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 —
Hickory falls to Lions in PIAA Class AA western region final
SLIPPERY ROCK — Brett Brumbaugh brought Bill Brest back to reality.
Brest seemed, Saturday afternoon, momentarily lost in thought when a post-game question was posed. Perhaps it was because it had been 3 months since he had experienced the disappointment of defeat.
Brumbaugh-led South Fayette’s football team short-circuited a splendid season a step shy of the statewide stage for Brest and Hickory High with a 23-20 win over the Hornets in the PIAA Class AA western regional championship game.
SPORTVIEW: Browns, Steelers will both lose
THE CLEVELAND Browns quarterback position has been a revolving door this season, but at least one of the more successful signal-callers is back. Jason Campbell is recovered from a concussion and will start.
Does it really matter?
Roundup: Opening-weekend tipoff tourneys conclude
Kittanning Tipoff Championship
ä Hickory 60, Kittanning 32 — Coach Jeannette Whitehead’s Lady Hornets had an impressive weekend in winning the opening tourney of the season.
“It’s nice to get out of the game with a win,” said Whitehead. “The kids were anxious to get going.”
2013-14 hoops season begins with tipoff tourneys
Farrell Julius McCoy Tipoff Tourney
ä Kennedy Catholic 48, Imani Christian Academy 40 — The Golden Eagles set up an all local rematch with host Farrell by pulling away in the fourth quarter in a tight battle.
For KC, Gerald Zachar and Sam Crow each scored 13 points to pace the victory, Brown had 14 and Southerner 12 for Imani.
Brookfield boys win season-opener against Py Valley
It was a typical season-opener: Too many turnovers, some questionable shot selection, and careless personal fouls. But for Brookfield High boys’ bench boss Bill Kovach, “ ... always happy with a win.”
The Warriors were 7-for-10 from the free-throw line during the 4th frame, and held off Pymatuning Valley, 59-48, Tuesday night.
Hornets advance to semis with win over Central
DuBOIS, PA. — Some people could say the “third time is a charm.” For the Hickory High Hornets it was much more than that. In fact, it was glorious.
After losing in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs the last two years, the Hornets finally nailed down a victory with a 37-27 triumph over the Central Dragons from Martinsburg.
Lakeview falls to Clarion Area in PIAA quarterfinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — In the scholastic athletic arena, “mercy rule” — while not politically correct in hyper-sensitive 2013 society — is a relatively accepted term.
Clarion High’s football had mercy-ruled all 13 prior opponents this season. And the Bobcats seemed bent on continuing their commanding conquests during Saturday’s PIAA Class A quarterfinal-round meeting with Lakeview.
Hickory focused on winning PIAA opener
The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving arrives a little later than usual this year. But as holiday traditions go, this one has been pretty productive for Hickory High head football coach Bill Brest.
“My wife always has me put up our Christmas tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving ... and the next day, we’ve won. So I’ll be more than happy to help my wife put up the tree this Friday,” Brest related.
During the past 2 years Hickory has won District 10 titles on Thanksgiving weekend. But this year the Hornets harvested their 3rd consecutive crown last week, jettisoning Girard (21-10). Now Hickory (11-1) has a 1 p.m. date in DuBois Saturday against surprising Central-Martinsburg (11-2) in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Smart move by PIAA to schedule games early this weekend
Congratulations to the PIAA for making a good move that helps teams and fans of high school sports.
Wow, I haven’t been able to say that often enough!
But many of the high school football games this coming weekend will be played in the afternoon which is a real plus for traveling on possibly snow-blown highways at this time of the year.
Hornets 3-peat as D-10 champs with win vs. Girard
EDINBORO — When legendary coach Vince Lombardi said “the only good thing that comes from losing is the desire never to lose again,” he could very well have been referencing the future for Coach Bill Brest and his Hickory Hornets.
Since Hickory lost to Sharon, 14-6, in the 2010 District 10 finals in Brest’s first year at the helm of the team, the D-10 Class AA title game has belonged to Hickory. And Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium, it was no different as the Hornets topped Girard, 21-10 for a third straight crown.
Sailors beat Devils to capture 1st District 10 title
NEW WILMINGTON — Lakeview may have a long way to go to equal Sharpsville’s success in the sport of football, but the Sailors jump-started the process Friday night.
With Blake Reddick roaring into the record book, the Sailors shut out Sharpsville, 27-0, in the District 10 Class A championship game at Greyhounds Stadium.
Hornets seek 3-peat Saturday vs. Girard
Bill Brest ... buffer?
Hickory High’s head football coach has broad shoulders and that’s necessary, because he’s taking on all distractions as his Hornets prepare for Saturday’s District 10 Class AA championship game.
Hickory (10-1) will attempt to hoist the D-10 trophy for a 3rd consecutive season when the Hornets journey to Girard’s backyard — Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium — to meet the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m.
Hickory rolls past Northwestern in D-10 semifinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — They say that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” You can bet the Northwestern Wildcats are feeling a bit of the latter for the Hickory Hornets!
For a third straight season Hickory eliminated the northerners from the District 10 Class AA playoffs, this time by a 52-14 score in the semifinals Saturday night at Slippery Rock University’s Thompson-Mihalik Stadium.
Greenville falls to Girard in D-10 semifinals
ERIE — District 10 was destined for a Class AA championship game between reigning 2-time titlist Hickory and Greenville.
But no one informed the Girard High football team of the plans.
“ … This is pretty cool … I’m pretty fired up about it,” admitted 4th-year Yellow Jackets’ head coach Jim Funk after Girard jolted Greenville, 16-14.
SPORTVIEW: Season fate could be decided today for Browns, Steelers
IT MAKES NO sense to say that one game determines the rest of the season. That’s why I’ll simply say: Today’s one game determines the rest of the season.
Since when did my predictions make sense anyhow?
The Cleveland Browns’ visit to Cincinnati today will go a long way to deciding if the Browns have a shot at making the playoffs — and even winning the AFC North title — or if they should start planning for the NFL draft.
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- Hickory falls to Lions in PIAA Class AA western region final