There are many new names associated with the Penn State football team these days.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, nearly the entire Nittany Lion coaching staff was overhauled. The strength and conditioning program has a new leader and new assistants. The trainer is new, as is the video coordinator.
But to hear the players tell it, the program's two most important new names are Charlie and Mike. They are now written on the wall in the team's weight room.
We have a saying: 'Charlie-Mike,' cornerback Stephon Morris said. It's on the wall. (It means) 'Continue Mission.' And the mission is, whatever we started, we've got to get through it together.
Charlie-Mike, defensive end Pete Massaro added. Continue Mission. We've been repeating that for weeks.
As a way to motivate a program that was hit with unprecedented NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky mess, new head coach Bill O'Brien has been having special guests address his team every so often. The list has included high-profile former players and successful businessmen.
A couple of weeks ago, he brought in 19-year Navy SEAL Rick Slater, who was a walk-on football player at Penn State in the 1990s. Slater spent nine years with SEAL teams, then enrolled at Penn State in his late 20s. After graduating from PSU, he was living in Brazil when the events of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred. Slater immediately re-upped as a SEAL and has spent the last decade-plus with the teams.
He has served around the world, including multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His 20-minute speech — which included the Charlie-Mike mantra — left the Nittany Lions spellbound.
When he was talking, you couldn't hear a sound in the room, Massaro said. Everyone was sort of on the edge of their seats listening for the next word. Being able to hear from a guy like that, who has been through so much — and for him to come back here and relate his experience to us — it's just really important to us.
You had to be there, Morris said. It sent chills through my body. That's like my new hero, man.
He came in there, we were a little bit scared. This is the only person I kind of like feared.
One of the many topics Slater addressed was the character the current Lions have displayed in the face of great adversity. No players have been implicated in any wrongdoing with respect to the Sandusky scandal, and yet they have been the most impacted by the NCAA sanctions. They can't play in postseason games for four years. The program is also being hit with significant scholarship reductions.
The tradition now starts again with the new guard — you men, Slater told the team. Character, to me, is when all seems lost, and people are looking for fox holes and life rafts to jump in — or excuses to be made. There is that one guy who stays. He will remain, and says, 'Bring it on. Oh yeah, and make mine a double.'
It was unbelievable, linebacker Glenn Carson said. It's definitely one of the speeches that I still think about today. It's kind of changed the way I think. He taught us what it meant to be on a team.
To have him come to speak to us really inspired a lot of people and inspired me, center Matt Stankiewitch added. He felt it was his duty to come back to the United States (from Brazil) and go after the enemy. There's nothing more compelling than that.
Morris said his heroes in sports have always been Kobe Bryant and Muhammad Ali, because of what he described as their killer instincts. Obviously, that phrase took on a new meaning after he heard what Slater had to say.
That whole speech was probably one of the high moments of my life, Morris said.