MERCER COUNTY —
“Penn State Proud” has been used as a recruiting slogan, but for head football coach Bill O’Brien it’s a way of life.
O’Brien orchestrated an 8-win season for the 2012 Nittany Lions, including a season-ending overtime win over Big Ten Conference champion Wisconsin. However the intense taskmaster related, “I think at the end of the day, it was a good year for Penn State. But one thing you learn in coaching,” O’Brien admonished, “is that you can’t rest on your laurels. That year’s over, and we moved on — really, as soon as the Wisconsin game was over — we started thinking about 2013, and that’s basically where we’re headed now.”
The 2012 Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award winner, O’Brien served as guest speaker at the annual Penn State-Shenango Friends of Penn State dinner on Wednesday. A native of the Boston suburb of Andover, Mass., the intense O’Brien was polite, but smiled little during a 15-minute meeting with the media in Sharon Hall on PSU-Shenango’s campus.
After making a pair of Super Bowl appearances with the NFL’s New England Patriots, O’Brien became Penn State University’s 15th head football coach on Jan. 6, 2012. Having had a late start on the recruiting trail and having lost numerous scholarship players in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal, the 2012 Nittany Lions lost back-to-back games to commence the campaign.
However a subsequent practice on an emotional Monday motivated his minions toward a 34-7 victory over the United States Naval Academy. That propelled PSU to 8 wins in its final 10 games.
“It was definitely an enjoyable season, especially with this being my first as a head football coach,” O’Brien acknowledged. “Being around the players, the coaches, the administration — just really fantastic people at Penn State. And that’s saying a lot, because I was an assistant coach on two Super Bowl teams, and those were really enjoyable years, too — even though we didn’t win.
“But (2012) was a very special year, mostly because of the kids, the players, and how hard they worked,” O’Brien continued, “the passion that they had, the commitment (31 seniors) that they made to it, so it was a pretty neat year.
“There were a few gratifying moments,” O’Brien reflected. “These are young guys playing a contact sport, a tough sport, and they’d been through a lot. We came to practice that Monday after the Virginia game (a 16-14 loss), and we had a really good, crisp practice. That was a really gratifying moment for me as a coach.
“Then the other moment,” he continued, “had to be the locker room after the Wisconsin game. That was just a fantastic scene! And to be a part of that, especially with those kids — the commitment they had made to the university, to us, the commitment that they made to each other — to see them come out on the winning end of that game was just pretty neat.”
Regarding 2013, O’Brien offered an assessment of his recently signed class of recruits:
“We feel really good about the student-athletes we’ve recruited,” he began, relating, “We’re in a situation (owing to NCAA sanctions) where we can’t sign as many guys as we’d like to sign, but we really feel good about the quality of the guys that we’ve brought in here. We think we’ve gotten some high-character guys, we think we’ve gotten some good football players that come from good families. We feel good about the job we did in Pennsylvania; we feel we need to do an even better job in the future. ... We have nine coaches in Pennsylvania, so we have coaches who have (geographical recruiting) areas.
“But especially as it relates to Ohio, we have to do a better job in Ohio,” O’Brien acknowledged. “There are good players in Ohio that have interest in Penn State. But just overall, as a staff led by me, we have to do a better job there. But we’ll always recruit this area and the Youngstown area has been good to us (Cardinal Mooney High product Michael Zordich, a senior fullback, served as a 2012 captain). But we have to continue to do a better job in this area, recruiting it.
“Recruting’s never been easy,” O’Brien admitted. “Recruting’s about a fit: Does the student-athlete feel like he fits in at the school that’s recruiting him? Does the student-athlete feel good about the relationship? Is is a trusting relationship? What makes recruiting harder is ... some of these new rules (text-messaging, telephoning, visiting recruits). Hopefully we get some of these new rules tabled — there’s, like, three of four of them that need to be tabled and talked about a lot longer than they have been.
“The relationships and whether or not a guy fits, that’s the fun part of recruiting,” he added.
O’Brien also praised Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delaney — “a forward-thinking man,” — specifically for his role in expanding the circuit, which soon will include Maryland and Rutgers.
Although 20 years into his coaching career, arguably, O’Brien’s enduring legacy may be that as the man who succeeded legendary Joe Paterno as Penn State University’s head football coach. Ironically, they shared the same alma mater, Brown University.
“I actually spoke to Coach Paterno one time,” O’Brien began, “and that was about 10 days before he passed away. And I’m glad I had the opportunity to at least do that. I wish that I’d had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him, obviously, but I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone. ... that was a private conversation between he and I, and I’ll just keep it at that.
“But it was a productive conversation. I wouldn’t say it was an emotional conversation, but it was productive, and ... I’m glad I had a chance to speak with him,” O’Brien related.
“Funny story,” he related. “When I was a senior at Brown, (Paterno) came to Brown and spoke to the whole athletic department. And then the football players (O’Brien was a linebacker/defensive end), the seniors that year, we got to ... meet with him and talk to him a little bit. That was really neat, just as a 21-year-old, that was pretty cool.
“But ... we’re doing things at Penn State that, I believe, he would be proud of,” O’Brien continued. “We’re recruiting good kids, we’re putting a huge emphasis on academics, because it’s a fantastic school, we care about the school, we care about the guys we coach.
“I (didn’t) know Joe Paterno personally, but I believe he’d be proud of that. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the body of work, the wins, combined with graduating that high percentage of players over time, will never be matched,” O’Brien concluded.
