Bill O‚??Brien grabbed a microphone to officially close out the season.
‚??I just have one thing to say,‚?Ě the Penn State coach belted out to Beaver Stadium after the Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin in overtime. ‚??We are...‚?Ě
The crowd fired back to finish the cheer.
With that, O‚??Brien led the Nittany Lions back through the tunnel for the last time in 2012. What sort of team will emerge from it in 2013? In the spring?
Penn State heads into a long offseason with plenty of questions about the future as players are essentially free agents -- able to transfer to other schools without penalty -- until preseason camp opens in August.
Following an 8-4 season, the outlook isn‚??t quite as bleak as it was back in July, when the NCAA announced its sanctions on the program.
At least, that was what several key seniors insisted, speaking after their final season. Many expressed hope that they managed to do enough on and off the field this season to leave the program in relatively good shape.
‚??Absolutely,‚?Ě said Michael Mauti, the team‚??s preeminent leader in 2012. ‚??There‚??s a lot of good things that have been going on here at Penn State. It starts with coach O‚??Brien and the staff. As long as they‚??re here, they‚??re gonna do their best to fight for the program.
‚??I have full confidence in them, as I have since day one.‚?Ě
Matt McGloin personally credited O‚??Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.
‚??Saved my career,‚?Ě the senior from Scranton said.
But O‚??Brien and his staff needed players -- a strong group of seniors led by Mauti -- to begin to bridge the gap during the school‚??s darkest period.
Mauti and fellow captain Michael Zordich both said they hope their class is remembered as much for what they accomplished off the field this summer in keeping the team from splintering.
‚??I just hope they remember the type of guys that we were and the relationship that we had with each other,‚?Ě Zordich said. ‚??Because that‚??s really the reason why we were able to get through what we were able to get through and do what we did.
‚??I just hope they understand how much we respected each other as a team and as individuals. And really, at the end of the day, cared for each other.‚?Ě
Another season captain, Jordan Hill, echoed those thoughts.
‚??I want (this team) to go down in history,‚?Ě Hill said. ‚??Not for the wins, but for the character of our guys.‚?Ě
Players said that atmosphere could help keep offseason defections down from the summer when eight scholarship players transferred out following the sanctions. Four more scholarship players left the squad between the start of camp to the end of September.
But even if the Lions retain all but a few of their underclassmen, it will be tough to replace this senior class‚?? production and leadership.
Four top contributors on offense -- McGloin, Zordich, Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Farrell -- and six on defense -- Mauti, Hill, Gerald Hodges, Stephon Morris, Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro -- formed the backbone of the team.
All of them played a big role in knocking off Wisconsin on Saturday and leaving the Lions with some positive memories in a year that had very few of them.
‚??This means a ton,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??I thought there was a lot riding on this game for these players. I‚??m not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one. There‚??s a lot there and just a fantastic senior class.
‚??They came to practice every day, they communicated well with the coaching staff. Some of them are probably (feeling) a little bittersweet -- maybe they wish they could play a little bit more football for Penn State. But it‚??s just a great bunch of guys.‚?Ě
The true impact of the 2012 team and its seniors may not be known for some time. Not until after the sanctions and how well the program is able to endure through them.
‚??I don‚??t know if I can even really put that in words right now,‚?Ě Mauti said. ‚??Maybe in a couple of years from now I‚??ll be able to look back and answer. Overall, it‚??s such a special thing to be a part of, and I‚??m just proud to be a part of it.
‚??It‚??s been the most fun I‚??ve ever had playing, with people I‚??ve never been closer to. The players, the coaches and everyone in our building have made my time here really special.‚?Ě