Skip to comments.Amid sanctions, Penn State's seniors salvaged season
Posted on 01/06/2013 12:11:16 PM PST by FlJoePa
Amid sanctions, Penn State's seniors salvaged season
By Scott Brown
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013, 11:55 p.m. Updated 15 hours ago
Coach Bill OBrien often cant say enough about the role Penn States seniors played in leading the Nittany Lions to an improbable 8-4 record this past season.
But two key words offer the simplest explanation of why this senior class will go down as perhaps the most important in Penn State football history: Charlie Mike.
That is military shorthand for the initials C.M., which stand for Continue Mission. Following an inspirational speech from a former Nittany Lion and Navy SEAL, those words became the rallying cry for the players in August. And the code words help tell the story of a group that refused to let Penn State fail after crippling NCAA sanctions in July triggered widespread predictions of collapse.
Notre Dame and Alabama play for the national championship Monday night, bringing an end to the college football season that capped the most trying year in Penn State history. If the Nittany Lions one day rejoin the elite in college football, 2012 will go down as a seminal season.
Senior leaders, many of whom composed an unheralded recruiting class five years earlier, helped prevent a mass exodus of underclassmen in the days after the sanctions were announced. The Tribune-Review talked exclusively with a handful of those players, including outside linebacker Michael Mauti, about how they held the team together during the most precarious time in program history.
The efforts of Mauti and his fellow seniors started the same day the NCAA slapped the program with sanctions that included a four-year postseason ban and allowed all players to transfer without penalty. That night, Mauti and running back Mike Zordich showed up unannounced at the on-campus apartment of defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
We need to keep this (expletive) together, they told Hill after he opened the door.
The players met with OBrien, who was six months removed from a trip to the Super Bowl as New Englands offense coordinator, shortly after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
He didnt show weakness of hoping guys would stay or begging guys to stay, said senior offensive tackle Mike Farrell, a Shady Side Academy graduate. He was honest, but he was firm with the plan that he had, and I dont think he could have done it better any other way.
The seniors pledged to stay together almost immediately after the sanctions were unveiled, and they took the lead in persuading underclassmen not to flee the program.
Hill talked to every defensive lineman and told them to call him at any time with questions or doubts.
I may not have the answer, he said, but I will help you.
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris, to whom the concept of loyalty is fiercely personal, talked to the defensive backs about how he planned to honor the commitment he had made to Penn State. Sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos and freshman cornerback DaQuan Davis thanked Morris afterward. Both told Morris that they hoped to lead like him one day.
Mauti and Zordich kept detailed notes on every player and where each stood as far as staying at Penn State or leaving. The two players would work out first thing in the morning and try to stay in front of the fluid transfer situation in the afternoon.
Nights were spent in OBriens office, as Mauti and Zordich shared notes on what they were hearing with the head coach and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. Mauti and Zordich outlined scenarios in which a player might leave and what player or players he might follow out of Penn State.
Going to bed at 3 or 4 at night and wake up at 6 in the morning and doing it all over again, Zordich said of the days after the sanctions were announced. We had it all mapped out.
Not that everything followed script.
Mauti found out one day that two of his teammates were visiting Michigan State, and he reached one of them by cell phone. After he delivered a pitch as to why they should stay at Penn State, the two turned around and headed back.
Mauti declined to name the players, but he said the anecdote illustrates how fine a line there was between keeping the program together and watching it crumble.
The first significant loss came a week after the sanctions were handed down when star tailback Silas Redd made official his plans to transfer to Southern Cal.
OBrien had previously invited hundreds of former lettermen back to Penn State, and they were scheduled to address the team that night. OBrien told them following the loss of Redd that he needed their help.
The boat isnt sinking, OBrien said to them. It is rocking.
A galvanizing speech
No former player did more to galvanize the current ones than a walk-on whose name might not register with even the most avid Penn State fan.
Rick Slater joined the team in the late 1990s, at age 28, after serving eight years in the military. After 9/11, he re-enlisted, and by the time OBrien had asked him to address the 2012 team, the Navy SEAL had served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Players sat at attention as Slater brought to life abstract values such as duty and honor. He talked to them about how his life depended on trust and knowing the guy next to him would fight for him.
Then Slater took off the football belt he had worn at Penn State. He told the players that it had been on every continent and that he had worn it during every mission.
That, he said, was how much Penn State football meant to him.
That was one of the more powerful moments of that speech, Mauti recalled.
Slater concluded by exhorting the players to Charlie Mike continue mission.
The words made their way onto T-shirts as well as the wall of Penn States weight room.
Players would often bark the words in unison after they broke a team huddle. And Charlie Mike is the reason Penn State didnt unravel after opening the season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2001.
We didnt have any come-to-Jesus meetings in that aspect among seniors or among players, Farrell said of the start that included a demoralizing one-point loss at Virginia. We just maintained that idea that we were just going to refuse to be denied.
