Onward State Goes to the Football Banquet
I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the State College Quarterback Club’s annual Penn State football senior banquet, which was held yesterday at the Penn Stater hotel. The entire football team and coaching staff was in attendance, and awards were given out to a handful of seniors.
In previous years, the highlight of the banquet was a chance to hear from Joe Paterno and for the players to introduce their wide-eyed family members to the legend. This year, the event held a different meaning, and greater emotional overtones. Every time Paterno was shown on the screen during a slideshow, the entire audience applauded.
Penn State sophomore wide receiver Patrick Flanagan tweeted during the event, “I would love it if Joe walked into this senior banquet right now.” Unfortunately, that never happened, but the former coach was mentioned several times during acceptance speeches, most notably by senior defensive back Chaz Powell.
Powell has had a roller-coaster career at Penn State. After finding himself buried in the depth chart at wide receiver, he was forced to switch to cornerback two years ago and succeeded Derrick Williams as the team’s chief kick returner. Powell has never seemed to be an outspoken leader, but on this day any doubt of his love for Penn State was erased.
Upon accepting the award for for special teams player of the year, Powell broke down on stage. Between spells of tears, he professed his appreciation for every single Penn State fan who has stuck with him during the last five years. At the end of his speech, he thanked Joe Paterno for giving him a chance to play, and said “We’re going to win this last one for you, Coach,” referring to the upcoming TicketCity Bowl game against Houston. It was one of the most moving displays of affection for Paterno I’ve seen during the previous five weeks, and held even more meaning coming from a current player.
Here is a breakdown of how the rest of the awards were distributed:
- Most Valuable Player – Devon Still
- Outstanding special teams player (John Bruno, Jr. Memorial Award) – Chaz Powell
- Ridge Riley Award (for “sportsmanship, scholarship, leadership, and friendship”) – Drew Astorino
- Outstanding offensive lineman (Richard Maginnis Memorial Award) – Quinn Barham and Johnnie Troutman
- Robert B. Mitzger, Jr. Award (for a senior who exhibits courage, character, and social responsibility) – Andrew Szczerba
- Quarterback Club Special Awards – Jack Crawford, Derek Moye, Nate Stupar, Nick Sukay
- Academic Achievement Award (highest GPA) – Ryan Scherer
- Alumni Athlete Award – Shane Conlan (former linebacker, 1982, 1986 National Champion)
- Outstanding Walk-On Award – Jon Rohrbaugh – This one deserves a little more explanation following an incredible introduction by Jay Paterno. Most people don’t know Jon Rohrbaugh’s story, a story which deserves more than just a few paragraphs.
Rohrbaugh taught himself how to long snap after graduating high school. He tried out for the team freshman year, and was cut. After working out for another year, he tried out, and was cut again following spring practice. He then wrote a letter to Joe Paterno articulating how much it would mean for him to be given a chance to achieve his life-long dream of playing for Penn State.
After some deliberation with the coaching staff, it was decided to give Rohrbaugh a chance to walk on with the team. Three years of hard work later, he found himself in the starting long snapper role this season. He did all this without the use of his right eye, which was lost in a childhood accident. Walk-on players rarely get the respect they deserve, and this award is a testament to the dedication players like Jon Rohrbaugh exhibit every day.
Tom Bradley also took the podium, and recalled one of his signature old-school recruiting stories about Shane Conlan. Every assistant coach spoke briefly during the event which was a surreal experience for me. These men know that they will likely be out of a job following the January 2 bowl game, yet they continue to work with the fire and passion that they always have. Love or hate their coaching styles, the way these former Paterno assistants have carried themselves during the last five weeks has been remarkable.
Shane Conlan put it best when he said, “When I found out a couple months ago that I had to speak at this thing, I wasn’t thrilled. But then, after all this stuff happened, it became an honor.”
The highlight of the afternoon for this writer was the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet The School Philly writer, senior special teams specialist, and all-around good guy Andrew Goodman (pictured above). Anyone who knows me (or follows me on Twitter) knows of my particular “affection” for the fellow Penn State blog, so this encounter was an honor that I will not soon forget.