In his 34 years as the head football coach at Penn State University, Joe Paterno has been as highly regarded for graduating his players, running a clean program and promoting positive values as he has for winning games. While on a recruiting trip to the Washington area last week, the coaching icon demonstrated his commitment to those ethics in speeches to students at three local high schools.
Paterno had received commitments from Robinson defensive back Scott Sanden, Annandale second-team All-Met defensive lineman Jeremiah Davis and Watkins Mill All-Met lineman Eric Noll, and came to visit with them and their families. But true to his altruistic style, Paterno did not pass up the opportunity to spread his message to larger audiences, speaking to overflow crowds at Watkins Mill on Wednesday and the Fairfax schools on Friday.
"The more time you can spend with [recruits] and in the environment they're from, the better you understand," Paterno said. "You try to come out to make them understand that they are important and to try to give the people that are around them a chance to visit and see what kind of people he's going to be with."
In a 30-minute speech at Robinson Friday morning, Paterno exhorted his audience to take advantage of the myriad opportunities available to today's high school students and to do so without sacrificing their individuality. He spent much of the time answering questions, including turning a query regarding players he has sent to the NFL into a lecture on commitment and temptation.
His message resonated with the audience, football players and non-football players alike.
"Anything he says, you have to listen to him, because where he's been, what he's done--and everything that he's accomplished is because he's followed his certain way," Robinson junior quarterback Garrett Schires said. "He really believes in it and it's shown through what he's done."
Junior linebacker Adam Brown agreed that Paterno's record gave validity to his comments. "When he's talking about characteristics they look for in people, about good kids, bad kids and staying on the right track, you hear that all the time. But from somebody who has the reputation he does, it means a little more than hearing it from your math teacher," he said.
Freshman Jenny Diana was impressed with Paterno's commitment to coaching. "He talked about how he hadn't ever coached before, and that he went out and he coached and now he's one of the best. I think that says a lot about him. It was great what he did here," she said.
"You can definitely see that morals and education are main concerns," Sanden said of his future coach. "And that stretches beyond just football players, that's for everybody. That's what he was telling them today."