- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Burkhart will try to improve on last year's 87 completions and 49% accuracy, but it won't be easy. Gone to the pros is Tight End Ted Kwalick, his leading receiver. Greg Edmonds, though, may turn out to be a strong split end and pass catcher.
Halfback Charlie Pittman is back and will try to break some more of Lenny Moore's school records. Last year he erased one by scoring 14 touchdowns. Pittman is a Baltimore boy who insists upon wearing the No. 24 that Moore wore while with the Colts. He is an elusive runner in the Moore tradition. Trying to replace Pittman's talented sidekick, Bob Campbell, will be hard-running Gary Deuel and Lydell Mitchell, a sophomore. At fullback will be Don Abbey or newcomer Franco Harris.
Warren Koegel and Charlie Zapiec are two rocks around which the offensive line is built. The others are generally small for linemen and, if Penn State can be said to have a weakness, the tackle and tight end positions are it.
Defensively, State gets rougher: nine starters return from a crew that limited opponents to 106 points and also helped get 145 of the Nittany Lions' 339 points by recovering 18 fumbles and intercepting 25 passes. Neal Smith, who picked off eight passes, is a hard-to-beat safety. For linebackers there are Jack Ham and Dennis Onkotz, an All-America last season. Onkotz has the ability to be where the action is, largely because he creates the action. There is no better set of tackles than Steve Smear and Mike Reid. Smear speaks of the defensive unit with a sort of primitive passion. "Three years we've played together and never a voice has been raised in anger. It's no fake. We work together. The Celtics, the Packers—it all boiled down to team pride, and this is what Coach Paterno has tried to instill in us. He says, 'Would you like to go to war with the guy next to you?' I know what he means."
Reid, a budding concert pianist, also speaks with emotion about football—and music. "When I'm disgusted or disappointed, I turn to the piano. Quite a few great composers expressed deep sadness in music. Beethoven suffered, and it comes out in his music. I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but when I got word that I had to undergo a second knee operation [in 1967], I turned to the piano. It gave me much comfort."
With talent that ranges from piano movers to piano players, Penn State will not be easy to beat. So what can keep Paterno from adding to his nonlosing streak? "Over-confidence," he answers. "My job is to motivate them. I have to remind them that if they won't work hard they'll look back in later years and regret it. And we have a chance to claim our third Lambert Trophy in a row, something no team has done, except for Army during the war years." Anybody care to contest the claim?
The John McKay Decade Medallion, with a smiling image of the coach embossed on one side, has the comforting heft of a silver dollar, but what is really comforting to USC supporters is to flip the coin (causing McKay to fall, uncharacteristically, flat on his face) and look at his nine-year record spelled out in raised letters: coach of the year (1962), five Pacific Eight titles, two national championships, two Heisman Trophy winners, four Rose Bowl teams, eleven All-Americas. This medallion is part of a little merchandising scheme cooked up by the Trojan athletic department whereby a fan can be a Varsity Correspondent for $10, a Statistician for $7.50 or a Spotter for $5 (no box tops, please) and get all sorts of goodies, from color photos to a USC Sports Desk Calendar and Doodlepad.
Of course, selling tickets to football games is still the main business, and during McKay's reign the Trojans have been eminently marketable. This last year of his decade should be no different, despite the loss of O.J. and Quarterback Steve Sogge, who set school passing records on the few downs he did not hand off to Simpson. The 1969 USC drawing cards are Jimmy Jones, a black quarterback, and Bob Chandler, an outstanding flanker.
Jones is a sophomore from Harrisburg, Pa., who was ardently recruited. McKay, who rarely visits a prospect's home, even in California, showed up personally to sign him. Everyone agreed he was a fine runner, but some coaches thought his arm was good only for passing the salt. Jones demolished that notion in the USC spring game when he hardly ran at all and, in a little more than a half, completed 19 of 32 passes for 392 yards and five touchdowns.