Big things expected from linebacker Connor a year after Paterno's wrath

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Things are more calm these days for Penn State linebacker Dan Connor. And that's just the way he likes it one year removed from his embarrassing suspension from the team.

John Beale, Post-Gazette
Penn State linebacker Dan Connor has changed since the beginning of last season.
Click photo for larger image.

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A year ago, Connor's football future was in limbo. He was practicing with the team, but could not play because of his mischievous streak, one that prompted him to make crank phone calls to former Penn State assistant Joe Sarra earlier in the year.

Connor wound up missing three games as punishment after he appealed a harsher suspension. He eventually regained his starting job at outside linebacker a few weeks later.

When Connor takes the field with the rest of the starting defense Saturday against Akron, he will do it with quite a different perspective.

"It feels like a lifetime ago," Connor said. "It's a totally different scenario now. I'm older, more mature. I've moved on. I think it helped me a lot.

"It taught me a lot about perseverance and to keep going. It was tough to play when everything was set against me. It helped me grow character. I was the underdog and that built a lot of character in me."

Keeping residence in Joe Paterno's doghouse is never an ideal situation for any player, but in hindsight, Connor believes the entire experience helped him grow as a person and a player.

As part of his punishment handed down by Penn State's office of judicial affairs, Connor had to perform 20 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to Sarra.

Then he had to deal with Paterno, who had Connor practice with the scout team during his suspension, sending the not-so-subtle message that football purgatory awaited with another misstep.

Even when he was allowed to play again, Paterno made him come off the bench for two games before starting him in Week 6 against Ohio State.

"He was definitely hard on me," Connor said. "I tried to get back in his good graces. He kept pushing me. Actually it helped. It helped me play above my head. It helped me get into game shape quicker. He's doing the same thing this year. He wants to let you know he can sit you at any time because there are a lot of talented players behind you."

Connor, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, seems to have worked his way back into Paterno's good graces. He is one of many Penn State players over the years to receive a second chance from Paterno.

"What Dan did ... I don't know if many of you read about Theodore Roosevelt, but he had two secretaries working for him who were young guys," Paterno said. "They had screwed up a little bit and somebody wanted Roosevelt to fire them. And he said, 'Youth is a disease, but it can be cured.' Hopefully, we got [Connor] somewhat healthy. He has a little wild streak. He is Irish. What are you going to do?"

Connor's football ability was never in question. He was second on the team in tackles as a true freshman and made four starts. He made 85 tackles and had a sack and was a key member of a defense that did not allow more than 21 points in a game all season.

Connor made the most of his interrupted season last year. In nine games, he had 76 tackles, 10 for loss, and 21/2 sacks. In his first start, he made 12 tackles and recorded a sack in the dramatic 17-10 victory against Ohio State.

"Dan is a heck of a football player," Paterno said. "We are fortunate we have a lot of solid linebackers that complement each other. They give us a lot of flexibility in how we can arrange some defensive schemes and how we can play different people."

Penn State All-American Paul Posluszny, who lines up opposite Connor in the Lions' 4-3 defense, has been impressed with Connor's turnaround.

"Dan has done a great job on and off the field," Posluszny said. "He had the one incident last year. But he's been a great person on and off the field for the program. On the field, he's been unbelievable, and he's only going to get better."


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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