STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The whispers from some younger Penn State defensive backs about transferring started after the 0-2 start, disappeared after the five-game winning streak and resurfaced after a loss to Big Ten rival Ohio State.
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris would have none of it. He gathered his secondary teammates in a room for a heart-to-heart meeting.
The senior class might be playing its last game Saturday for Penn State, but Morris wants others with eligibility to follow his lead and stick with the Nittany Lions through the NCAA sanctions.
"I talked to those guys in front of a room, closed the doors and told them it would be stupid for them to leave here," an emotional Morris recounted this week. "Let's not talk about football. Let's talk about getting a degree, the support you have."
This isn't the type of problem a big-time college football program such as Penn State (7-4, 5-2 Big Ten) typically has to consider heading into its season finale, when Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) visits Beaver Stadium.
Then again, this has been anything but a typical season in Happy Valley.
The uncertainty stems from the NCAA's sanctions in July for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The harsh penalties included a four-year bowl ban and scholarship cuts. The NCAA gave players an out — they could leave if they wanted without having to worry about transfer rules and play right away.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill called it the lowest point of the year.
"It was the first time it affected us as players. We were put in a position — yes or no? It was 'Are you going to stay or are you going to go?'" Hill said.
In the end, 10 players — including senior receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma) — transferred, though more than 90 percent of the team stayed. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti and running back Michael Zordich made the impassioned public statement that seemed to rally the players.
Seniors Hill and Morris were influential. Sophomore Allen Robinson, who has emerged as a star at receiver, cites the pair as his biggest mentors.
"Going out and practicing hard ... and playing for each other," Robinson said. "You play for the man next to you. That's something the seniors made us appreciate."
And made other coaches notice.
"Obviously, very impressed with the way they've handled it," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "A really good group of seniors. They have bought into what (Penn State coach Bill O'Brien) is preaching, and more importantly, what they're coaching."
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