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Legends of the fall: PSU senior class one of greatest in college football history

November 18, 2012 - Cory Giger
They are role models. They are leaders. They are legends.

That's how the seniors on this year's Penn State team forever will be remembered.

Not because they play football. Not because they're going to win any championships. Not because some of them might go on to productive pro careers.

In the face of enormous adversity over the past year, all the Nittany Lion football players -- and especially the seniors -- have etched their names in Penn State lore by representing their university with tremendous class and dignity.

Saturday, the seniors will play the final game of their PSU careers, and this week undoubtedly will present them with opportunities to reflect publicly and privately on their time in Happy Valley, how it became an unhappy place to be during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and how they helped in their own way to try and bring back some semblance of normalcy.

The football players found themselves thrust in the middle of a terrible ordeal, yet they held their heads high, served as outstanding spokesmen for the university and showed the rest of the world -- through their words and actions -- why there is still much to be proud of at Penn State.

For all those reasons, it would be easy to make the case that this is one of the greatest senior classes in college football history. Others have won more, claimed championships and the like, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any class of college athletes ever that has endured more hardship and yet shown more character than these Penn State kids.

Remember, that's what they are, too, is kids. Young adults, if you will, but still not adults.

And it cannot be overstated how much better these kids have handled themselves during the scandal than many of the adults who were in charge and/or responsible for it reaching epic proportions.

There are many great, memorable names in PSU football history, such as Heisman Trophy-winning running back John Cappelletti, star quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Todd Blackledge, star running backs Curt Warner and Ki-Jana Carter and, of course, many star linebackers such Jack Ham and Paul Posluszny.

Decades from now, players such as defensive tackle Jordan Hill, linebacker Gerald Hodges, fullback Michael Zordich and quarterback Matt McGloin will be household names among Penn State fans for the leadership they've shown over the past year.

Then there's Michael Mauti. He's in a class of his own.

I was struck by a comment from colleague Neil Rudel on Saturday when he said, and later wrote, that Mauti is the greatest leader in Penn State history. Given that Neil has covered the program for more than 30 years and knows its history as well as anyone, that is remarkable praise for Mauti.

It was devastating to see the senior linebacker injure his left knee Saturday against Indiana. A stunned silence fell over Beaver Stadium when he went down, and while journalists are supposed to be unbiased, I'll admit that I had to fight back tears, knowing all that Mauti has been through with the scandal and two other major knee injuries.

Mauti is a terrific football player, but he is a better person. And we all can only hope he has a speedy recovery and gets to enjoy a good NFL career.

As for the rest of the seniors, some will play professionally, while others will go onto other walks of life. They deserve success, and here's wishing that for them.

They've earned it, just as they've earned everyone's respect.

SUBHD: Afterthoughts

* I don't believe Bill O'Brien is going anywhere after this season. And I fully understand why he got a little testy when pressed about the issue Saturday. His team had just won a game and has its final game of the season coming up, so he didn't want to discuss what he believes to be a non-issue.

But O'Brien was asked a yes-or-no question about whether he will be back at PSU, and he didn't directly answer it. Until he does, he will keep getting asked, and there will continue to be speculation about his future. That's just the way it goes.

O'Brien's future will be THE biggest issue of the offseason for Penn State, and his name probably will keep getting mentioned every time an NFL job opens up after the season.

He's in a no-win position, really. It's tough for him to flat out say he's coming back when he doesn't know what type of offers might be on the table, yet by failing to acknowledge he definitely will return, it further fuels the speculation.

Stay tuned.

* The students deserve a lot of credit for turning out in big numbers Saturday for a bad opponent during their Thanksgiving break. Shows a lot of commitment.

* Penn State opened up as a 3-point favorite over Wisconsin.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.


Senior salute

Coming Friday, the Mirror will have a special 24-page Gameday magazine honoring the seniors on this year's team. It will include an open letter from Bill O'Brien on what the seniors have meant to the program, Neil Rudel's commentary on the class, full-page pictures of the top seniors and a two-page poster featuring all the seniors.

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