Jay Paterno: Matt McGloin's Burlsworth Trophy a Testament to His Work Ethic and His Family
This week, Matt McGloin won the Burlsworth Trophy, an award given to the top college football player who started his career as a walk-on. The trophy is more valuable in some ways than any other college football award. It rewards perseverance and sacrifice, not just for that particular player but also for his family.
Walk-ons arrive without scholarships. Many have student loans or must apply for financial aid, while scholarship teammates they compete with don’t have those worries. Their families often allow their son to forgo scholarship money at smaller programs to give a run at big-time college football. It can be a financial strain on families.
They arrive at big-time programs with a “promise” that they’ll have a shot to play. Over the years at Penn State, that promise has been a genuine one.
Gregg Garrity made the catch that clinched the 1983 Sugar Bowl. Ethan Kilmer made the clutch catch of the 2006 Orange Bowl game. Deon Butler became Penn State’s all-time leading receiver. All of them walk-ons, all of them went on to play in the NFL.
Those are just three examples from a lengthy list of successful Penn State walk-ons. Matt McGloin takes his place among those who came to Penn State trusting Joe Paterno and earning a scholarship.
During his redshirt year, it became clear to me, as his coach, that he had a great sarcastic sense of humor (he still has it judging from his critiques on Big Ten officiating this year). We also saw he had a great competitive streak.
In the summer of 2009, a basketball game of roughhouse/21 broke out among the quarterbacks on the driveway at our house. Matt didn’t care that Daryll Clark was a returning All-Big Ten quarterback. He fouled him as hard as he did anyone else (fouling is completely legal). Matt was crafty and opportunistic, picking up the extra hustle baskets that make the difference in roughhouse.
In 2010, he made his first serious debut at Minnesota. Right after he came in we had a play-action pass called. Upstairs I said to Galen Hall, “The deep post better be open because that is where Matt is going to throw this one no matter what.”
That was the kind of player he was. The kind who wanted to make a splash. The post was open and Matt’s first college completion was a touchdown. The next two weeks he lit it up against Michigan and Northwestern (win No. 400).
He was a tough, hard-working player throughout his career. In his regular season games coming into this season, he had thrown for 2,908 yards on 405 attempts for 21 touchdowns. This year, he threw for 3,266 yards on 446 attempts and 24 touchdowns; steady improvement.
Above all, he was staunch in his belief that he was the best. Even last season after his bad day against Alabama, he knew he could play. Despite what so many fans and critics believed, Joe Paterno continued to play him knowing that there was something about Matt.
Now in his fifth year, it paid off for him. The battles every day on the practice field and the constant need to compete prepared him.
But there is more to the story. There is a supportive family behind him.
Matt’s father, Paul, thanked us every time for giving Matt a chance to play. I told him that Matt had made his own chances. His mother, Cathy, and his aunts used to tell me that Matt should play all the time. As we went to 8-1 last year, she would always finish by saying, “He should play all the time, but as long as we keep winning I’m OK. Just keep winning.”
But I am also happy for Matt’s family. His mother and father are people I am honored to have known in my life. Cathy McGloin told my wife that Matt was her baby. She’d dress him up in little suits. That led to Matt’s sense of style now. When it is time for a suit and tie, he always has the hair spiked and the matching suit, tie, belt and shoes.
As Matt’s college career ends, I know they are proud of his Penn State degree and his Penn State football experience. I hope they are proud they let Matt take a chance and prove himself to his family, his coaches, his teammates and many others.
It isn’t easy to let your children take a leap of faith. But ultimately, as every parent learns, that is what we must do. We hope we’ve prepared our children for their life’s path, and we support them when they want to take a chance or a risk.
As Matt accepted The Burlsworth Trophy, I hope his parents were proud they raised a young man who persevered with a confidence and a constant work ethic that he no doubt learned at home.