Wedderburn Ready To Make A Big Showing On Field Despite Obstacles - Physical And Educational - The Nittany Lineman Has Refused To Quit.

Posted: August 21, 1998

Often, the biggest man on Penn State's football team has been the most difficult to find.

It's not that Floyd Wedderburn, as quiet and painstakingly shy as he is, easily gets lost in a crowd. Not at 6 feet, 5 inches and 327 pounds, with legs thick as oak trees and hands that can be mistaken for catcher's mitts.

No, it's just that the Jamaican-born offensive tackle, who was a first-team all-American at Upper Darby High, was forced into obscurity. First, because he didn't meet the NCAA academic requirements for freshman eligibility in 1994, then because his left knee was badly unhinged when a teammate fell on it during a preseason practice in '95.

By the time Wedderburn finally made it onto the field for a game, at Ohio State on Oct. 5, 1996, he was an overweight defensive tackle - his weight has ballooned as high as 358 pounds - who had gone nearly three years without playing. He was running with a limp, admittedly wary of what another thump on that left knee would do.

``The Prop 48 year, then the knee injury . . . I started asking myself why I was putting myself through all this,'' Wedderburn said.

He figured the best way to end all the frustration was to quit football, which, after last season's Citrus Bowl, he told a reporter he was going to do.

As it turned out, the reporter had caught Wedderburn in a weak moment. When spring drills opened, Wedderburn was back at offensive tackle, where he had shown enough promise to start four of the last five games of the '97 season, and where he has settled in as a starter for the coming season.

``My head wasn't there at the time,'' Wedderburn said when asked why he had announced he was giving football up. ``I did say it, and I regret that I did. But I just couldn't give it up. I'm not a quitter.''

Wedderburn said he had gotten past the psychological impact of his severely damaged knee, and on offense he is more easily out of harm's way.

``I was just being so cautious about the knee,'' he said. ``When someone would come at it, I'd back off. You get a serious knee injury like the one I had and it's like starting from scratch when you come back. But I finally feel settled. I think I could be a dominating player.''

The stunning athleticism that Wedderburn showed for someone his size is a major reason why coach Joe Paterno went against his grain and recruited him even though he wasn't able to attain the required SAT score to be eligible as a freshman. His first year on campus, Wedderburn was assigned a private tutor whom he couldn't avoid: Paterno's wife, Sue.

``Sue was really tough, just like Joe,'' Wedderburn said with a smile. ``If she said be there at 10 o'clock, you'd better be there at 9:45. But she was a great help to me.''

Now, Wedderburn is proud to announce that he is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in human development and child studies.

``I'm proud of myself because I know there were people who doubted me, people who said I wouldn't make it through one semester,'' said Wedderburn, who is much more comfortable dealing with children than he is with the media. ``I love working with kids, helping them, counseling them. And they love me.''

Wedderburn doesn't talk like a guy anxious to make up for lost time or driven to meet the enormous expectations that were placed on him when he came out of Upper Darby. In fact, he said the two years away from football afforded him the chance to focus on his studies and give him an entry into a career outside of football, which is really the reason why his mother, Pauline, brought her four children here from Jamaica in the first place.

``My mom saw this as the land of opportunity, so she wanted to get us out of Jamaica for the chance to have a better life,'' he said.

Besides, Pauline had no idea that her son had such promise as a football player, and for good reason: Neither did Floyd. There aren't many gridirons in Jamaica, where Wedderburn played soccer and ran track.

Huh?

``Well, I was a lot smaller then,'' he said with a laugh.

When Wedderburn moved to Upper Darby at 14, just before entering high school, a friend of his looked Wedderburn up and down and figured the football coaches at the high school might like to meet him.

``I was playing a little football in the streets, and I liked it,'' he recalled. ``My buddy took me to meet the coaches, and they said they liked my size. My first football camp, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have a clue, but I picked it up pretty fast.''

Soon, Wedderburn was bench-pressing 400 pounds, averaging 20 points a game for the basketball team, terrorizing opponents on the football field, and seeing his name on just about every ``all'' team imaginable.

His journey through Penn State hasn't been as smooth. Wedderburn would have been pleased just to blend into the Happy Valley landscape, but that was impossible.

His size - the orthopedist who repaired his torn anterior cruciate ligament expressed concern that the surgical instruments wouldn't be long enough - and his high school accomplishments fueled anticipation. Two national magazines spotlighted him before he even played a snap for the Nittany Lions, before he even knew if his repaired knee would hold up.

``I was too worried about what other people thought of me,'' Wedderburn said.

Offensive coordinator Fran Ganter said he finally was seeing a nasty edge to Wedderburn's play. And it seems no one will be happier than Paterno to see this big bear of a young man finally come into his own on the field.

``He's such a great kid,'' said Paterno, who clearly has a soft spot for Wedderburn. ``A guy that big, you hate to say he's a sweet guy, but he is. He's so humble. At one time he thought of getting out of it because he's more concerned with doing things for other people. He's talked to my wife about going to graduate school. He came in and overcame a lot of problems, physical as well as his academic background. Sometimes, it's what makes college athletics special.''

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