NOTE: McGregor was gracious enough to let the Mirror run his full essay on Paterno. Read it below this story about him:
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Shane McGregor has worked himself into position to possibly be able to show his quarterback skills on the field this season for Penn State, and the Central Cambria product also recently received a prestigious national honor for his writing skills.
McGregor has moved up to third string on the Nittany Lions' depth chart with the departure of Kevin Newsome and with Paul Jones being academically ineligible. The redshirt junior is a walk-on and could see the first action of his career if PSU blows out Indiana State, as expected, in the opener Sept. 3.
"I'm very excited," McGregor said. "I've worked hard for three years for this opportunity, and to see it coming sort of to fruition right now is exactly what I wanted."
He's not just excited about the possibility of playing against Indiana State, either.
"I've circled all the games," McGregor said. "That's what I want is to be in the game. It's not just for the blowouts. I want to be in the game for when it matters, so I've got them all circled."
McGregor isn't on a football scholarship, but he just earned a $5,000 national journalism scholarship for an essay he wrote on Joe Paterno. A journalism and English major with a 3.89 GPA, he is one of just five students in the country to earn a scholarship from the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, named after the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.
The Murray Foundation holds an annual essay-writing contest in which students write a profile on an influential sports figure on their campus.
McGregor, naturally, picked his own coach, college football's all-time wins leader in Division I.
"I took what I knew and what I've seen and wrote about it," McGregor said. "It had to be under 1,000 words, so that was kind of tough, but I wrote it and hoped for the best.
"I thought I had a good chance whenever I submitted it because I worked well with my professor, Malcolm Moran. He helped me out a little bit to formulate a good idea, and I thought I wrote it pretty well. But to finally get the call [about winning[ was real nice. It was a very pleasant surprise."
It's no surprise to those who know him that McGregor has been recognized with a prestigious honor.
"Shane is an outstanding young man, the kind of guy who deserves success," PSU quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno wrote in a text to the Mirror.
There's great competition for the Murray award, Moran said, with students from some of the top journalism schools in the country submitting essays.
"The best way to measure his achievement is to realize how hard it is to earn the scholarship that he just earned," Moran said. "For Shane to accomplish that is really wonderful. He's a great ambassador for us."
Penn State has had two other Murray award winners in the past four years -- Mark Viera, who now works for the New York Times, in 2008 and Josh Moyer in 2007.
McGregor, who's working on his first book, is now hoping to make his mark on the football field for the Lions.
Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are battling it out for the starting quarterback job. McGregor is well behind those two in the competition but would be next in line to play if both suffered injuries.
"Shane has developed into a guy we can play with," Jay Paterno said. "He is smart and committed to everything we do. He knows the offense well and is a great team guy."
McGregor threw for 1,722 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Central Cambria in 2007. He also played basketball and baseball.
He could have gone to a smaller school to play football, but McGregor dreamed of becoming a Nittany Lion. He redshirted in 2008, and last year he served as the scout team quarterback.
"I've had a lot of good experiences playing on the scout team," McGregor said. "A lot of guys think of it as a crappy job, but it's playing against the first-string defense and that's a good experience."
McGregor found himself as the third-string quarterback for the Outback Bowl against Florida after Newsome didn't make the trip.
"I got up with the third team last year a little bit, got on the travel squad, so that was a good experience," he said. "I'm just trying to build on it all."
McGregor has been getting all the third-team reps this fall, which has helped his development. He said he spent the spring and summer working on getting his feet in the right position, and the next big challenge will be adjusting to game speed if he gets such an opportunity.
"He definitely knows what he's doing with the ball," Jones said. "I tell him a lot his arm's gotten a lot stronger than last season, and he's more confident."
Cory Giger can be reached 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
JoePa: Great coach, greater character
PSU QB McGregor describes what makes Paterno special
Note: Shane McGregor won a national journalism scholarship for this essay on Joe Paterno.
He stands with a slight hunch, a crease in his back where his blue jacket and khaki pants meet. In one hand a whistle, its thread snaking through his tanned fingers; in the other, a folded practice schedule. He watches as ten young men sixty years his junior huddle together in the middle of Holuba Hall, the expansive indoor practice facility at Penn State University.
