Penn State football faces first post-Paterno season in decades
POSTED: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 6:30pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 6:44pm
(CNN) -- Penn State's football team returns for a preseason workout Tuesday as it heads into its first season in decades without iconic head coach Joe Paterno, who passed away in January during the tempest of a sex abuse scandal.
A crowd of fans, many donning T-shirts and jerseys in the school's dark royal blue and white colors and holding printed support signs, turned out for a predawn pep rally to greet the Nittany Lions with chants of "for the team" and "PSU" as they arrived for the 7 a.m. workout.
Groups also belted out support for new Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien. The crowd numbered in the hundreds, according to CNN affiliate broadcaster WGAL.
Boosting morale could be essential for the team, which saw NCAA sanctions wipe out more than a decade's worth of wins after the scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse against 10 male victims.
The fear of attrition hangs over the football program, as the NCAA has limited the number of scholarships it can offer while also allowing current players to transfer should they choose to leave.
"It's a crucial time for Penn State Football," "The Goon Show," a Penn State University sports radio broadcast, posted days earlier on its website in its call to Tuesday's rally. "It's up to you to show the players why they should stay at PSU."
A handful of players are leaving or appear poised to, according to a local news report. A quarterback, Rob Bolden, got out of his scholarship over the weekend, the Harrisburg Patriot News said, which also reported star tailback Silas Redd and kicker Anthony Fera appear to be mulling their options.
The pep rally's organizers expected fans who hoped to ease the team's injured pride to take long trips to the isolated campus, which is far from major cities, between farmland and forest, in central Pennsylvania.
A speaker on a microphone in front of revelers thanked an alumnus for driving up from Kentucky. Others came from Virginia and North Carolina, WGAL reported.
Vestiges of the Paterno legacy, once an enduring symbol of integrity and the university, vanished in the scandal, including his famous bronze statue in front of Beaver Stadium.
The NCAA slapped the school with a four-year postseason ban and imposed a $60 million sanction after investigators blamed top university leaders, including Paterno, for their "total and consistent disregard" for victims while a sexual predator lurked on campus.
Paterno's official record dropped from 409 wins to 298, while the NCAA also struck down six bowl wins and two conference championships.
Fan Don Smith probably had a chance to follow Paterno's teams up close for decades, as he was Penn State's mailman for 39 years, according to WGAL.
"We're not giving up on them," Smith said. "What happened was unfortunate, but we're going to come back. Penn State is going to come back stronger than ever."
Tuesday's team session is a workout. Penn State's training camp officially kicks off on August 6, according to the Go PSU website.