DALLAS (AP) — Penn State defensive end Eric Latimore admits his senior season has been “interesting.”
A child sex abuse scandal has engulfed Penn State, leading to the departures of university president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno.
The scandal has overshadowed the Nittany Lions (9-3), who will play Houston (12-1) in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2 at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
Now Penn State is making its first bowl appearance without Paterno on the staff since it tied SMU 13-13 in the 1948 Cotton Bowl.
“It’s definitely a little weird not having Joe here,” Latimore said. “At the same time we have to do what Joe would want us to do. We have to stay Penn State and continue to stay focused.”
Twenty-three seniors will play their final game next week. In the last two months they’ve banded together in the face of enormous adversity.
“It’s been like no other season in college football,” defensive end Jack Crawford said. “It had nothing to do with the program right now. … We’ve been ridiculed. People have accused us of things that we had no control over. It’s been interesting and an experience.”
Penn State had an 8-1 record before Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach who retired in 1999, was indicted Nov. 4 by a Pennsylvania grand jury.
Since then, they lost to Nebraska 17-14 and beat Ohio State 20-14 on the road before losing at Wisconsin 45-7 in their regular season finale. Then three bowls passed on Penn State in favor of Big Ten teams that had lost to the Nittany Lions and had worse records.
“No, it’s not fair,” Latimore said. “We had a great season. Letting the scandal overshadow the players when we had nothing to do with it, that’s just something we shouldn’t be remembered by.
“People should remember the heart of the team that stayed together through all of this and coach Paterno getting his 409th win.”
Paterno passed former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson for the Division I record for wins with a 10-7 victory over Illinois on Oct. 29. That turned out to be Paterno’s final game after 46 seasons as Penn State’s head coach and 16 as an assistant coach.
The 85-year-old Paterno is home in State College fighting lung cancer and recovering from a broken pelvis.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)