It's the tenth practice of the 2011 spring football season, and the lingering central Pennsylvania winter has forced the Nittany Lions inside this Saturday morning. A red-jerseyed quarterback reaches the huddle and begins calling the play when the man with the whistle turns to his offensive coordinator and gives an order.
"I want the Iso."
"Alright, we have the play-action called, we'll call it next play," the coordinator replies.
"No, run it now. I want the Iso. Run it now."
The huddle is interrupted. The new play call, the isolation running play Joe Paterno just demanded, is signaled into the quarterback. And six seconds after the snap of the ball, running back Curtis Dukes is sprinting into the end zone forty yards away.
"The funny thing is, Joe does that all the time," says the offensive coordinator, Jay Paterno. "He just has a great feel for anticipating things, a great sense of vision."
At the age of 84, Joe Paterno has displayed a few other things as he prepares for his 46th season as a head coach and his 62nd at Penn State. Since he became head coach of the Nittany Lions in 1966, Paterno's teams have amassed 401 victories, national championships in 1982 and 1986, seven undefeated seasons, 78 All-Americans, 36 bowl appearances, 24 bowl victories, 47 Academic All-Americans and 18 NCAA postgraduate scholarship winners.
But the numbers fail to do justice to Paterno's greatest strength, his character. Just ask anyone who has ever interacted with him.
"I was sold on him from the first time he came to my house on a recruiting visit," says Daryll Clark, a quarterback from Youngstown, Ohio who became an All-Big Ten player in 2008 and 2009. "For the first thirty minutes we talked about school, Youngstown, my family, his family. No one else did that, and as far as I know, no one else does."
Most other coaches haven't graduated with a degree in English from Brown University.
Most don't go home after a long day's work and pick up Abraham Lincoln's autobiography or Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars, books Paterno read during spring practice. And when faced with the darkest of times -- a 2004 loss to Northwestern that dropped the Lions to 0-6 in the Big Ten -- most coaches wouldn't turn to William Shakespeare for advice.
"Joe cancelled practice that Monday and read Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' speech to the team," says Jay Paterno. "He told the seniors, 'You guys can't win a national championship, but we have two more games and you guys can sow the seeds for us to win it next year.'"
The Lions used a late goal-line stand to win at Indiana and an offensive explosion to beat Michigan State in those final two games. The 2005 Nittany Lions built a record of 11-1, their only defeat coming in a last-second loss at Michigan, and completed their comeback season with a triple-overtime Orange Bowl victory over Florida State.
Paterno's influence has extended beyond the football field and into the culture of his university since the vision known as "The Grand Experiment," competing on a national level without academic compromise, began 45 years ago. There are no last names on the uniforms of his team or any varsity Penn State athletic team. One of two libraries on the University Park campus is named the "Paterno Library," after he and his wife, Sue, made a $3.5 million gift in 1998. A family gift supported the creation of an interfaith spiritual center. At the university's popular Creamery, where long lines are a tradition of each football weekend, one of the most popular ice cream flavors is Peachy Paterno.
And Penn State has never had an NCAA violation in any sport.
Winning is valued, but winning with integrity is held in highest regard.
"We place a great importance on trust," Paterno says. "I've only ever had to fire two coaches in my whole time here, and both times were for cheating. We want to do things the right way."
Of all the qualities that he could name -- endurance, persistence, loyalty, courage, attention to detail, competitive nature -- Paterno attributes his success to one factor.
"We've always had great people," he says. "The one thing we've always had on the staff and on the team and around here were great people."
In the early evening of November 6, 2010, nearly everyone in the crowd of 104,147 remained in Beaver Stadium as Joe Paterno walked toward a makeshift stage in the south end zone. A come-from-behind, 35-21 victory over Northwestern had made Paterno the first major college coach to reach 400 victories. As the thousands chanted his name, Paterno held a microphone and stared out into a sea of flashing cameras and smiling fans. With his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his coaches, his former players and his current Lions surrounding the small stage, he was presented with a crystal football to commemorate the victory.
Then he answered a question he had heard too many times.
"People want to ask why I stayed here so long, and you know what?
"Look around. Look around."