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 —
Roundup: Trojans, Hounds win team titles at WM Invitational
Wilmington High girls and Greenville boys dominated the annual Big Red Track & Field Invitational Thursday afternoon in West Middlesex.
A half-dozen girls’ and 7 boys’ teams competed.
Wilmington overwhelmed the female field, as the Lady Greyhounds garnered almost twice as many points as runner-up Lakeview (236-5 to 133.5).
Roundup: WM diamondmen edge Reynolds, 6-4
ä West Middlesex 6, Reynolds 4 — At Transfer, the Big Reds snapped a 4-all tie by plating a run in the 4th inning and another in the 7th in a 2-run win over the Raiders.
Mark Colella earned the mound win in a relief appearance for WM. No pitching stats were submitted.
Roundup: Hickory, Wilmington softball teams win
Paced by Chelsea Marriott’s muscle, Hickory High hammered 4 home runs Saturday afternoon en route to a 19-1 rout of Sharon.
At Wengler, Marriott mauled 2- and 3-run round-trippers to right-center and straightaway center field, respectively. Her Lady Hornets’ teammates Hannah Gallagher and Morgan McBride mustered 3-run bombs, also.
Fired coach in Mankato unjustly accused of visiting porn sites
Minnesota State University-Mankato officials wrongly accused former football coach Todd Hoffner of viewing pornography sites on his work computer before firing him last May, a state arbitrator has disclosed.
Roundup: Hickory track coaches to step down following season
Hickory High track & field co-head coaches Barb Dzuricsko and Mark Slezak announced they will step down at the season’s conclusion.
Dzuricsko and Slezak, who led the Lady Hornets to the 2012 PIAA Class AA crown, jointly made the announcement via e-mail late Wednesday.
Roundup: Devil diamondmen roll past Sharon
An old-school baseball bromide states that, early in any season, pitching is always ahead of hitting. However Sharpsville shunned that axiom Wednesday afternoon.
The Blue Devils banged 15 hits, and Sharpsville short-circuited Sharon, 16-4, in 5 innings.
Roundup: Hounds, Hornets notch track sweeps
ä Wilmington 116, Reynolds 44 — At New Wilmington, the host Lady Hounds were led by Rikki Brumbaugh (4x8, 4x4 relay legs, 400- and 800-meter runs); Hannah Drake (long, triple jumps, 4x4 relay); Allison Baldwin (4x8 and 4x4 relay legs); Lexi Brumbaugh (1600-, 3200-meter runs, distance-relay leg), and Tessa Sikora (high jump, 200-meter dash, sprint-relay anchor).
SPORTVIEW: Pirates, Indians fans looking for big things this year
LIFE IS GOOD if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cleveland Indians. At least for now!
Heading into Saturday, both teams were 3-1 and looking pretty sharp. Since both made the playoffs last year, there are high expectations for both clubs. But in baseball, every year is a new season and there are no guarantees.
Still, it’s always nice when your favorite teams get off to a good start. In too many seasons, Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans were only talking about the NFL draft because hopes were bleak for their baseball teams.
Hickory's Arbanas 1st team All-State; KC's Hood 3rd team
ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) — Teams from the WPIAL won three of the four PIAA girls basketball championships this year, and southwestern Pennsylvania is turning out to be just as dominant when it comes to postseason honors.
Pittsburgh-area programs produced seven of the eight major award winners on this season’s Sports Writers Pennsylvania High School Girls Basketball All-State Team, including all four players of the year.
WM's Staunch named 2nd team All-State
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Finishing on the winning side in a championship game — or coming mighty, mighty close — scored plenty of points with the panel that selected Pennsylvania’s all-state boys’ basketball team.
Especially when it came time to choose those — whether players or coaches — who claimed the top individual awards.
Roundup: Hickory, Mercer, Reynolds, WM baseball teams earn wins
ä Hickory 12, Sharpsville 10 — At the McCullough Run Complex in South Pymatuning Twp., the visiting Hornets improved to 4-0 with the win.
Brady Leunis went 2-for-3 for Hickory with a double and 3 RBI, Tommy Cannon belted a 2-run homer, Noah Orndorff was 2-for-4, Nate Mastrian ripped an RBI-double, Ethan Davis was 2-for-4 with a double and a run driven in and Jake Andrzjewski doubled.
Roundup: WM, Wilmington, Mercer softball teams win
ä West Middlesex 11, Grove City 1 (5 inn.) — At the Richard J. Kritz Softball Complex in West Middlesex, Jordyn Allen fired a complete-game 2-hitter with 8 strikeouts and no walks as the Ms. Reds (1-1) rebounded from a tough loss to Lakeview on Monday.
Offensively, Allen doubled and ripped 2 singles for WM, Abby McAdams and Aly Andrusky doubled and singled, Macy Siefert collected 4 singles and Hannah Havens, Megan Hazlett and Oivia Slater added 2 singles each.
Hickory girls, Farrell boys win Guerino titles
The Hickory girls and Farrell boys captured championships on Saturday night at the 17th annual Buddy Guerino Underclassmen Basketball Tournament at Sharpsville High School.
The Hickory girls beat Kennedy Catholic, 41-29, for the crown while the Farrell boys topped Mercer, 76-35, for the title.
In the consolation games, Sharpsville defeated Sharon, 35-15, in girls hoops while the Sharon boys beat Hickory, 57-33.
SPORTVIEW: Eagles' release of Jackson was a strange move
ONE OF THE strangest NFL moves I’ve seen in a long time involved the Philadelphia Eagles releasing DeSean Jackson.
Jackson is one of the top wide receivers in the league and a danger to score every time he touches the ball, including punt returns. But the big question is: Why was he just released? Couldn’t they find a trade at least to get some value back?
WM track teams go 6-1 at Big Red Duals
The West Middlesex girls and track teams both went 6-1 on Friday at the annual Big Red Relays. Both teams lost to Mohawk.
The WM boys beat A.C. Valley (129-17), Commodore Perry (120-26), Kennedy Catholic (128-18), Laurel (89-61), Sharon (108-38), Union (127-19) and lost to Mohawk (96-53).
The Ms. Reds topped A.C. Valley (128-18), Commodore Perry (120-22), Kennedy Catholic (123-14), Laurel (123-14), Laurel (89-56), Sharon 114-26, Union (107-33) and lost to Mohawk (96 1/2-48 1/2).
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- Roundup: Trojans, Hounds win team titles at WM Invitational