The Grass is Not Always Greener

GUEST COLUMN: Former Nittany Lions Redd and Brown found moderate success after walking away from Penn State when NCAA sanctions came down. They were outperformed by players they left behind.

If you are a Penn State fan or just an astute fan of college football, you cannot help but be amused by the irony of the 2012 season. I say this because of the Nittany Lions who left in July and thanks to the great accomplishments of those who remained. I am not pointing a finger of judgment but rather offering a lesson we heard from our fathers and mothers many years ago, passed on from the “Greatest Generation.”

The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

This irony was portrayed most poignantly in the departures of two PSU players prior to the 2012 season. They were junior running back Silas Redd (Southern Cal) and senior wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma). Redd would have been the featured back and Brown our number one receiver had they stayed. Both believed they would find better opportunities to showcase their offensive talents and win more games, maybe even a national championship.

Before Redd and Brown's departures for greener pastures, two of their backups - running back Zach Zwinak and wide receiver Allen Robinson - did not appear to figure prominently in the 2012 season game plan. Zwinak began the season as a fourth-team back and Robinson an unproven though talented receiver who had yet to crack the starting lineup.

Both had lights-out seasons in 2012 for the Nittany Lions, who went 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten. Zwinak was the quintessential power tailback who bullied his way to 1,000 yards and six touchdowns on 203 carries, while also making 20 catches. Robinson had the most prolific single season of a wide receiver in Penn State's history. He had 77 catches for 11 touchdowns and 1,013 yards, which also leads the Big Ten.

Let's take a look at how Redd and Brown made out in the regular season.

Redd rushed for 844 yards on 150 carries for 9 touchdowns to go along with six catches. The Trojans went 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12. The run production was not bad for a running back who was sharing the load. But it was not a memorable year for Redd or the Trojans overall. He could have been part of something very special, even historic at Penn State. At the Wisconsin game, the year 2012 was added to Beaver Stadium's wall of great PSU teams, memorializing the achievements of this squad.

Redd would have carried his 2012 team with him for a lifetime and still have been well prepared for a NFL career. I would argue better prepared. His output at USC was meager compared with what he may have done at PSU. He likely would have carried the rock over 200 times, behind a very good offensive line, and ended up in the 1,200- to 1,300-yard stratosphere. He would have been highlighted in the passing game, as well, easily grabbing 20-30 balls.

Brown has 62 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns through 11 games at Oklahoma. OU is 9-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big 12. It has been a nice statistical year for him but it is hardly record setting. What a senior year of great memories he could have enjoyed with the teammates he had for three full seasons. How about NFL preparation? In Bill O'Brien's hurry-up, balanced attack, Brown would have had the opportunity to be the featured receiver and enjoy unprecedented attention in the offense. It easily could have far surpassed what he has achieved at Oklahoma.

I am not suggesting by this statistical comparison that we missed out on Redd and Brown's productivity. Zwinak and Robinson stepped into those opportunities and made the most of them. I am respectful of Redd and Brown's decisions to transfer from PSU to what they believed were better opportunities for them. They may still believe that quite firmly.

I doubt it, though. They missed out on a real love these players cultivated for one another through great adversity.

The place of honor the 2012 Penn State team will forever hold is etched in the hearts of all who love the Lions and all who truly love college football. I believe their perseverance, their unity and sacrifice — embodied in the passion of linebacker Michael Mauti (No. 42) — is a life lesson for all of us.

The grass isn't always greener at USC or Oklahoma, or at another job, or with another wife. Stay put, give your whole heart, work hard, keep believing, and bring your team, your family, your church or your business together! If you do, you may just accomplish something historic. We run from adversity far too often. We need to apply the wisdom from “The Greatest Generation.” Real commitment causes us to sacrifice and to trust when we don't have the certainty of the outcome. Faith, hope and love are like that. Here's to our underclassmen believing they will follow the great example of our seniors and their leader, Coach O'Brien.

My Penn State family is more proud than ever to say, We Are…!


Leo Wisniewski was a defensive lineman at Penn State who lettered from 1979-81 and served as a co-captain his senior year. His brother (Steve) and son (Stefen) were both All-American offensive linemen for the Nittany Lions.

Leo can be contacted at: leo@whitefieldsfoundation.org

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