MERCER COUNTY —
NFL NOTEBOOK: Ex-Sharon star Austin hopes to spark Lions' defense
THE TALENTED — albeit underachieving — Detroit Lions commence camp July 27 in Allen Park, Mich. as the National Football League prepares for the 2014 season.
Racing to fight cancer
Former Hickory High athlete Amanda Budzowski is on the run — the run to raise money to fight cancer.
Budzowski is part of Team in Training, an organization that has raised more than $1.4 billion for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since forming in 1988. Her division is known as IRONTEAM and she is currently training for the 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon in Mont Tremblant, Canada, in August.
SPORTVIEW: Pirates, Indians need fast start after All-Star break
SO FAR, so good. I’m referring to the start of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians after the All-Star break on Friday night.
Both teams rallied to win. The Buccos beat the Colorado Joints — err, I mean Rockies — by coming from behind in the 8th inning. Since they legalized marijuana sales in that state, it gave new meaning to John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High.”
Rutters earn spot in national motocross event
The brother-sister racing duo of Elijah and Dannah Rutter of Mercer are set to travel to Hurricane Mills, Tenn., to compete soon in the prestigious 33rd annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships presented by AMSOIL at Loretta Lynn Ranch.
Elijah, 18, and Dannah, 16, earned a ticket to the event with their performances at qualifiers and then regionals and are among the top 5 percent of riders in the U.S. Overall, 20,000 hopefuls from across the U.S. competed and there are only 1,446 qualifying spots at nationals.
Notebook: Sharon football greats meet, reunite at inaugural golf scramble
Mid-July, with the temperature 80-plus degrees at Avalon at Buhl Country Club; however, it felt like a fall, football Friday.
The inaugural Sharon Football Boosters 4-man golf scramble took place recently, and served as a Who’s Who in the Tigers’ triumphant tradition.
SPORTVIEW: All is right with the world - LeBron has come home!
HAPPY DAYS are here again. The prodigal child has returned!
The announcement that “King James” is returning to Cleveland has created a level of euphoria not seen since the Browns won the city’s last major sport championship a couple of years ago.
What’s that? Oh, yeah — make that 50 years ago (1964).
Full text of LeBron's essay in SI
LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday in an essay that he wrote for Sports Illustrated. The following is the full text of that essay.
Snyder, Gordon, Popatak named to All-State team
Grove City High’s David Gordon, Sharpsville’s Greg Popatak and Lakeview’s Logan Snyder recently were named to the Pennsylvania High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state team.
Synder was selected 1st-Team in Class A as a designated-hitter, while Gordon was honorably-mentioned in Class AAA and Popatak similarly was honored in AA. Gordon gained his laurels as a pitcher; Popatak as a 3rd baseman.
Oprah lands first interview with Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, Matthew
Matthew Sandusky, the adopted son of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, is breaking his silence for the first time since his father's 2012 conviction on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, sitting down with Oprah to tell his story.
Little League Tournaments
Sharon won the District 2 Major Division (12-year-olds) Championship, while Greenville 9-10 and West Middlesex 11 teams notched tournament victories in recent action.
Hermitage Brennan Chiropractic won the Mercer County 14-under championship recently.
Following are game reports:
The First Tee of Sharon celebrates 15th anniversary
Professional golf star John Cook has received many honors and awards in his illustrious career, but probably none mean as much as those similar to the one he received Monday afternoon at The First Tee of Sharon.
During a special ceremony to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the local program, a permanent plaque was unveiled in his honor describing the contributions he has made to junior golf.
SPORTVIEW: John Cook here Monday for First Tee; other celebs on July 11
THE RETURN of Tiger Woods to a PGA event sparked a lot of interest this past week. The return of John Cook to Buhl Farm Golf Course Monday will do the same locally.
Cook, a standout on the Champions Tour and outstanding TV golf analyst, will conduct a clinic at 11 a.m. Monday at the course to help celebrate the 15th anniversary of The First Tee of Sharon program.
It is open to the public at no charge.
Hickory honors Tri-Athletes
Hickory High honored its 2013-14 tri-athletes in a recent ceremony, the latest installment in a program that began in 2003-04.
Fifty student-athletes (grades 9-12) were cited for having competed in at least one sport in the fall, winter and spring while maintaining a minimum B (85 percent) grade-point-average during the first three 9-week grading periods of the academic year.
SPORTVIEW: Ex-Greenville man to enter Bedford County Hall
HUGHEY TATE was the greatest baseball player that ever lived — hitting 10,000 home runs and never making an out in 50 years on the diamond.
OK, that’s not true of course. But that’s the way Hughey would have told it before bursting into laughter.
Tate, a Greenville man who was as good at spinning a yarn as well as he was in hitting home runs, will be inducted posthumously into the Bedford County (Pa.) Hall of Fame Saturday. Some of his relatives from this area will attend the ceremonies.
Wilson wins Herald-Tamie Jr. golf crown
It was a case of family history trumping golfing history!
Hickory High golfer Billy Colbert had a chance to become only the second player ever to win the Herald-Tam O’Shanter Golf Championship four times. But he missed the final round of the tourney Wednesday along with his brother Colbert to attend his great-grandma’s funeral in Pittsburgh.
“I kind of wish he was here,” said the 2014 champion Jacob Wilson, a Kennedy Catholic High player who lost in a sudden-death playoff to Colbert last year. “But you play whoever is here. And in golf, you play against yourself too.”
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