STATE COLLEGE -- Frustration was only natural. Since November, Penn State players have had to watch their school and their football program take fire from across the country. From around the world.
But for the most part, they understood that part of it. The backlash from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the general scorn that accompanied all things Penn State. A fire that was rekindled in July with the release of the Freeh report and the NCAA imposing severe sanctions on the team.
What has been tougher for them to deal with, however, is the teammates who have left because of it all.
Sure, it makes sense that players would want to escape the postseason ban, the scholarship reductions, the perpetual talk of off-field turmoil. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the guys who stayed to accept it.
“Right then and there you had to make a decision,” quarterback Matt McGloin said of July 23, when the NCAA hammer came down. “You were either going to stick it out or you were going to bail and be selfish.”
There it was. Most wouldn’t say it publicly, but it’s undoubtedly what has been going through the minds of many. Ten players have left the team since July 23. They’ve had their reasons. Some were unhappy before hell broke loose in November. Some had family issues.
Others, like tailback Silas Redd, openly admitted the obvious. They want to win. Play for championships. Redd labeled his transfer to USC “a business decision” after his first practice with the Trojans.
And that’s the sort of thing that isn’t sitting right with some Penn State players.
Most stayed with politically correct answers about being disappointed but respecting their former teammates’ decisions.
Others -- mostly seniors who stuck around to try to keep the team together -- weren’t able to bite their tongues.
Cornerback Stephon Morris used the word “cowards” when talking about the departed.
“For the most part, a lot of us stayed here,” McGloin said. “Stayed true to the program. Thought about the team. Thought about what the coaches have done. Thought about the fans.
“And it couldn’t be better right now, the position that we’re in. We have a chance to do something great for this university and bring this university back to the top.”
Coach Bill O’Brien has been diplomatic about the players who have left, saying that he does not agree with their decisions, but that he still respects them.
O’Brien cautioned that the Nittany Lions can’t get too caught up in an us-against-the-world mentality, particularly off the field.
“I think we have to be very, very mindful of that,” O’Brien said. “In the competitive arena when we go out and play games, I can see where that may come into play a little bit. Just the emotional part of the game and guys going out there -- like with any football team, you have to play the sport of football with somewhat of a chip on your shoulder. But at the end of the day, these kids understand why we're in this position.
“Instead of saying it's us against them, let's go out and play good football and think about the fact that maybe this is a little bit about more than football. That this is about helping a community. This is about bringing more awareness, much more awareness to child abuse. This is about making sure that we … be a part of leading this university through the next three or four years.
“That will be a challenge, but that's what life is about.”