Last updated: February 16. 2013 8:25PM - 762 Views

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All the wrong people got punished.

When the NCAA handed down such severe sanctions against this Penn State football team, the governing body of college sports essentially persecuted the innocent.

It is why a crowd of more than 108,000 strong is expected to show up in support of this Penn State football team when the 2012 season opens Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

Because what the NCAA did to Penn State opened some eyes.

By the time Penn State had bowl games taken away for the next four years and all its victories for the past 13 seasons and the number of scholarships drastically reduced, all the main participants who played a part in the Jerry Sandusky scandal were already gone.

The current kids at Penn State were penalized just for being there. They had no role, or even a clue, a monster like the school‚??s long-ago defensive coordinator Sandusky was molesting kids he brought on campus for years.

‚??That‚??s grotesque, what happened,‚?Ě Penn State senior fullback Michael Zordich said.

Those children suffered through life-altering abuse.

But this group of Penn State players were equally innocent in this matter. Yet, they wound up absorbing the full brunt of the punishment decreed by the NCAA.

Wrong place for them, wrong time.

But in no time, they were rallying nearly in unison with one another, displaying the kind of marvelous heart and resiliency that made Penn State so proud of its football team in the first place.

‚??What doesn‚??t kill you makes you stronger,‚?Ě said Penn State offensive tackle Donovan Smith. ‚??It‚??s bringing us closer together.‚?Ě

No time to sulk

They could have collectively complained about getting a raw deal, that taking postseason play and all title hopes away from Penn State‚??s players wasn‚??t fair.

But life isn‚??t fair.

New Nittany Lions coach Bill O‚??Brien knows that as well as anyone.

His first son is afflicted with a rare brain disorder that doesn‚??t allow him to walk or talk.

So O‚??Brien knows you don‚??t sit around feeling sorry for yourself during paralyzing circumstances, you find ways to deal with them.

His way to handle this demoralizing ban is to make sure his team‚??s spirit never sinks down.

‚??Coach O‚??Brien, he‚??s joking around, running around with the guys. Getting after it,‚?Ě Zordich said.

Mainly because this is no time for Penn State to sulk.

‚??Coach O‚??Brien‚??s been the guy who‚??s kind of been the glue for this university,‚?Ě Penn State fifth-year senior linebacker Michael Mauti said.

At a time when most of the country half-expected Penn State to be coming apart, the players have held fast to the idea they can make it through their most trying season together.

‚??These kids are ready to go,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said, and that was all the way back near the start of preseason camp.

He talked about displaying team toughness, but his players already displayed a will molded by steely resolve.

They were sentenced to obscurity, only to become examples of strength and perseverance that make college football such a significant showcase.

Paul Sokoloski is a Times Leader sports columnist. You may reach him at 970-7109 or email him at psokoloski@timesleader.com.

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