Mike Zordich had just finished punctuating his coach‚??s first career win by presenting him with the game ball. Bill O‚??Brien repaid him with a barb.
O‚??Brien broke the postgame scrum by shouting, ‚??Way to go, John Cappelletti! I mean Zordich!‚?Ě
Last week may have been Zordich‚??s only chance to do his impression of Penn State‚??s Heisman-winning running back. But he‚??ll take it.
In the summer, the senior fullback was one of the key leaders that held the Nittany Lions together after the NCAA sanctions came down. Last week he stepped in to become the team‚??s leading rusher in a win over Navy.
It was the first time he had that distinction since his senior season at Cardinal Mooney High School outside in Youngstown, Ohio.
Minutes after O‚??Brien left the locker room, he joked during his press conference that Zordich had been in his ear all week about his high school days as a top rusher.
‚??Oh yeah, absolutely,‚?Ě Zordich beamed. ‚??You want to have a role in the offense. I just told him what I could do. It‚??s something I had done before. So I kept bothering him, kept bothering him.
‚??And I‚??m going to continue to do that if I need to. We just want to win some games.‚?Ě
Already one of the more vocal and likeable guys on the team, Zordich cemented his place in school history in late July. Along with fellow fifth-year senior Michael Mauti, Zordich talked O‚??Brien into letting them break the players‚?? silence to the public and affirm their commitment to Penn State.
So when he got a chance for a more visible role against Navy, his teammates appreciated it as much as he did.
‚??Mike‚??s one of the best leaders on this team,‚?Ě quarterback Matt McGloin said. ‚??He‚??s a great football player and an even better person. He‚??s worked his tail off, he‚??s paid his dues. I was happy to see him get the bulk of the caries on Saturday.
‚??Hopefully (this week) he‚??ll have just as big a hand in another win.‚?Ě
The rushing load will undoubtedly be shared again on Saturday against Temple. Starting tailback Bill Belton is unlikely to be ready to return from an ankle injury, though backup Derek Day was reportedly in full pads at Wednesday‚??s practice.
In other words, Zordich could end up back to being primarily a blocker this week. But if Day remains limited, the Lions won‚??t hesitate to turn back to Zordich and junior Curtis Dukes at tailback.
‚??Depending on their status, that could happen,‚?Ě Zordich said. ‚??We did a pretty good job handling it this week. Hopefully it continues.‚?Ě
It was Zordich who saved the Lions in last year‚??s game against Temple. Trailing 10-7 on the road late in the game, Penn State fumbled the snap on third down, only to have Zordich fall on the loose ball before the Owls could grab it and run out the clock.
Two plays later, Zordich got the call on the goal line, punching it in for the winning touchdown.
Regardless of how things shake out in the backfield this week, Penn State will continue to use Zordich in multiple situations.
‚??He‚??ll have a similar role the rest of the season,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said of Zordich on Thursday on his weekly radio show. ‚??He‚??s a guy that‚??s a tough guy. A Penn State guy through and through. He does a lot of things well. He‚??s one of those guys in that senior class who‚??s the heart and soul of the team.
‚??He‚??s on punt coverage, on the return team. He does a lot of different things that are helpful in addition to being a fullback and running back. I‚??ve seen so much improvement in him over the eight or nine months I‚??ve been with him.‚?Ě