All along, Penn State's players have had each other.
Through the seemingly endless offseason -- one marked by one depressing revelation after another, one tawdry turn of events after another -- that has always been the case. And while they have lost some from their number along the way, the bond remains, on the eve of the most unusual football season in school history.
The relationship at the core of everything -- the buddy movie inside the larger drama, as it were -- involves quarterback Matt McGloin and center Matt Stankiewitch.
The two fifth-year seniors have known each other since West Scranton, quarterbacked by McGloin, beat Blue Mountain, for whom Stankiewitch was a two-way lineman, in a PIAA District 11 playoff game in 2007. (The final score was 39-16, something McGloin undoubtedly reminds Stankiewitch about, from time to time.) They became friends when they were on the same dorm floor as PSU freshmen, and have been roommates the last two years.
And, of course, there's the whole QB-center thing. No two players work together more closely, on any team.
Even so, they are especially tight. McGloin said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday that his relationship with Stankiewitch is one of the strongest he has with anyone on the team. And Stankiewitch did not disagree.
We get along, and we'll always get along, the rest of our lives, he said during a conference call of his own. I don't really see it changing much. It's been a great experience knowing him, and hopefully he can say the same thing.
McGloin will start his first season opener Saturday, when Ohio visits Beaver Stadium, while Stankiewitch will start his second straight. Each has a sizable burden. McGloin must pilot a new offense, one that is entirely different from the one he was used to, while Stankiewitch is the only returning starter on the offensive line.
All along McGloin has seemingly embraced the challenge presented to him by new coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher. All along he has welcomed the added responsibility, especially that of changing plays at the line of scrimmage, something quarterbacks were not often asked to do by the late Joe Paterno.
I would say the most difficult challenge of running this offense, McGloin said, is figuring out what play is
the best to run on that down: What play is the best to run against that defense?
I like where we're at, and hopefully we'll be able to show you (media) guys how far we've come on Saturday.
And, of course, he loves where he is, as the offense's lone field general. O'Brien named him the starter in the spring. And Rob Bolden, part of the frustrating tug-of-war at the position the last two years, transferred to LSU, something that was reportedly in the works long before NCAA honcho Mark Emmert, in announcing the sanctions against Penn State in July, declared all the Nittany Lions free agents.
Having one guy in charge would seem to benefit McGloin.
I'm able to play more freely, play more relaxed and play the game the way I know how to play it, he said.
And it would seem to benefit the team as a whole.
We don't have to worry about, 'This guy likes to throw to this guy,' or, 'That guy likes doing this play,' he said. You don't have to worry about two different guys getting the same amount of (practice) reps. You know who your quarterback is now. You know what he likes to do. You don't have to worry about guys flipping in and out.
Stankiewitch believes that his friend's standing is going to propel him into a leadership role where he's more vocal, he's more confident. And certainly leadership is much-needed, given where the program is in its history and given the offense's attrition, through graduation and transfers.
There are only three starters back on that side of the ball. The newly minted starters on the offensive line are Donovan Smith at left tackle, Miles Dieffenbach at left guard, John Urschel at right guard and either Mike Farrell or Adam Gress at right tackle.
Stankiewitch said that unit has made the expected strides since the spring, that it has most notably progressed as far as knowing how we're playing with each other -- knowing what each other are going to do on each play.
An offensive line, he added, has to be a wave. It has to all work together.
Cohesion only comes with time. And practice repetitions are only a start. So the linemen can only hope to take the next step in their development Saturday -- that they shake off whatever jitters they might have and, Stankiewitch said, come back to their fundamentals and trust in themselves -- trust in your feet, trust in your hands and know that they're in a starting position for a reason.
Then again, everybody figures to be on edge.
As McGloin said, You kind of just want to get up and go play. You don't want to go to breakfast. You don't want to come over here (to the practice facility) and change. You kind of just want to get out of bed and go play the game.
And as Stankiewitch said, I know I want that first play to happen already. I keep thinking about it already.
You want to see the progress that you made in the weight room, that you made conditioning-wise, how you became better as a player.
McGloin believes he and the other veterans will be able to keep a lid on their emotions, that they will quickly settle into the flow of the game. He also believes they will have to help the younger guys adjust.
In his mind, all the players ever wanted to do was just play football on Saturday, in front of some great fans.
That's all we ever wanted to do -- just play the game, you know? he said again. Everything that happened, it's definitely on our minds. But at the same time, come Saturday we're just doing what we know how to do, and that's just play football and have fun doing it.
Doing so with a friend makes it that much better.