never been to Penn State.
McGloin toured the campus, but a trip to Beaver Stadium changed everything. When McGloin stepped through that tunnel onto the lush green grass and stared into the 108,000 seats, his pulse quickened. It was love at first sight for the preferred walk-on.
"Mom," Cathy remembered him saying a few days later. "I have to do this. I have to go to Penn State. If I go there and I fail, I tried. But I can't go through life not knowing if I can do this.
"If you pay my tuition now, I promise you I'll earn a scholarship."
On the afternoon of July 23, hours after the NCAA announced crippling sanctions related to the child sex abuse scandal, Matt McGloin took a deep breath as he sat in a frozen yogurt shop talking with his family.
His dad parked at a nearby meter. Matt waited at the table while his family paid the cashier. He didn't feel like eating.
"I knew I didn't want to leave this place," McGloin said. "I had already put in so much time and had overcome this adversity. I didn't want to leave when things got tough. We could help rebuild this university."
Colorado and Connecticut reached out, but the fifth-year senior had made up his mind. He already had prepared a statement. He didn't need advice or convincing from his family. He needed them to read his rough draft.
It is not Nittany Lion football. It is Nittany Lion Family. ... All I ask is for the fans to continue to believe in us. WE ARE!
I knew I didn't want to leave this place. I had already put in so much time and had overcome this adversity. I didn't want to leave when things got tough.” -- Penn State QB Matt McGloin
Nine players would transfer, and two more would quit. But this was still McGloin's team. To make it this far, he had survived a future NFL player, transfer Pat Devlin; two four-star recruits, Newsome and Bolden; and a highly touted Paul Jones.
O'Brien mentored McGloin, and McGloin couldn't betray him. The coach would stand 5 yards in front of QB1 while he took snaps, offering hints every few plays. Other times, he'd make a quick note on a sheet of paper.
This summer camp and these preseason practices were the first time only McGloin took reps with the first team.
"Matt is doing one helluva job this camp," cornerback Stephon Morris said. "He's so much smarter of a quarterback."
Said center Matt Stankiewitch: "I see a different amount of personality. I think the confidence level is a big thing, too. He's really taken that leadership role as a quarterback."
McGloin perks up at talk of the 2012 season. Bowl game or not, he's feeling better than he has since first setting foot in Beaver Stadium four years ago. His timing has improved; his spiral is tighter; his reads have progressed.
On Oct. 23, 2010, Matt wrote the first chapter of his Penn State career. On Sept. 1, 2012, he'll begin to write the final one.
"They made a movie about Rudy," Paul Jr. mused, "and he was just in there for one play."