STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - After sweating through an early-morning workout outdoors, Penn State fullback Michael Zordich and his teammates gestured to excited fans to join their end-of-session huddle.
“One, two, three. Family!” they exclaimed in unison.
Amid uncertainty over who will stay with Penn State’s football program a week after the NCAA imposed stiff sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, at least 2,500 fans, alumni and local business owners rallied outside the football building Tuesday for Nittany Lion players.
“It was so cool. I couldn’t believe how loud it was,” Zordich said. “This just goes to show why we’re still here and why we’re going to fight this thing through.”
Most of the team appeared to be in attendance for the offseason workouts, which aren’t mandatory. A player noticeably missing was star tailback Silas Redd, one of a handful of Nittany Lions considering an immediate transfer after the NCAA allowed current players _ because of the penalties _ to look at other schools immediately rather than sit out a year.
Among the sanctions were a significant decline in scholarships and a four-year postseason ban.
Now Penn State is trying to make the best of it.
A pep band played while backers wearing blue-and-white attire lined the sidewalks to slap high-fives and shake hands with Nittany Lions as they snaked their way to their workouts. The scene resembled the team entrance to home games at Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays.
Inspirational quotes from Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine and Vince Lombardi were posted in the windows of the building. “It isn’t whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up,” read one quote attributed to Lombardi, the Hall of Fame NFL coach.
Players have been stuck in the middle of the ugly scandal that has engulfed Penn state since November, when Sandusky was arrested.
The retired defensive coordinator is in jail awaiting sentencing after being convicted in June of 45 criminal counts of sexually abusing young boys. Some of the assaults took place in the football building.
Former FBI director Louis Freeh on July 12 released results of his investigation for Penn State and said that the late coach Joe Paterno and three school officials concealed allegations against Sandusky, conclusions that Paterno’s family and the officials have vehemently denied.
The coach’s widow, Sue Paterno, was seen inside the football building during the rally, but she did not speak to fans or media.
Penn State gave Freeh’s findings to the NCAA, which levied the landmark sanctions on July 23 that have some players at least considering a transfer.
The only NCAA restriction is that players considering a transfer cannot practice or play with Penn State this year and still play for another school this season, meaning the Penn State roster should finally be set once training camp starts in a week. But the process has set up a college version of NFL free agency, in which other schools have been busy trying to cherry-pick Nittany Lions.