Had quite a packed weekly show on Trib Live Radio Wednesday morning. We had three guests – Penn State beat writer Ben Jones of StateCollege.com, Rutgers beat writer Ryan Dunleavy of the Asbury Park Press and MyCentralJersey.com and former Penn State offensive tackle and West Mifflin native Adam Gress.
Highlights from Dunleavy – as a native New Jerseyan and a Rutgers alum who has covered the Scarlet Knights for about 10 seasons now – include perspective on just how big a game this is for the Rutgers program and community:
- “For the Rutgers fan, it’s their Super Bowl. For the Rutgers player, this is certainly more than just one game.”
- “Interest is at an all-time high in Rutgers football.”
- “I’d love to see this become a rivalry… but we all know, Rutgers has to win a game for this to become a rivalry.”
- Relating the story of a player who, responding to NJ native Bill Belton’s comments that suggest that he believes Rutgers is not “big time”, said, “I’m so glad we get to play Penn State. What an opportunity to play big-time football.”
Jones, whose work covering Penn State predates the Jerry Sandusky scandal, offered some perspectives about what emerging from the sanctions means, and also what Saturday’s game might mean for Penn State:
- “To go into Rutgers’ stadium and beat them…especially coming out of the sanctions in the first game is def big for the program, not only on the recruiting front but on the getting-things-started-on-the-right-foot getting out of the sanctions.”
- “I don’t think anyone, myself included, expected (the sanctions-saddled seasons) to go this well… They came away with victories that would have been big wins during any season – and to be able to do that in the circumstances they were in, I don’t think anyone could have expected to go as well as it has.”
To me, the most fascinating part of the show was Gress, who was about to begin preseason camp for his redshirt junior season when the NCAA dropped its hammer in the form of historic sanctions. Gress told the story of the Penn State players watching television, en masse in the Lasch Building, when the NCAA sanctions were announced. And he gave his point of view of not only why he stayed but why the vast majority of his teammates stayed at Penn State.
- “At first, right after they announced the sanctions, everyone just kind of stood there, not sure what to say. We all just kind of looked around the room, and you could some guys… everyone was starting to think, ‘Oh man, is this it? Are we screwed?’
- But it wasn’t long after that, I remember I was sitting in my locker stall and (Michael) Mauti came walking up, and he was like, ‘Hey, Gress, let’s go,’ and I was like, ‘What are we—‘ and he was like, ‘Let’s go, come on. We’re all going.’ So I just kinda got up and rolled with those guys. And that was when we went out and we made the (public commitment) video. And everybody there that day decided, ‘We’re not going to let what happened tear us apart. We’re not going to let it bring down the program the way it is intended to”
- “When that (NCAA sanctions announcement) did happen, it was a punch to the gut. And we had training camp coming up very shortly, and I almost feel like it was released at that time intentionally to kind of throw us all of. But at the end of the day, I think instead of knocking us down, it make is all stronger.”
- (On his time at Penn State) “At the time we were so caught with everything that was going on and the emotions of it all that you didn’t really think of it –you just kind of rolled with the punches. But now that I’ve looked back, it really is incredible what we went through, and it’s more incredible how we fought back and how we came together as a team and how we stuck together and just persevered and we went out and… didn’t miss a beat because of the sanctions.”
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Enjoy the show. And your week.