Nebraska Penn St Football

Raw emotion reigns in Happy Valley

53 Comments

For the first time in 22,638 days — Nov. 19, 1949 — the Penn State Nittany Lions played a football game in which Joe Paterno was neither the head coach nor an assistant.

Instead of the legendary JoePa, it was his long-time assistant Tom Bradley leading Penn State against Nebraska, becoming the first man not named Paterno to coach the Nittany Lions since Rip Engle in 1965.  It was certainly an overriding thought heading into the game that the mystique of Coach Paterno would be an all-encompassing presence in Happy Valley Saturday.

Sure, there were low-key pregame nods inside and outside of Beaver Stadium to the now-fallen coaching legend, and signs of support were seen throughout the stadium.  And, of course, the postgame locker room and press conferences were littered with the memories of a 46-year head-coaching career that ended under a cloud of scandal earlier this week.  But worshipping at the altar of St. Joe, as he’s sometimes called, was not what Saturday turned into, at least not in its entirety.

Rather, it was about the victims of the heinous acts allegedly perpetrated by a former Paterno assistant.  With the emotions of a heartwrenching candlelight vigil the night before the game still fresh, a moment of silence prior to the game by the blue-out crowd, with the color blue symbolizing child abuse awareness, showed what the whole of the Penn State family is truly about, and that they are all too aware of what’s at the heart of this scandal even if their administration wasn’t for far too long.

It was about one of the most poignant scenes ever witnessed on a football field: members of both teams — players, coaching staffs and seemingly every other person not actually in the stands — gathering and kneeling at a very crowded midfield, led in a very impassioned and fiery word of prayer by Cornhuskers assistant Ron Brown.

It was about the 17 seniors on Senior Day, walking out of the tunnel and onto the field for their final game, greeted by a 100,000-plus throng that included dozens of former players who came to town in a show of support for the under-siege football program and its current players.

And, perhaps most of all, it was about a community, a family taking its first tangible steps in what will no doubt be a lengthy healing process.  Television cameras captured numerous shots of the Nittany Lions faithful — men and women, young and old — shedding tears as the events around them transpired and the enormity of the moment seemed to hit them.  The decibel level rose noticeably when, during the singing of the school’s alma mater, the line “let no act of ours bring shame” was reached, as if those in attendance were sending a very loud, very powerful message to those in positions of power that what’s happened in the past decade is not the beloved university they know and that something must be done.

As for the game?  The Nittany Lions lost 17-14 to the Cornhuskers, suffering their first conference defeat of the season and allowing Wisconsin — provided they beat Minnesota this afternoon — to pull to within a game in the Big Ten Leaders race.  That outcome was mostly inconsequential and seemingly secondary, though, to the healing that began and the giving through their actions a voice to the victims, who suffered a loss far, far greater than a meaningless football game.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.