“When those things first happened, Coach told us flat-out we wouldn’t come out on the other side of the experience unscathed,” said John Urschel, a fifth-year senior and All-Big Ten guard who was shoe-horning workouts for the NFL draft combine in between classes to finish a second master’s degree. “But the other thing he promised us was an experience we’d never forget.”
A day earlier, Urschel was in New York to receive the Campbell Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top student-athlete. When Joe Paterno used his next-to-last recruiting slot on Urschel five years ago, it was a typical Penn State pick; back then, Urschel was more likely to wind up as a math teacher than an NFL lineman. Now, if he chooses, Urschel can do both.
“I’m forever indebted to Coach Paterno for the opportunity to prove myself, and Coach O’Brien for teaching me what perseverance really means. From the time you’re little, you always hear from your parents, your uncles and coaches how important it is to honor commitments,” he said. “But as soon as things got tough around here, some guys packed up and ran. ...
“A few of us talked about that before our last game. We went up to Wisconsin as 25-point underdogs and we knew we weren’t going to a bowl no matter how it turned out. But you know what?” he paused, chuckling softly. “We were determined to go out on the right note — and we did.”
Penn State outlasted the Badgers, 31-24, on Nov. 30, ending O’Brien’s second season with a strong surge that pushed him right into recruiting season.
“We’ve said the same thing for two years,” O’Brien said after the win. “Our guys, they practice hard, and they love to play.”