The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 30, 2012

Heart, strength of a lion

Penn State team battled adversity, won admiration

The Tribune-Democrat

— Wow. Who hasn’t been awed by the heart and determination displayed by an embattled Penn State football team throughout the 2012 season?

Months ago, as a nation focused on Penn State and a horrific court trial, many rightfully blamed the Nittany Lion football program for a campus atmosphere that allowed Jerry Sandusky to go unchecked over many years in atrocious assaults on young boys.

Sandusky eventually was judged guilty and imprisoned, and the NCAA quickly came down hard – some say too hard – on the team, taking away victories, pulling scholarships and putting restrictions on any possible postseason play for seasons to come.

For innocent young men and coaches of this Penn State team, it was tragicvally demoralizing indeed.

Eyes turned to team members and new coach Bill O’Brien. Some top players opted to transfer to other programs.

All seemed bleak.

That was before O’Brien and team leaders such as Michael Mauti rallied the troops. That was before students and longtime fans showed unwavering support.

On Saturday, this gritty bunch beat Wisconsin to finish an emotional season at 8-4 (6-2 in the Big Ten).

“It’s a storybook ending,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill told reporters.

“The perfect ending to a bad beginning.”

It was that and much more.

Among the individual and team milestones established:

* Sophomore running back Zach Zwinak finished the season with exactly 1,000 yards after gaining 179 yards on 36 carries Saturday night.

* Wide receiver Allen Robinson became only the second receiver in Penn State history to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. Robinson finished with 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns on 77 catches after getting four receptions against Wisconsin.

* Five players, including Mauti and Hill, were named this week Big Ten first-team all-conference picks, and O’Brien was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Come NFL draft time next spring, we imagine professional organizations will be taking a hard look at several upper classmen on this Penn State team, not only because of their talents on the field, but because of their hearts.

We suspect that kind of heart and determination will soon put Penn State back on top, and not just in football.

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