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Are Penn State Football’s Not-So-Dearly Departed Players Cursed?

by on April 01, 2013 1:45 AM

Life hasn’t been all that great for some of Penn State’s not-so-dearly departed players who have left the program over the past year.

Since late last spring, about a dozen-and-a-half Nittany Lions have left the squad.

Some transferred. A handful of miscreants were shown the door, additions for Bill O’Brien by their subtraction. Some opted to give up football, but stayed at Penn State fully-scholarshipped, thanks to the NCAA.

And more than a few have hit upon bad luck.

Take these three. Please.

Since they left Happy Valley, it has been a bad spell -- although the words hex, curse and whammy also come to mind -- for former Nittany Lions Silas Redd, Rob Bolden and Anthony Fera, who transferred last summer with a combined 53 starts. For them, not being at Penn State physically hurt (or still does).

This year's spring practice is their winter of discontent.

Redd tore the meniscus in his left knee in a Southern California practice two weeks ago and needed surgery. That’s adding injury to the insult of a 2012 season with Lane Kiffin and the Trojans, who lost five of their final six games. Over the final seven games Redd, a tailback, averaged just 55.9 yards. Redd, who transferred after the NCAA sanctions were announced last July, has one year of eligibility remaining.

Then there was this out of Baton Rouge a few weeks ago, but the news never made it north (or else no one cared): LSU coach Les Miles off-handedly announced that Bolden – the first true Penn State freshman to be the opening game starter at quarterback -- would miss the 2013 spring practice with a knee injury.

Not that Miles will miss Bolden. He didn’t play for the Tigers in 2012. And LSU senior Zach Mettenberger is slated to start again, with a trio of players fighting for the back-up job. One’s a sophomore and two are early enrollee freshmen. Bolden was planning to leave PSU before the sanctions were announced and had received his release from O’Brien. Hard to believe he’ll ever start (let alone play?) a college football game again.

Former Penn State place-kicker Anthony Fera, who bolted Penn State post-sanctions, is now former Texas place-kicker Anthony Fera. He appeared in only six games for the Longhorns in 2012 after fighting a groin injury beginning with Texas’ summer drills. He was just 2 of 4 on field goals, with a miss and a block, and didn’t punt once. In 2011 for Penn State, he made 14 of 17 field goals and punted 64 times.

Now, Fera’s placement days are over. In the Longhorns’ recent spring game, their two main kickers from last year – Nick Jordan and Nick Rose – booted four field goals and five PATs. Fera, a fifth-year senior, punted twice for 33 and 36 yards. That’s it. No kick-offs either. Not quite the kick had he stayed at PSU.

By the looks of it, the only thing worse for these guys would've been getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Jinx, anyone?

Receiver Devon Smith, booted off the Penn State squad last summer, went to Marshall and missed the entire 2012 season due to a lingering ankle injury he originally sustained at Penn State that eventually required surgery.

Linebacker Khairi Fortt, who transferred to Cal after the sanctions, also missed all of the 2012. He had knee surgery in April 2012 while still at Penn State. In June, he said he had hoped to return to the Penn State practice field by August. But once at Cal, he took a redshirt season.

Part of the reason Fortt said he went to Cal was because of its linebacker coach, Kenwick Thompson, who originally recruited Fortt out of high school. Well, Cal finished 3-9 last season, finishing with five losses – resulting in head coach Jeff Tedford getting the axe. And Thompson, too. Fortt, now part of a logjam of talented linebackers, is being coached by Andy Buh, who was at Wisconsin in 2012 and Nevada before that.

Even receiver Justin Brown, who had a strong season after transferring to Oklahoma for his senior year, hit a tough break. Brown had 73 catches for 879 yards and five TDs, and averaged 13.6 yards on 22 punt returns for a Sooner squad that featured four wide receivers. They actually featured Kenny Stills more than anyone.

Stills turned his 82 catches and 11 touchdowns into an invitation to the NFL Combine (Brown didn’t get one), and is projected as a sixth-round draft choice. Brown, who would have worked with Stan Hixon – who’s coached for two NFL teams – had he stayed at Penn State, is ranked as the No. 42 receiver in the draft. (Only 224 players are drafted overall.)

Brown has a big consolation prize, though. He worked it so his classroom credits from Oklahoma transferred back east, so now his diploma says, ‘The Pennsylvania State University.”

Then there’s Ryan Nowicki.

A back-up offensive lineman, he transferred to Illinois last summer. Some would say he got what he deserved – Tim Beckman. As a first-year coach for Illinois in 2012, Beckman took a team that went to two consecutive bowl games and turned it into a 2-10 squad full of dissension. They went winless in the Big Ten, and five of the nine assistants on Beckman’s staff this spring are new.

Apparently among the sins of the fired coaches was scouring the University Park campus post-sanctions last July and only coming back with Nowicki, who would have been a third-stringer at best at Penn State.

Talk about curses. To paraphrase that famous question put to Mrs. Lincoln: Other than that Ryan Nowicki, how do you like Champaign-Urbana?

Recent Column:

The Most Important Room in Penn State Football's Lasch Building, March 29, 2013



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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