Sanctions give PSU opponents chance to cherry pick

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If you are a college football coach in need of a player or two, Penn State’s misfortune could turn out to be your team’s lucky strike.

There’s a blue-and-white plate special going on right now in Happy Valley, and coaches from all over the country are looking at the Nittany Lions’ roster like a menu _ even though a hoard of Penn State players have pledged to stick with the school through the tough times.

Illinois coaches were in State College, Pa., to recruit on Wednesday. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told reporters his staff has talked with a couple of Nittany Lions. Baylor coach Art Briles has said his staff was contacted by at least one Penn State player.

Preseason practice starts at Penn State on Aug. 6. The next two weeks could be the most difficult of Bill O'Brien’s coaching career as he tries to keep his team together.

NCAA sanctions will keep the Nittany Lions out of a bowl game for the rest of these players’ careers, and college sports’ governing body is allowing any of them to transfer to another school and get on the field right away.

The only restriction is they cannot practice or play with Penn State this year and still play for another school this season.

Players can transfer and be eligible for next season any time before the start of fall practice in 2013, but O'Brien should know what he has to work with in 2012 on Aug. 6.

And he got some good news on Wednesday.

At least 13 players listed as first-stringers on the preseason depth chart affirmed their commitment to staying in Happy Valley, including senior quarterback Matt McGloin.

“We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are,” senior fullback Michael Zordich said, flanked by his fellow players early Wednesday morning. “We’re the true Penn Staters, and we’re going to stick together through this. We’re going to see this thing through, and we’re going to do everything we can for the university. We know it’s not going to be easy, but we know what we’re made of.”

Neither Zordich nor senior linebacker Michael Mauti _ both sons of former Penn State players _ mentioned former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky by name during the impromptu news conference, where they didn’t take any questions after reading a statement.

“We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy,” Mauti said. “This program was not built by one man and it’s sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man. This program was built on every alumni, every single player that came before us, built on their backs.”

The Nittany Lions can’t play in a bowl game until the 2016 season after an unprecedented child sex abuse scandal that shattered the program’s image as a place where “success with honor” was the rule. The scholarship reductions they’ll receive could make it difficult for O'Brien to field a competitive squad during the next few seasons.

On Twitter, McGloin called the NCAA penalties “extremely harsh.”

“I am a Nittany Lion and will remain one,” he tweeted. “I believe in the core values I have learned in this program. It is not Nittany Lion Football. It is Nittany Lion family.”

Along with Mauti, Zordich, McGloin and Morris, players listed as first-teamers who attended Wednesday included wide receiver Allen Robinson; offensive linemen Donovan Smith, Matt Stankiewitch, John Urschel and Adam Gress; tight end Kyle Carter; defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and Pete Massaro; and cornerback Adrian Amos.

That group includes six seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and two redshirt freshmen.

On Wednesday night, incoming freshman quarterback Steven Bench from Georgia joined the committed, tweeting: “I have decided to stay at Penn State. I promise this team is special and will SHOCK THE WORLD over the next 4 years.”

Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson said other players had committed to return but were unable to attend Wednesday because of classes or internships.

But some players will weigh whether to transfer, with other schools wooing them. The biggest name is running back Silas Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards as a sophomore last season. Redd has yet to reveal his plans.

Illinois spokesman Kent Brown confirmed that a group of assistant coaches traveled to State College on Wednesday to talk to some Nittany Lions players. Brown said Illini athletic director Mike Thomas informed Penn State of the trip and that it came after Nittany Lions players contacted the Illini.

Cornerback Stephon Morris, who attended Wednesday’s news conference, tweeted: “We have chosen to stay at PSU & other opposing coaches are outside our apartment. Was that the intentions of the NCAA.” He added the hashtags “LeaveUsAlone” and “WeAre.”

There probably won’t be a parade of opposing coaches showing up on the Penn State campus over the next week or so. Most will take a slightly more subtle approach and players can take five official recruiting visits to other schools, just as they did when they were being recruited out of high school.

But it won’t be surprising to see some enemy colors around Happy Valley.

O’Brien told ESPN on Wednesday that while opposing coaches needed only to email or fax the compliance department to receive clearance to speak to players, he believed there was a protocol they should follow. O'Brien cited Central Florida’s George O’Leary, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz as having reached out to him first.

Marrone and O'Brien are close friends from the time they spent working on O’Leary’s staff at Georgia Tech.

It’s been less than two weeks since an investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded former coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials covered up abuse allegations involving Sandusky, who awaits sentencing on charges he abused 10 boys, some of them in team facilities.

In that time, Paterno’s bronze likeness has been removed from outside Beaver Stadium and the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions that include a $60 million fine and a four-year bowl ban. The NCAA also erased 14 years of Paterno’s victories, stripping him of his standing as the winningest coach in the history of big-time college football.

“No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we’ve got here,” Mauti said. “None of that’s ever going to tear us apart. Right now all we can do is put our heads down, and we’re just going to work. That’s all we can do. We’re going to fight for Penn State, fight for each other, because this is what Penn State’s about _ fighting through adversity.”

Soon after the players spoke, Penn State announced that no players would be made available for Big Ten media days, which are Thursday and Friday in Chicago.

_____

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York, Associated Press Writer David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., and freelance reporter Jeff Rice in State College, Pa., contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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