There have been a million reminders this week—on Thursday especially—about how Joe Paterno’s life was about so much more than football. And so it undeniably was. But football was the binding agent that brought Penn Staters together during Paterno’s tenure, and the medium by which his reach was able to extend so far. It mattered here, as it does in many places, and I have no doubt it still does.
I thought about this late Thursday when I came across this article on SI.com about Penn State’s 2012 recruiting class. On one level, there should be nothing further from our minds this week, but as an alum and season ticket holder, I know it won’t be long before I start focusing my attention on the program’s immediate future. And I know I’m hardly alone.
None of us can predict how Bill O’Brien and his staff will fare next season or in the seasons beyond, and none of us can know the impact the turmoil of the past few months will have on the program. Short-term, we know the scandal and coaching change cost Penn State some of its highly rated 2012 recruits. But most of those recruits appear ready to honor their commitment, which they’ll be able to make official on national signing day, Feb. 1.
Two of the Nittany Lions’ 2012 signees are highlighted in this piece. One, Eugene Lewis, a four-star recruit from Plymouth, Pa., is considered the best player in the Lions’ class. His father is quoted as saying that, despite interest from other schools, Lewis stayed focused on his first choice: “He loves the university. He loves the campus. It was bigger than Joe Paterno. It was Penn State that he loved.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Steven Bench, a three-star quarterback from rural Georgia who had previously committed to Rice but held out hope of playing at a big-time program. Again, you should read the whole story, but here’s a glimpse at how Bench responded when he stepped inside Beaver Stadium for the first time during his campus visit last weekend: “It just hit me,” he said. “You start looking around and realize how really big Beaver Stadium is. I’m not ashamed to say it. I started crying. I had made it.”
I don’t think Penn State fans will have much trouble getting behind guys like this. And I think Joe Paterno would be pleased. As Kenny Jackson ’96 said Thursday in his eulogy, Paterno “always deflected praise.” It was never about him. Fitting that his legacy lives on in the young men who played for him, but also in those who never got the chance.
Ryan Jones, senior editor