Gbadyu all in for Senior Season

The linebacker nearly left Penn State following the 2009 campaign. But as the 2010 opener against Youngstown State approaches, he is glad he stuck around.

Bani Gbadyu almost wasn’t here this year, at Penn State. And he wasn’t really all there for a time during the preseason.

But he will be there Saturday, starting at outside linebacker for the Nittany Lions when they open their season by hosting Youngstown State.

“I take that (new role) as a challenge,” said Gbadyu, a senior expected to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. “I also look at it as a stepping stone to becoming a better football player. I’ve been waiting for this my whole career. I can’t wait to get things rolling and see what the season has in store.”

Things have never quite gotten rolling for Gbadyu, and that is only partially because he was stuck behind a passel of great players his first three years with the Lions. A native of Liberia who came to this country by boat in the early ‘90s, he had academic and familial problems -- the two were entwined -- that almost led him to leave school after his junior season.

And this preseason he suffered a concussion when he banged helmets with another player during a contact drill.

“I feel 100 percent now,” he said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning.

Things are looking up otherwise, too. His father Digoa and brother Emmanuel, who came with him to this country all those years ago, are working through some serious issues -- Digoa a substance-abuse problem, Emmanuel several criminal charges (assault, firearms possession, marijuana possession) that resulted in him being imprisoned for a time.

The side effect was the heartache felt by Bani. His grades suffered, and he said it was “a real, real strong possibility” that he was going to drop out of school when the 2009 season came to an end.

“I was 100 percent sure it was going to be my last season,” he said. “… I felt like my family needed me. It took a lot of praying, a lot of talking, to realize what I have in front of me.”

Gbadyu said a “panel” of coaches and academic advisors helped him focus on his schoolwork and football career, while at the same time coming up with ways he could aid his father and brother.

“Things have died down a lot,” he said.

Digoa and Emmanuel are both expected to be in Beaver Stadium Saturday, and Bani said they are both “trying to get their life better.”

“They feed off my motivation,” he said. “They feed off me.”

Bani started three games in 2008 and five more last year, when Sean Lee was slowed by a sprained knee. He was credited with 37 tackles, and has 68 for his career.

“I feel like I’m more consistent (now),” he said. “I make more plays. I play at a lower level. I’m more firm. I’m not overrunning things. I feel like I’m a completely different player.”

He’s all there now. And all in.

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