August 7, 2012
Penn State's Long Road Back to Respect: As Nittany Lions Begin Preseason Practice Over the Weekend, Coach Bill O'Brien Battles To Hold On To Key Players After NCAA's Sanctions, Cites Responsibility To "Community, Children, and Child Abuse Organizations" as Top Goal
After its particularly turbulent offseason, Penn State could finally have some roster stability with the embattled Nittany Lions opening preseason practice this weekend. Coach Bill O'Brien said he was "very confident" the players who showed up for practice early Monday morning are committed for the season, an AP news release reports. The team held its first formal workouts since the NCAA leveled strict sanctions against the program, including a four-year bowl ban, for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal — in which players who had nothing to do with the scandal were caught in the middle. Nine Nittany Lions have taken advantage of an opportunity from the NCAA allowing immediate transfers to play for other schools. O'Brien says he's focused on players who stayed and getting them ready for the season opener Sept. 1 against Ohio. "I respect those guys. They made individual decisions," O'Brien said about the transfers. "But I think we've got to start focusing, like I said all along, on the kids that are here. ... I think we're really good where we started today. We've just got to keep getting better every day." Among the nine players to transfer were star rusher Silas Redd and receiver Justin Brown, but O'Brien has managed to hang on to the majority of his core players, especially on defense. As of the first practice, the roster stood at 109 players including walk-ons, or 92 percent of the roster as of July 23, when sanctions were announced. According to the NCAA exception, players have all season to transfer, but lose immediate eligibility with their new teams if they play a game with Penn State. O'Brien stressed repeatedly during his 10-minute session with reporters after morning workouts that the team understands why "we're in the position that we're in." "We've got to understand our responsibility to the community, to children, to child abuse organizations. That's No. 1. These kids understand we're going to talk about that quite a bit. We're going to show what we mean by that," he said, the AP reports. "At the same time ... they're hard-working, good kids. They're going to class and I'm proud to be their head coach."
O'Brien also hasn't yet decided if there will be any changes to Penn State's blue and white uniforms, including the possibility of putting names on the backs of jerseys. The team's basic style makes for one of the most recognizable looks in sports, CBS Sports reports.
"I want Penn State to turn the page and move forward," O'Brien told reporters after the workout. "It's a new Penn State. It's a new Penn State football program, and we do have some restrictions but we all know why they're there," he added, USA Today reports.