Raw emotion reigns in Happy Valley

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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.

Report: LSU DL Isaiah Washington ruled ineliegible for spring

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Sophomore defensive end Isaiah Washington has been ruled ineligible for the spring practice season at LSU, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate.

Washington was a four-star recruit in LSU’s Class of 2015. The New Orleans native appeared in six games for the Tigers as a freshman. Washington did not play in the 2016 season due to a knee injury suffered in the summer. He was slated to be a backup linebacker and defensive end in 2016 prior to the injury. It is expected to be a backup option for LSU’s defensive line with all four starters back this season.

Ex-Baylor player Sam Ukwuachu has sexual assault conviction overturned by appeals court

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Former Baylor and Boise State football player Sam Ukwuachu has had his conviction for sexual assault overturned, but he is far from free just yet. The 10th Couth of Appeals in Texas overturned a sexual assault conviction on Thursday and is sending the case back to district court for a brand new trial.

The Court of Appeals determined phone evidence used by the prosecution was improperly used and attained.

“In six issues, Ukwuachu complains that the trial court erred by allowing the State to reference the cell phone records of his roommate during its cross-examination of his roommate and his roommate’s friend, that the indictment was defective, that evidence of an extraneous offense was improperly admitted, that his due process rights were violated due to an abuse of the grand jury process by the State, and that text messages between the victim and a friend of hers the night of the alleged offense were improperly excluded,” an elaborate ruling from the Court of Appeals explained. “Because we find that the trial court erred by disallowing the admission of evidence … we reverse the judgment of conviction and remand this proceeding for a new trial.”

“While I respect the 10th Court of Appeals, I disagree with their decision and reasoning in this case,” McLennan County District Attorney Abelk Reyna said upon learning of the appeal decision. “I am extremely confident in the decisions made by our prosecutors and the rulings made by Judge Johnson in the trial of this case.”

Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State to Baylor after being dismissed by the Broncos program in 2013, reportedly following a case of depression in Boise. Boise State denied any knowledge of Ukwuachu’s violence toward women when he was with the program, which was prompted by comments from former Baylor head coach Art Briles. Former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen did claim to have informed Briles of Ukwuachu’s violent past.

Ukwuachu was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years probation for rape in August 2015.

The alleged victim of Ukwuachu has already settled a lawsuit with Baylor.

Arkansas state senate votes to revise concealed gun law to prevent guns in football stadiums

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One day after Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill to allow concealed guns to be carried into football stadiums, the state senate voted to make an exemption to block guns on game day.

The house bill that was signed into law by the governor this week would have allowed those with proper training to be allowed to bring a concealed handgun into an otherwise restricted area such as a football stadium. The bill overruled any stadium policies banning weapons as well, but that will no longer be the case.

According to the Associated Press, the Arkansas state senate voted 22-10 in favor of an exemption to the rule that would uphold a weapons ban in football stadiums throughout the state. The law will still allow those with the proper training to carry a concealed handgun on college campuses, in bars and government buildings, but football stadiums are off limits.

The amended bill still must pass through the House of Representatives in Arkansas.

Second Vols player this week could be on his way out

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Attrition is hitting Tennessee’s depth on the defensive side of the ball this early on in the spring.

Tuesday, reports surfaced that safety Stephen Griffin had decided to transfer out of Butch Jones’ Volunteers football program.  Two days later, it appears one of Griffin’s former teammates, linebacker Gavin Bryant, is headed toward a similar departure.

The football program has not addressed Bryant’s with the Vols moving forward.

A four-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class, Bryant (pictured, taking a knee to the helmet) was rated as the No. 10 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Alabama. After redshirting as a true freshman, Bryant played in 21 games the past two seasons as a reserve linebacker.

Griffin, meanwhile, was a three-star 2015 prospect who played in 10 games last season. He started one of those contests.