O'Brien, Penn State mindful of past, but ready to move forward

827625.png

O'Brien, Penn State mindful of past, but ready to move forward

Penn State didn't get the death penalty. The football team will play games this fall, instead of the broached penalty of being axed for four years. So with that in mind, Bill O'Brien has to do his job, and that's coach the Penn State football team.

"Penn State's sanctions aren't the end of the world," O'Brien said Thursday at Big Ten media day. "I think people have to keep things in perspective and remember that there's a lot more important things in the world, like the victims of child abuse, like our own families, like these kids and their emotions right now. Like I've said from Monday on, my job is to keep this 2012 football team together, but after that it's just about competing and doing the best job we can."

Whoever succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State was going to have a difficult time. Nobody could've envisioned the job being as difficult as the daunting task facing O'Brien. But from a purely football standpoint, all O'Brien -- who said he expects 108,000 fans at every home game at Beaver Stadium this year -- is concerned about is winning games.

"I think we have a chance to be a decent football team," O'Brien said. "I think we can field a competitive team and I think that would show a lot of people that we're not dead."

But the sanctions handed down Monday were harsh in an effort to de-emphasize football and attempt to change a culture within the program that helped protect Jerry Sandusky. With no chance of making a bowl or Big Ten championship game, and with severe scholarship reductions put in place, Penn State players are free to transfer to wherever they please without having to sit out a year.

O'Brien hasn't seen a mass exodus from State College, though, at least not yet. The first-year coach said about 50 players have already affirmed their commitments to stay at Penn State.

"It shows you what Penn State is all about, it shows you what these kids are all about," O'Brien said of those players sticking with the program. "This is a prideful bunch of kids, these are tough kids. ... We've got great kids, kids that want to stick together. Now, I know there may be some kids that will leave, I understand that."

Only a handful of Big Ten coaches said Thursday they would look to recruit Penn State players. Illinois coach Tim Beckman was one, and his approach was met with some level of criticism. Most other coaches said they would listen if a Penn State player contacted them, but won't actively recruit anyone away from Happy Valley.

"I have a problem with that," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of actively trying to add current Penn State players, reiterating the same phrase. "But as a player, a young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play. We have to keep that in mind. However, when he's a part of a team, you're getting into a situation that I'm not quite very familiar with, and we're not going to get very familiar with it."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke was a little more open to the idea, but ultimately decided against adding any Penn State players.

"To be honest with you, we kind of made a decision -- I'd be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the roster to some degree," Hoke said. "But we've kind of made a decision that we're going to stay and not recruit the guys and keep our business our business."

While O'Brien said none of his players have informed him of their decision to transfer, running back Silas Redd reportedly is considering a move to USC.

"The rules are what they are -- it's like NFL free agency without the rules," O'Brien, who previously coached with the New England Patriots, said. "So other schools can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they're contacting these kids, and it is what it is."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany would rather the contact between other schools and Penn State be, at least within the conference, nn an athletic director-to-athletic director level instead between compliance departments.

"I want it to happen at a higher level," Delany said, adding that he wasn't in favor of allowing the transfers to happen within the conference. "I argued to some extent against it. Our presidents were clear and unanimous that they want these students to have the opportunity to go where they want to go and with no exceptions, including Big Ten exceptions.

"What I said to our coaches this morning, you know, I get it; this is what the rules are. And I expect you to operate in a way that makes not sense just under the rules but sense to you as adults and grownups, so that if a player is interested in talking to you or has an interest in your university, so be it. Those are the rules. That's what our presidents want. That's what the NCAA wants."

Like O'Brien, who repeatedly expressed a desire to turn the page now that the sanctions have been placed on Penn State, Delany is ready to move forward while still reflecting on the past.

"What's clear to me, though, is that justice can never really be served in this case, because the victims can never receive justice," Delany said. "And that's just the sad fact of the case. And while there are ancillary people who impacted the case in one way or another, affected the Big Ten, it's affected Penn State, obviously. It's affected a lot of people who are not involved in any way shape or form with the case, I think you have to just ... you have to recognize that the 10 individuals and perhaps many, many more, were damaged and hurt. And there's no amount of legal, criminal, civil, NCAA, Big Ten action that can change that or help them.

"And so a lot of people want to debate about NCAA penalties or Big Ten penalties, and those debates are fine. But to me, they miss the point very much because they're not in any way related to what happened to the victims of Sandusky's actions."

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

westmontsentinels071815.png

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Westmont

Head coach: Dan Woulfe

Assistant Coaches:  Dan McCulloch, Mitch Balek, Joe Helton, Scott Helton, Ryan Cahill

How they fared in 2016: 1-8 (0-5 Interstate 8 Small Conference), missed the 2016 IHSA state playoff field

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

August 25th @ Lake View

September 1st vs Chicago Tech Academy Charter

September 8th @ Wilmington

September 15th vs Seneca

September 22nd @ Reed-Custer

September 29th vs Peotone

October 6th @ Lisle

October 13th @ Streator

October 20th vs Plano

Biggest storyline: Can the Sentinels improve upon it's 1-8 season a year ago?

Names to watch this season:  Senior OL/DL Dustin Samoulis Senior QB Brenton Baldwin

Biggest holes to fill: The Sentinels will look to reload upfront on both the offensive and defensive lines this summer. 

EDGY's Early Take: Westmont first year head coach Dan Woulfe, who takes over for Hall of Fame head coach Otto Zeman this fall will look to get the Sentinels back on the winning track. Westmont welcomes back 9 starters (4 offense 5 defense) and the biggest key will be finding new linemen to step up this fall.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.