Posluszny grew up admiring his father, Paul Sr., a onetime commuter airline pilot who works for U.S. Airways as a mechanic. A former high school football player, he steered his children toward sports. Because Jackie forbade video games, Paul spent most of his time outside competing with his older brother, Stan. More often than not, their rivalry escalated into a physical game of one-on-one basketball. "It was usually first to 11 wins," says Stan, a senior outfielder at West Virginia, "but we rarely got that far."
Few spots in the country can rival Western Pennsylvania for its devotion to high school football, and the area of Beaver County along the Ohio River has produced a raft of great players. Mike Ditka hails from Aliquippa, and Joe Namath is from Beaver Falls. Hopewell's most famous alumnus is Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett. Posluszny, who played running back and linebacker, embraced that tradition and played with an abandon that bordered on the fanatical. When he was a senior, Hopewell coach Dave Vestal rested Posluszny for several games because of a high ankle sprain. During one game, however, Vestal watched in disbelief as Posluszny sprinted onto the field, lined up with the defense and tackled a runner behind the line.
As a freshman, Posluszny played his way onto Penn State's two-deep with his toughness and relentlessness. "We were struggling to make plays," says linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. "We needed more athletes with a knack for pressing the ball. Paul just naturally attacks the line of scrimmage." What came less naturally was his adjustment to losing. Hopewell High dropped only seven games during Posluszny's career, but the Nittany Lions finished ninth in the Big Ten in each of his first two seasons. Still, he remained optimistic about spearheading the return of Linebacker U. Dan Connor, a sophomore linebacker, recalls that on his first recruiting visit to State College, "Paul was talking about it, about bringing it back."
Posluszny isn't a vocal captain, choosing instead to lead by example. With admiring smiles, teammates and coaches tell stories that describe his toughness and dedication. There was the time last year he came out of a game with a stinger and, after struggling so fiercely with the training staff to get back on the field, passed out from the pain. Or the time last spring when a poorly fitted helmet opened a cut on his nose that he never noticed. By the middle of practice Puz's face was covered with blood. "He looked like Braveheart," says Vanderlinden. "I finally had to tell him to get out."
A few weeks ago Posluszny created a stir in State College when, in response to a reporter's question, he said he had sometimes thought about leaving early for the NFL. "I said, 'Yeah, of course I think about it,'" he says, adding, "I should have been more careful. I don't see myself leaving Penn State."
With the Nittany Lions playing the way he always thought they would, how could he? A national title might be a long shot this year, but there's always 2006. That would be a fitting ending for Posluszny's Penn State career--and perhaps Paterno's as well.