Penn State Football: To Start With, No. 1 Isn't Bolden's Reason
Saturday was Rob Bolden’s first official visit to the Penn State football media room in Beaver Stadium.
And it may very well have been his last.
Ever since Joe Paterno announced 197 days ago that Bolden would be the first freshman quarterback to start a season-opener at Penn State in 100 years, he has been one of the biggest stories in that room.
Even when he wasn't there.
So, when Bolden finally appeared in person, all dried-out after the truncated Blue-White Game, he was met by scores of reporters and dozens of questions. He entered the room warmed from the rain and cold temperatures, wrapped against the chill with a hoodie and a varsity “S” jacket.
The hot seat Bolden settled into had just been vacated by quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, who said that “Matt (McGloin) and Rob – and I don’t say that in any particular order – are ahead of the other guys.”
When he took the stand, so to speak, Bolden began by saying he didn’t know if he was staying or leaving Penn State.
And his closing argument was, in essence, that there was nothing more Joe Paterno could do about it.
STARTING NOT THE QUESTION
That pronouncement came on just about the final question of the day for Bolden, when only three reporters were left standing in a Survivor-like setting endemic to the sportswriting world: Wait around long enough, allow the masses of writers and TV people to depart to their deadlines and weariness, and maybe you’ll get something good.
So, as Penn State assistant athletic director Jeff Nelson sidled up next to Bolden and readied to end the last round of questioning, the day’s penultimate question – and perhaps the penultimate seminal question of the Bolden saga – was gently tossed Bolden’s way by your faithful correspondent.
“If they had said you were the starting quarterback right at the beginning of spring practice, or told you now, would you stay?”
His reply was so quick, so casual, so seemingly unrehearsed, it had to be judged as genuine.
“Hah, I’d still do what I gotta do as far as thinking about if I want to stay or leave,” Bolden said with something akin to a mild chuckle. “Just because I’m starting or not, it’s not going to swing the position I’m in.”
So, what will swing it?
Earlier, I had asked him just that: “What’s No. 1 on your list of determining factors for staying?”
“I wouldn’t rank any of them. They’re all equal to me,” he said.
“Well, what are the top ones?” I replied.
“I’d rather not say. I’ll keep that for me and my family.”
You have to appreciate the presence of mind, the discretion that goes into an answer like that, especially when the answerer is a teenager talking to a quarter gross of staring reporters. (That includes Mike Gross of the Lancaster Sunday News; Phil Grosz of Blue White Illustrated was elsewhere.)
SCHOOL IS COOL
To hear Bolden tell it on Saturday, Dear Old State was still very dear to him.
As Bolden sat at the elevated dais, encircled by reporters both hairy and harried, their thin digital voice recorders directed at his mouth as if they were communion wafers, he was subtle, engaging, generally positive and positively sly.
The “are you staying, are you going” question was asked a million ways. And Bolden answered it in kind a million and one ways back, often with a smile, nearly always looking at you straight in the eye, respect in his voice and demeanor.
He loved Penn State. Liked his classes. Was getting good grades. Loved his teammates. Was having a great time in school. Felt he was improving as a football player. Benefited from the film sessions he had with former Lion QB Daryll Clark.
He was tight – again – with the younger Paterno after his flight from University Park was grounded: “Me and Jay got closer. We’re cool. We have a great relationship.”
Once classes are over, Bolden said he needs to go home, to talk it over with his family. To give it some thought. To see what’s best for him.
But the football? Well...the football is like this: He wasn’t sure if he would stay at Penn State beyond the spring semester, of which there is only 10 more days of classes. Then there are finals, which will conclude his freshman year.
After that, he’ll get his final grades. And, when it comes to Rob Bolden, Joe Paterno will get his end-of-the-semester marks as well.
A HOSTAGE AND (TUITION) MONEY
Paterno is entering his 46th season as Penn State’s head coach, 62nd at PSU overall. And you have to wonder if he’s ever been held hostage like this before.
Paterno had dodged a Bolden, so to speak, to start the new year, when the two Paternos met with Bolden and his father. Afterwards, the Boldens decided Rob would stay at Penn State, at least for another semester. Why?
“Well, when we met, I didn’t really have another option,” the younger Bolden said Saturday with a nervous laugh. “If I did want to leave, I would have to pay for school, and I didn’t want to do that, obviously. I couldn’t afford to do that.”
So, now, four months later, Bolden Deux will huddle again in Orchard Lake, Mich., and decide Rob’s future. This time with meaning.
PATERNAL OR PATERNO?
You have to figure the final vote will belong to Robert Sr., who vocally announced his son’s aborted transfer bid in January.
It is the Father Factor.
Not invented, but definitely popularized -- and polarized -- by Todd Marinovich’s dad.
Taken to new financial depths by Cam Newton’s dad. Deployed at Penn State by Dads Morelli and Devlin. Practiced in AAU basketball and 7-on-7 football by surrogate dads.
And ripped from today’s headlines by Mr. Bolden.