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'Dirty Show' and 'Run-Ons' Hold Key Roles in Future of Penn State Football

by on September 04, 2012 4:46 PM

Bill O’Brien has to get creative in engaging all of his players amid the current state of the program. O’Brien has come to accept this long ago since the NCAA sanctions were announced.

Scholarship reductions are coming and the charm of a Big Ten and national title dream are absent from the immediate future of Penn State football. The walk-on program and roster management take on vital roles in staying relevant moving forward, especially with PSU down 40 scholarships over the next four years.

So what’s the coach conjure up? Walk-on? Scratch that demeaning word from the book and call them ‘run-ons.’

“These guys don't walk, they run on the field, they sprint on the field, they bust their butt on the field,” O’Brien said. “These guys are not walk-ons, they are run-ons. I know that goes against everybody's term for non scholarship players for the last 100 years of college football, but that's just our term for them.”

It’s not the only twist on terminology O’Brien has changed. Scout Team? What a dirty word. Hey, there’s an idea. Call them the ‘dirty show.’ It’s what Bill Belichick called his scout team in New England.

“Nobody really likes to be called the foreign team or the scout team or walk-on because it seems like they just came, like nobody wanted them, which is far from the truth,” senior fullback Mike Zordich said. “They’re here because they got recruited they just couldn’t get a scholarship. The guys on the scout team and the foreign team, they work just as hard and play just an important role as anybody on the field on Saturday because they’re getting you ready all week.”

It seems there’s something deeper here.

In conjunction with the NCAA sanctions, players are free to transfer to any school until preseason practice 2013 and immediately be allowed to play, if they meet standard eligibility requirements.

Depth is already disastrous at some positions. Would someone relegated to what is termed “scout team” lead to seriously considering a change of scenery for more playing time?

Are these name changes meant to keep his roster intact beyond 2012?

“Yeah, to a certain degree, no doubt about it,” O’Brien said.

Is it just a nicer way of saying bench player? Not exactly.

O’Brien conducts his practices with several periods. First-teamers against first-teamers. The twos against the twos. Walk-through periods. Then the traditional “look” period, where members of the dirty show come in and best replicate the opponents’ schemes.

“We've got a lot of guys that are on those look teams, that ‘dirty show’ team that are in the game plan on special teams or offense or defense, so they're kind of doing double duty.”

What can also work in O’Brien’s favor is his reliance on walk-ons or former walk-ons at key positions.

Quarterback Matt McGloin, walk-on-turned starting Big Ten quarterback.

Running back Derek Day, walk-on-turned-No. 1 tailback Saturday at Virginia if Bill Belton’s sprained ankle keeps him out of action.

Matt Lehman, walk-on-turned-main option at tight end, who caught a 14-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s 24-14 loss to Ohio.

Jake Fagnano, a former walk-on-turned key safety in John Butler’s razor-thin secondary.

“Those are great examples of guys that were walk ons,” O’Brien said. “They're guys that have improved so much in their time here at Penn State. And especially in the state of Pennsylvania, high school players in the state of Pennsylvania can really look at that and say here's a place that I've grown up loving, and I've always wanted to play at, and here's my opportunity to go play at and potentially earn a scholarship in my time there.”

It’s all part of O’Brien’s plan to navigate Penn State through rough seas for the next four years.

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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