I was all prepared to drop my first piece in the preseason position preview series when a bump in the road caused a slight change of direction. Leave it up to those pesky student-athletes at Penn State University to cause a minor derailment in my plans! It was announced by the Athletic Department on Monday that a record 299 student-athletes were named All-Big Ten honorees for the academic year 2015-2016. Let that number sink in for a moment: 299. That’s 1 shy of 300 that not only lettered in a sport, but also earned a 3.0 GPA or better. The number ranks Penn State 2nd in the conference this past year and first overall since joining the Big Ten in the academic year 1991-1992.
Forgive me students, but my initial thought upon learning of this latest achievement, other than ‘wow’ which was a given, is that somewhere up in heaven, JoePa was beaming with pride. You see, many, many years ago, Joe Paterno had a vision for Penn State. He had a vision and he called it The Grand Experiment. His was a vision that both academics AND athletics could not only coincide together but that they could thrive together as well. The man knew all too well that life after athletics was where you truly made your mark in this world and set about making academics and a good education a top priority at Penn State. Not just for his football team, but for every Nittany Lion. Over time, The Grand Experiment evolved into Success With Honor, but the two go hand in hand and obviously, as the numbers prove, it is still the gold standard that Penn State student-athletes strive for today.
Four-plus years after a man’s death, we sadly remain a house divided over the legacy of someone who gave 61 years of his life to one place. Four years after his death, we are still playing tug-of-war with a statue that may or may not ever see the light of day. We are grown adults who spend countless hours duking it out on message boards and still watch those who followed him after his passing with some kind of stink eye, even though James Franklin, Sandy Barbour and Eric Barron had nothing to do with the events that went down in 2011. The more I began to dig into this latest achievement by our student-athletes, the more I began to realize the answer to a question we have beaten ourselves up over for far too long now. You see, on the cusp of another season without him, I realize today that the legacy of Joe Paterno doesn’t rest on a statue, it rests in the hands of our students, exactly where he always wanted it to be. Four years after he passed, Success With Honor rages on at Penn State University and for that we can all be proud!