Penn State seeks positive end to whirlwind season
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DALLAS -- Venerable Cotton Bowl Stadium will become a part of Penn State history Monday.
The Nittany Lions, who play Houston in the TicketCity Bowl, will be making their first bowl appearance without Joe Paterno on the coaching staff since tying Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker and SMU, 13-13, in the 1948 Cotton Bowl.
"It's definitely a little weird not having Joe here," fifth-year senior defensive end Eric Latimore said. "At the same time, we have to do what Joe would want us to do. We have to stay Penn State and continue to stay focused."
Latimore said the team has tried to stick together despite all the turmoil surrounding the program since the child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky broke two months ago.
"We had a great season," he said. "Letting the scandal overshadow the players when we had nothing to do with it, that's just something we shouldn't be remembered by.
"People should remember the heart of the team that stayed together through all of this and coach Paterno getting his 409th win."
Senior defensive end Jack Crawford called it a season "like no other in college football."
"We've been ridiculed," he added. "People have accused us of things that we had no control over. It's been interesting and an experience."
Penn State was 8-1 and riding a seven-game winning streak before Paterno's dismissal Nov. 9, but is 1-2 since interim coach Tom Bradley took over.
Paterno is fighting lung cancer and recovering from a broken pelvis at his home in State College.
His son, Jay , the team's quarterbacks coach, said Friday his dad "is doing well and in good spirits."
The former head coach spent his 85th birthday Dec. 21 with his 17 grandchildren.
"He's a fighter," Jay Paterno said. "He never gets down. It's always about the next challenge, and this is the next challenge."
Linebackers coach said Ron Vanderlinden said Friday that junior Gerald Hodges , the team's leading tackler with 97 stops, has submitted his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board to gauge his stock in April's draft.
So has junior defensive tackle Jordan Hill in what has become standard procedure for draft-eligible juniors.
"I still want to come back -- it would take a lot to leave -- but I just wanted to see where I stand," said Hill, who is sixth on the team with 58 tackles. "I should hear something back in the next couple of days."
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
Penn State has picked up its first recruit since the Sandusky scandal.
Defensive tackle Jamil Pollard , a four-star recruit from Westville, N.J., made a verbal commitment Thursday to the Nittany Lions during the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in nearby Arlington, Texas.
His original scholarship offer from Penn State in April was yanked because of academic problems.
Pollard, 6 feet 4 and 285 pounds, has an official visit set up Jan. 13.
Penn State has 14 members in its 2012 recruiting class.