“Those conversations, those are moments in the class that will stick with people 20 years later,” Cheslock said. “I think the intensity of dealing with everything that transpired has created that emotional spark that, a lot of times, allows learning to take place.”
Penn State still feels impact one year after Jerry Sandusky scandal broke
Part of the evolution of Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal — whatever that is, whatever it will be — happened the night of Jan. 7, 2012, when Bill O’Brien was named as Paterno’s replacement, the Nittany Lions’ first new football coach in 46 seasons. That night, O’Brien met his team for the first time. Afterward, a senior linebacker came forward to introduce himself. And at that moment, Michael Mauti told the new coach about how the weight room needed to be overhauled. He wondered about the offseason lifting program.
“Who was that kid?” O’Brien asked someone on the way out.
Over the summer, after the NCAA used the Freeh report to ban the Nittany Lions from bowl games for four years and limit their scholarships from 2013 to ’17 — among other crippling sanctions — O’Brien found out. Twenty-two Nittany Lions will exhaust their college eligibility after the Nov. 24 game against Wisconsin. On the morning of July 23, that group of seniors watched NCAA President Mark Emmert announce the penalties against Penn State. Some players threw things against the wall. Nearly all voiced their frustration.
And then they held the program together.
“You look around the squad room, and you’re saying, ‘Well, if he leaves, then he’s going to leave, and it’s going to be a chain reaction,’ ” Mauti said. “So our goal was to eliminate the first domino. We literally had to create a strategy for keeping our team together. We had to recruit our own friends.”
Recruit them, for what? Any of them could have left Penn State with no penalty because the NCAA waived the normal rule that requires transfers to sit out a year before playing again. Coaches from rival schools flooded the players’ phones. Some even arrived in State College and showed up outside players’ dorms. In that should-I-stay-or-should-I-go mayhem, Mauti made phone calls, sent texts and made personal pleas to get players to stay.
In the end, just nine left. Mauti now faces the final two games of his college career not knowing the future, either for himself or the program. But asked if staying, and encouraging others to do so, was worth it, he is steadfast: “Absolutely.”
“We knew it was much bigger than us, ever since last year,” Mauti said. “We knew that we were playing for more than ourselves and our team. It was for our university and our community.”
Tuesday, as afternoon turned to evening, Mauti and his teammates practiced at the center of that community, albeit in isolation. The lights above the practice fields behind the Lasch building glowed bright, yet only coaches and staff saw the work. There, with the outline of the hills in the distance fading into the blackness, the temperature dipped below freezing, the wind picked up, and a coach yelled, “Mauti, you’re back in!”
Michael Mauti ran from the sideline, strapped his helmet back on, and took his spot at linebacker. When the ball was snapped, he burst to fill a hole and laid his shoulder into a teammate, the latest bit of work in a career filled with it.
What the 2012 Penn State football season means is open to individual interpretation. When Michael Mauti considered the question that day, he took a moment to look around the squad room in which he had tried to keep his team together. Then he put his right palm on his chest and said, “Respect.”