It surprised some people when safety Anthony Scirrotto was named a team captain in April, but he recently proved why he is worthy of the distinction.
The senior, three-year starter did something out of character for him following Penn State's 45-14 win over Oregon State in week two. The Nittany Lions were coming off yet another round of off-the-field problems earlier in the week as marijuana was found in some players' apartment, so Scirrotto felt a responsibility as a captain to say something.
Joe Paterno addressed the team after the game, then the soft-spoken Scirrotto surprised his teammates by standing up and delivering a well-timed message.
"I just told them we've got something special going on this team," Scirrotto said. "We've got players and the coaching and everything it takes to be a great team and to just not take it for granted, to be smart and responsible and just take care of each other because I feel like we have what it takes to be a contender at the end for a title."
The speech lasted only 30-45 seconds and came from a player who admits, "I'm not usually a vocal guy."
"I usually don't speak much at all, actually," Scirrotto added. "I leave that to the other captains and the other seniors. But it's just something that came from the heart."
Penn State has five captains this season: Scirrotto, center A.Q. Shipley, receiver Derrick Williams, defensive end Josh Gaines and injured linebacker Sean Lee. All but Lee are seniors, and they agree Scirrotto's speech is exactly the type of thing a captain must do to help motivate a team.
"It was great to see him do that," said Shipley, noting he was proud of Scirrotto and adding, "He spoke from the heart and everyone took it to heart."
"He's not [the vocal guy]," Gaines said, "but when he talked, everybody turned to him and listened. He caught everyone's attention."
Part of the reason for that is the Nittany Lions know they have great potential this season. They also know the only way to reach that potential is for everyone to stay out of trouble, something that's been a problem for several years with an alarming number of players getting arrested.
"We have a good team, and everybody on the team knows that we can be good this year," Williams said. "We've just got to get people up and ready to play."
The captains share a big part of that responsibility.
Gaines said part of a captain's role is "just making sure everyone has their head in the game, everyone's on point and everyone's ready to play."
"Being a captain," Gaines added, "everyone looks up to you, seeing how you react to things. They look to you when [the team is] down, stuff like that."
It's early, but the Lions' impressive 3-0 start -- in which they've outscored opponents, 166-37 -- has the players believing this could be a memorable year.
"I think there is something special going on," Shipley said. "We've got a lot of good guys in the right places right now, a lot of experience, a lot of talent, a lot of character on this team. We're gonna have fun with this thing and see where it takes us."
Shipley is one of the more vocal players on the team, so it wouldn't have been a surprise for him to stand up and address the squad after a game. Scirrotto is a different story.
Scirrotto endured a rough year in 2007 as he battled his own off-the-field problems. He and his girlfriend got into a street altercation with some men, and he retaliated by making a phone call that led to football players showing up and brawling inside an apartment.
Scirrotto was one of several players to face criminal charges in the incident, and he eventually reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty on the count of misdemeanor defiant trespass.
Scirrotto has been criticized for not simply walking away from the street altercation, which could have spared further involvement from any other football players. His actions that night made it difficult for some people to understand why he was elected as one of the team captains.
Scirrotto, though, knows better than most how off-the-field problems can hurt a player and the team. That may have been one of the reasons he decided to speak up when he did.
"The thing is you have to learn, and the past couple years with everyone getting in trouble, you would think people would learn from other peoples' mistakes," Scirrotto said.
That hasn't happened, however, leading to a lot of frustration for the players and Paterno.
"For him to have to worry about things like that isn't fair to him," Scirrotto said of his head coach. "During the season, our focus should be one thing, and that's to play games each week."
The marijuana incident led to the suspensions of defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, and Scirrotto said that "could be just misfortune."
Even so, he added, the captains and everyone on the team have to make sure the misfortunes of a few players don't ruin things for everyone.
"We're to the point where we'll be there, we're going to help as much as we can and do whatever we can to help you guys," Scirrotto said of the troubled players, "but our focus is more on our team and our success."
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and email@example.com.