Rooting Interests

CHAMPAIGN - Paul Lankford was dressed as if he were confused for last season's Illinois-Penn State game, played in Happy Valley.

Lankford, the father of current Illini junior wideout Ryan Lankford, wore an Illinois sweatshirt and a Penn State cap, with the word 'Alumni' stitched on the front.

Paul attended State College in the late 70s and early 80s before playing for the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

This weekend's matchup, obviously, brings forth those same mixed feelings, but still will be a special event.

"Dad still loves Penn State, still loves the school," Ryan said.

The events of the last 10 months have been difficult for all involved or associated at Penn State, but especially so for a guy like Paul, who played for Joe Paterno.

Through the scandal and disgraced football history and culture, Paul is still proud to say he's a Nittany Lion.

"Definitely a tough situation," Ryan said. "I think anyone that went there is going to feel tough, just because, you know, there is such a rich history and playing for Joe Paterno, he knows he was such a great coach. He had a great staff there, and something like what happened has changed his whole legacy really."

Ryan, who leads the team with 243 receiving yards and four touchdowns, didn't grow up a fan of his father's alma mater. Living in Jacksonville, he gravitated more to Miami, where his mother attended, and Florida and Florida State.

Still, he understands what this weekend signifies to his father, who will make the trip up to Champaign for the game.

Paul doesn't plan to wear that Penn State hat this time, not with the game taking place in Memorial Stadium.

But he'll still feel that pride when the Penn State team runs out on the field. After the opening kickoff, he'll settle in though.

"At the end of the day he'll be rooting for his son," Ryan said.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories