HERSHEY, Pa. – Zayd Issah found it difficult to stop smiling moments after taking a team picture with his Pennsylvania teammates. Issah and Pennsylvania routed Maryland 58-27 in the 56th annual Big 33 Classic here Saturday, and the Central Dauphin (Harrisburg, Pa.) graduate was instrumental in the victory.
Playing at linebacker and defensive end, when the action came to him, Penn State's Class of 2013 signee was quick to react. Regardless of whether he was at his natural position of outside linebacker, moved into the middle or rolling up to the defensive line for the first time in his scholastic career, he looked comfortable. It equated to Pennsylvania allowing just 71 Maryland rushing yards.
"I did my best and gave 110 percent," Issah said, the smile he had when his team accepted the championship trophy still plastered on his face. "Mid-week, they saw I could come off the edge and get around the tackle. I was actually going against [PSU Class of 2013 tackle] Andrew [Nelson] in practice, so we had a little Penn State thing going there.
"He said I was pretty tough to block, so I started to get some confidence in that. Even playing some coverage out on the edge, it feels good to go from the dirt to the way back of the secondary."
That comfort and confidence was supposed to roll right into University Park next weekend, when most of State's 2013 class reports for the second summer semester and the start of voluntary player workouts. But for Issah, everything changed March 9.
It was then — a Saturday — that Issah allegedly was involved in a scheme to pass counterfeit money at a fast-food restaurant in his hometown. He was charged with felony counts of forgery and conspiracy to commit forgery, along with two misdemeanors. With the charges, his dreams of donning Penn State blue and white came to a screeching halt — at least temporarily.
Court documents show Issah is scheduled for a Court of Common Pleas appearance July 3. According to various media reports, he is likely to be offered an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program. If he accepts and completes the program, his record will be wiped clean of the charges in question.
"We want what's best for Zayd," PSU coach Bill O'Brien told the Associated Press in April. "We don't think Zayd is a bad kid at all. We think he's a young guy that's made a couple questionable decisions. His next move will be determined by him. … He will not be here next year to play football at Penn State, but eventually he could end up at Penn State down the road."
So what is Issah's next move? While he declined to discuss his legal situation during Big 33 week because things are still being worked out in court, after the game he was happy to address his immediate football future. The linebacker is currently choosing between a pair of prep schools, and will attend either Milford Academy in New York or Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia this fall. Cost, he said, will be the deciding factor.
"Once I figure it out, I'll have a home there, and will be focusing on getting better," Issah said. "I'll come out of there as a true freshman, wherever I'm at, in the springtime. Right now, I'm trying to get up to Penn State and play linebacker for Coach Van (Ron Vanderlinden). He's the best to do it for.
"I'm not trying to owe a bunch of money. I think Fork Union is going to end up being $1,000 right now, and I think Milford might be able to match that, or maybe even beat it. So we'll figure it out."
If an arrival at Penn State is to happen, it will also mean a reunion with Nelson, his Big 33 housemate for the week. Both players said they connected on a personnel level during the week-long stay, and Nelson added he will stay in contact with Issah throughout the fall as time permits.
The two added a friendly rivalry to their ledger, as well, during the practice sessions leading up to the game. But overall, Issah said he realized something about Nelson that he pretty much expected.
"I can just tell he's a Penn State guy," Issah said. "It's all the same character, and all the guys you want to hang out with, be around and get better with."
"It was awesome," Nelson added. "I had talked to Zayd a few times, but I never knew how great of a kid Zayd is. He seriously just has a heart like I've never seen and is a great guy. We had fun together all week, and me and him were laughing together and carrying on. It was just awesome working with him.
"I'm going to try and keep a lot of contact with him," Nelson added. "I just love that kid, and after this week, I just hope that we can stay really close so that when he gets up there, he can always come to me."
Issah believes he will end up at Penn State next spring, but added, "things happen in life, so you just have to go with the flow."
"[Penn State] said they are still interested, and expect to see me in the spring time," he added. "I don't know the scholarship situation — no one really knows — so that's why I need to make sure I keep myself in a position where I don't end up going nowhere."
In other words, while he would love to say that in all certainty he will eventually be at Penn State, he knows the scholarship limitations placed on the program via NCAA sanctions could conceivably prevent it from happening. So to an extent, he must keep his options open.
That said, he has a message for Nittany Lion backers.
"To the fans, I would say thanks for not bailing on me, and thanks for believing in me, too," Issah said. "I made a mistake, but I can come back from it."