STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - More than 30 Penn State football players say they're staying in Happy Valley despite NCAA sanctions that will keep the Nittany Lions out of a bowl game for the rest of their careers.
Flanked by more than two dozen teammates, seniors Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich vowed to restore Penn State to greatness after an unprecedented child sex abuse scandal that shattered the program's image as a place where "success with honor" was the rule.
"We want to let the nation know that we're proud of who we are," Zordich said Wednesday. "We're the true Penn Staters, and we're going to stick together through this. We're going to see this thing through, and we're going to do everything we can for the university. We know it's not going to be easy, but we know what we're made of."
Neither Zordich nor Mauti - both sons of former Penn State players - mentioned former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky by name.
"We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy," Mauti said. "This program was not built by one man and it's sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man. This program was built on every alumni, every single player that came before us, built on their backs."
The Nittany Lions will not be able to play in a bowl game until the 2016 season, and the scholarship reductions they'll receive could make it difficult for new coach Bill O'Brien to field a competitive squad during the next few seasons. That's why support will be needed from fans and alumni more than ever, the players said.
"We're going to do everything in our power to get this place back on track," Zordich said. "I'm personally calling out every member of Nittany Nation - all the students, faculty, fans and family members, alumni, everything that there is. Please, please come support us through this, because we need you just as much as you need us. And together we're going to get through this thing to the end."
It's been less than two weeks since an investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded former coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials covered up abuse allegations involving Sandusky, who awaits sentencing on charges he abused 10 boys, some of them in team facilities.
In that time, Paterno's bronze likeness has been removed from outside Beaver Stadium and the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions that include a $60 million fine and a four-year bowl ban. The NCAA also erased 14 years of Paterno's victories, stripping him of his standing as the winningest coach in the history of big-time college football.
"No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we've got here," Mauti said. "None of that's ever going to tear us apart. Right now all we can do is put our heads down, and we're just going to work. That's all we can do. We're going to fight for Penn State, fight for each other, because this is what Penn State's about - fighting through adversity."
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