My entire life has been defined by the words ‘‘you’ll never make it’’. So hard work isn’t new to me. Some people play football with a ‘‘chip on their shoulder’’ -- I live life that way because I have to.
My hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, made me this way. At the turn of the last century, Scranton was among the fastest growing cities in the United States. But after World War II, Scranton began a decades-long struggle as the times and our economy changed around us.
That’s why, in 1989, I was born into a culture defined by a never-say-die work ethic, a stubborn determination to succeed against huge odds, and yes, an attitude. We have to live life with a chip on our shoulders, because anything less guarantees failure.
So after a successful high school career, when no colleges came calling with scholarship offers, I took that Scranton determination to Penn State as a walk-on. No big deal, I had already been fighting against the odds my whole life. Coach Paterno didn’t mind; he wanted fighters. He handed me nothing, but expected everything. He made me work, scratch and claw for anything I ever achieved. He was a great man. And every year it seemed there was some new, bigger, taller quarterback brought in to take what I had fought to earn. So I just worked harder. No big deal, Scranton already taught me how to do that.
My parents own a small business -- a flower shop in Scranton. Life isn’t easy for them, either. I watched how they dealt with challenges, and every time the world set them back they just worked a little harder. In struggle, failure and setback, I learned strength, honor and determination. Just like everyone else in my town.
When the world crashed down on Penn State in an ugly, horrifying cloud, the world around our team seemed to panic. “Penn State football will never be the same” is what everyone outside our locker room said. No way. Not as long as I was wearing the blue and white uniform. Coach O’Brien told us that we were nobody’s charity case, and he was right. We proved the world wrong and we did it by being honorable, hard-working, stubborn as hell, and above all we chose to live up to everything that was great about Coach Paterno’s legacy. As a team, we ran away from nothing. We played the game right, and we played better and harder than most people thought we could.
Penn State rose above it all. Not just our football program, our entire community. From the janitors and cafeteria workers who worked hard to support us each and every day, to my classmates, our professors and an alumni who supported us through thick and thin. We came together and we rose up, when so many people out there thought we would break apart and fall down. In success I saw a little bit of Scranton, PA, in our Penn State family.
My teammates and our coaches helped me to lead our conference and set a number of quarterback records for the Penn State program. That Scranton chip on my shoulder drove me to succeed where most thought I’d fail -- 6,000+ passing yards, 46 touchdowns, a passer rating of more than 130. I did that as a walk-on, with constant threat from all those recruits brought in to take my job, and through a scandal that threatened the soul of our program and the identity of our school.
Apparently, none of this was good enough to receive an invitation to the NFL Combine, the most important showcase before the Draft. The conventional wisdom is that I don’t have the ‘‘measurables.’’ Well, I’d argue that victories under more pressure than any other program in America is ‘‘measurable’’ enough to earn a chance to prove what I can do. But I’m not blind to the fact that history hasn’t been kind to quarterbacks my size in the NFL draft. Who cares, that’s been true my entire life.
As I said at the start, hard work isn’t new to me because ‘‘you’ll never make it’’ is what I’ve faced for as long as I can remember. Same for my family, my hometown and Penn State football last year.
To those saying to me now ‘you’ll never make it’ all I have to say is this: Watch me. You’re damn right I live my life and play football with a chip on my shoulder, because there is honor and worthy achievement in proving wrong the myth of ‘‘impossibility’’.
The McGloin family, the Penn State program, and my hometown of Scranton prove this is true every single day. When I put on an NFL uniform, it will be for them and for everyone out there who’s ever been told ‘‘you’ll never make it’’.
The author, Matt McGloin, is Penn State’s All-Time leading quarterback. He is eligible for the NFL Draft in April, 2013.