After spending the afternoon with the Fight On State crew at my first ever Penn State Media Day, several things became clear (if they weren't already).
• The Penn State program values class -- classy people, classy attire, class acts and perhaps most importantly going to class. This is not hard to see when you have firsthand interaction with the program. But it was perhaps the most apparent thing to me today. Especially the last part. Joe Paterno actually mentioned his student/athletes going to class several times throughout the day, even when he wasn't really asked about it. The one instance that really stuck out in my mind was when Paterno was answering the simple question of when WR Curtis Drake would be back on the field.
"He's working at it and Curtis has done a good job (in his rehabilitation). Curtis has to do a better job academically. He's adequate but you hate to see a kid just 'get by' when you know he can be something," Paterno said.
Paterno did go on to compliment Drake for being such a great athlete, and say that he wanted him back ASAP -- but the first thing out of his mouth was about class.
Long is rocking the bright green iPad on the left of this image.
• Another thing I learned: Paterno was probably the toughest person out on the field today. OK, I know that many people are slow to give Paterno credit for various reasons, because he is too old or doesn't do in-home visits anymore. But seeing whip around on that golf cart, absolutely deny that he has anything "really" wrong with him, and have to be reminded often that he could not stand up and walk off, was pretty impressive. Perhaps the best way to reflect this is another quote from Paterno himself.
"I talked to the squad earlier that day before I got hurt. I said, `You know what I'm tired of, some of you guys babying yourself. You get knocked down and get hurt a little bit and you walk around like, oh boy, does it hurt.'
Of course, later that day, Paterno was hit on the practice field, injuring his arm and hip. He had to be take to the Mount Nittany Medical Center.
While he was laid up, he thought to himself, "The Good Lord has a way of doing things. … Bounce back kid, let's see how tough YOU are."
• Finally, my main duty today was to see what was going on with some of the players who are coming back from injuries or academic issues. As a former college athlete myself, anytime I ever got hurt and had a long recovery process, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to other people about how tough it was to get healthy and what I was still struggling with. I give credit to every player that I talked to. They were all more than willing to answer the tough questions. And, yes, this calls for one more quote from Paterno's golf cart press conference.
"I'll tell you this thing for this squad; it has been a great squad to work with. They really have been a great bunch of kids and they've worked hard. They've gained weight to come back and different things like that and they've just about done everything we've asked them to do."