Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Who says you can't teach on old dog new tricks? After years of calling for Joe Paterno to hang it up and walk off into the sunset, the recently beleaguered sure-fire Hall of Famer, has reinvented himself, and, in turn, the Penn State Nittany Lions.
JoePa has ruled the roost in Happy Valley for more than half a century, but the last half a dozen years or so have not been all that kind to one of college football's all-time greats. However, 2005 has started off with a surprising flurry for the Nittany Lions, who are sitting at 5-0 midway through the season. They haven't done it with only stellar defense and key veteran contributions as one would expect, but rather an injection of youthful exuberance, which has become infectious throughout the roster.
Penn State had fallen on what looked to be hard times this last few years, leading people to believe that the game had simply passed Paterno by. Despite all the criticism, JoePa wasn't going to leave college football until he was good and ready. What Paterno did do however, was start to land premiere athletes who can flat out play the game.
Enter freshman sensation Derrick Williams.
Regarded as the top high school player coming out a year ago, Derrick Williams has already made an immediate impact on a Penn State receiving corps that was in desperate need of one.
Regarded as the top high school player coming out a year ago, Williams has already made an immediate impact on a Penn State receiving corps that was in desperate need of one. The 6-0, 191-pounder is second on the team in receptions (15), averaging 14.6 yards per catch, with one TD. He is as dangerous a player as there is, with the ability to take any touch the distance. Williams is also averaging almost six yards per carry and has scored two times on the ground.
Williams isn't the only newcomer making a difference downfield, as redshirt freshman Deon Butler currently leads the team in receptions (19), receiving yards (325) and TDs (four). The 5-10, 165-pounder is netting nearly 20 yards per catch (19.1). Butler moved over from the defensive side of the football in the spring to really add an explosive down the field threat, with his exceptional speed. The freshman parade continues with Justin King, who plays on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the top cornerback coming out of high school last year, the 6-0 King has not only played in the defensive secondary this year, but also is averaging a eye-popping 17.7 yards per carry (albeit on just seven carries), while also recording two receiving TDs.
Of course all these youngsters' contributions are due in large part to a veteran quarterback (Michael Robinson) that has played solidly under center (136.76 passer rating, while throwing for 1,030 yards and nine TDs) and a talented tailback (Tony Hunt), who is netting almost seven yards per carry (6.8).
There is even talented young reserves just itching to get on the field this year, led by sophomore quarterback Anthony Morelli, who has been brought up slowly under Paterno's watchful eye. With Robinson playing well, it may be another year before JoePa lets Morelli loose on the rest of the Big Ten. Freshman wideout Jordan Norwood is yet another green prospect with plenty of upside. Norwood lacks the flash of Butler and Williams, but has seen the ball thrown his way as well, ranking third on the team in receptions (10) and receiving yards (124).
When was the last time that Paterno relied so heavily on youngsters to lead the charge? If you answered never, you would be correct. At halftime of last week's stunning rout of then nationally-ranked Minnesota, Paterno even suggested that he still wasn't all that comfortable with allowing so many youngsters to run all over the field. However, the old adage, "you don't fix what ain't broke," certainly applies here.
Joe Paterno looks as spry as ever on the sidelines this season.
Maybe Ponce de Leon was looking in the wrong place. Instead of Florida, the explorer should have probably taken a detour to Central Pennsylvania.