Penn State won seven of its next nine games, and the team that was not allowed to play in a bowl game turned into one of the stories of the year in college football.
Players, however, chafed at the notion that Penn State would play with house money in the regular-season finale since it already had guaranteed itself a winning record.
Mauti, after all, had taped Slaters speech from more than two months earlier inside his locker for a reason.
Charlie Mike indeed.
The night before the final game against Wisconsin, OBrien asked every senior to address the team.
Morris talked about his father, Roman, who had raised him after his mother tried to give him away at age 2 and how much Penn State meant to both of them. Hill told the team about his father, who had suffered a stroke a couple of years earlier and taught his son the real meaning of perseverance.
Mauti talked about everything he had been through at Penn State, which included three season-ending knee injuries, the firing and death of former head coach Joe Paterno and the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The next day, Penn State placed the 2012 team in the schools ring of honor. The Nittany Lions wore No. 42 on their helmets to honor Mauti, who could not play against Wisconsin after injuring his knee the previous game. Outside linebacker Gerald Hodges switched from No. 6 to No. 42 as a tribute to his teammate and close friend.
Hill, who had suffered two knee injuries earlier in the season, dominated the game on one healthy leg. Maligned kicker Sam Ficken booted a 37-yard field goal in overtime. The Badgers couldnt match the field goal after Hill wrecked yet another Wisconsin possession.
A glowing scoreboard on a bitterly cold night at Beaver Stadium said it all: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21.
Charlie Mike officially had turned into completed mission.
In the glow of a victorious locker room, Zordich spread the two words. They were the password to get players and their families into a private party later at a popular State College restaurant.
More than six weeks later, Charlie Mike offers the most succinct summation of a season that wont soon be forgotten.
We understood that it was just bigger than us and having gone through so much in our careers and more adversity than any other team and program in history, we came out with our guns blazing and with our hair on fire, Mauti said. Thats the only way I want to be remembered. We lit our hair on fire back in July, and we just played as hard as we could on every play until our last play.
Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/college/pennstate/3112679-74/state-penn-players?showmobile=false#ixzz2HE9UWbpF Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook
If their place kicker had not turned tail and run, they would have been 9-3.
Fera had a sick mom in Texas (cancer). He’s the only one that gets a pass in my mind.
I attended the last game. It was something special. Silas Redd missed out. So glad Sam Ficken had such a good game.
I think Sam is going to be a great kicker. It was a shame the way the announcers throughout the season literally laughed at him on the air. As Joe would say - "Believe deep down in your heart that you're destined to do great things"...
Do you have any proof of what you just stated? Because if you do, I’d love to hear it. The AG’s office would probably like it as well, because they are about to drop their charges against Schultz, Curley, and Spanier.
Joe Paterno was never accused of a crime and was actually praised by the AG’s office for his cooperation.
If you have something, you should come forward. Seriously.
Thank you for a beautiful photo. Sam must treasure it to have it on his Fb page. Sam made a great tackle in the Wis game. It was good to hear him cheered for that. Glad his season ended with him kicking the winning points.
The Freeh report. Give it a read.
I’ve read the freeh report at least a half dozen times. All 267 pages of it. There is no evidence of anyone from Penn State (especially Joe Paterno) “covering up” anything regarding js.
Did you find something in there that I missed? Or did you just listen to espn?
Check out the mini-movie (soon to become a documentary) on the Framing of Joe Paterno. I won’t even link it. Go google it on your own.
You can stand with louis freeh. I’ll stand with Joe Paterno. I know which one is honorable.
If you are truly interested in the amount of coverup of higher up Penn State oficials go here!!
Are you serious, One doesn’t have to get any further than Pg 14.
That is freeh’s summary. He was hired by the b.o.t. to justify their decision in firing Joe Paterno and his putrid summary isn’t backed up with evidence. At all. As in zero.
If Joe Paterno wanted to cover up anything why did MM testify? Why did Joe testify? Why did Joe go to Curley and Schultz? Why did Joe send MM to Curley and Schultz?
Doesn’t sound like much of a cover up to me. A cover up would be something like “Hey Mike...we have too much riding on this. You keep your mouth shut.”
How did louis freeh’s FIFA investigation turn out?
But the new kicked improved immensely.
Oh, well if espn says it’s so, I guess it’s so. They’ve been telling me all week what a saint ray lewis is, so they must know what they’re talking about.
Leave him alone. You’re just trying yo browbeat him.
I appreciate this story.....thanks for posting it. I still remember Mauti and zorich the day they spoke to the media. They and Jordan Hill are true leaders.
He did and good for him.
Further, the mini movie was created by John Ziegler who did “Media Malpractice” on the 2008 election and Sarah Palin. You might have heard of him. He has zero ties to Penn State. He just doesn’t like lying media and the jackals who lap up their slobber.
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