Penn State loses a star: Running back Silas Redd transfers to USC

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin greets fans at a pep rally. The fans could use some cheer after news that start running back Silas Redd is leaving.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin greets fans at a pep rally. The fans could use some cheer after news that start running back Silas Redd is leaving. (CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE / Centre Daily Times)
Posted: August 02, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - On a day when the Penn State fan base sent a resounding message that its football program would not fall over and die, the Nittany Lions offense lost its heartbeat.

Junior running back Silas Redd, who led the team with 1,241 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season, announced Tuesday afternoon that he would transfer to the University of Southern California.

After visiting Southern Cal on Monday, Redd met with Penn State coach Bill O'Brien in the Lasch Football Building on Tuesday to tell him he would not return to the Nittany Lions. He then announced his decision publicly, releasing a statement in which he thanked his former teammates, coaches, fans, and reporters for the way they had treated him since he arrived in State College in 2010.

"This situation is not something that I wished for myself, but it has happened, nonetheless," he said. "My family and I have spent many hours in recent days trying to decide what will be best for me as I look to the future, both personally and professionally."

The decision comes a little more than a week after NCAA president Mark Emmert banned Penn State from bowl games for the next four years, stripped the team of 40 scholarships over the next four years, and fined the school $60 million as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. As part of the ruling, Emmert is allowing Penn State players to transfer without sitting out a year, the normal NCAA rule.

Redd could be the second scholarship player to leave Penn State this week. Though he has not yet transferred, quarterback Rob Bolden visited Louisiana State last weekend, and he is no longer listed on Penn State's athletic website. Walk-on safety Tim Buckley transferred on Monday. He will play at North Carolina State.

Of the three losses, Redd's is the heaviest. A 2011 all-Big Ten selection, Redd is on the Walter Camp player of the year and Doak Walker Award preseason watch lists.

Penn State's loss is USC's gain. The Trojans, a trendy national championship pick among college football analysts, already have the quarterback (Matt Barkley) and receiver (Robert Woods) who anchored the nation's 16th-best passing attack last season. To boost the running game, Redd will join senior Curtis McNeal, who gained 1,005 yards last year.

USC athletic director Pat Haden said his school understood Penn State's position. In 2010, the NCAA banned the Trojans from bowl games for two seasons and stripped the team of scholarships. That is not to suggest, however, that USC feels bad about accepting Redd's transfer.

"[Coach] Lane Kiffin and his coaches would not be doing their job if they did not try to improve our team every single day," Haden said in a statement. "There is a specific need here for a player like Silas Redd, so Lane and our coaches recruited him within the guidelines set up in this instance by the NCAA."

Later this week, O'Brien could lose another potential starter. Junior linebacker Khairi Fortt visited the University of California last weekend, his father, Guy, said Tuesday. Fortt said he would choose between the Bears and the Nittany Lions after he and his family meet with O'Brien on Thursday or Friday.

Fortt, who recorded 50 tackles in 23 games during his first two years at Penn State, is expected to compete for the starting middle linebacker job if he stays in State College. Guy Fortt said coaches from more than 320 schools had contacted his son in the last week.

"He strongly considered Cal in 2010 coming out of high school," Guy Fortt said. "This is not just a weekend-warrior type of thing."

With Redd's departure, sophomore Bill Belton will be the team's No. 1 tailback heading into camp Monday. Belton, of Winslow Township High in South Jersey, saw action as a Wildcat quarterback last season, and O'Brien moved him to running back this spring.

Behind Belton, the Nittany Lions are thin. Junior Curtis Dukes, who ranked third on the team with 237 rushing yards last season, missed the spring because of academic problems. Penn State also has a pair of seldom-used backs (senior Derek Day and junior Zach Zwinak) and freshman Akeel Lynch, the 29th-best high school running back in the nation last season, according to Rivals.com.

Rally lifts spirits

A fan rally left many members of the team in high spirits. As the team walked into the Lasch Building soon after 6 in the morning for its summer workout, a pack of about 3,000 fans clapped, yelled, and sang the team fight song as part of the "Rise and Rally."

Keith Conlin and Tim Sweeney, a pair of former players who anchor a local radio show, organized the event after eating dinner with coaches Craig Fitzgerald and John Butler at Damon's Grill on Thursday. Fitzgerald told them that the coaches felt it was in a "dire situation," Conlin said, as they tried to keep players from bolting to other schools.

Conlin, Sweeney, and some local businesses put together the rally over the weekend. Sweeney said he was too excited to sleep and rose at 2:30 a.m. When Conlin arrived to help set up the radio show's table and speakers near the facility, fans were already gathered, waiting for the event to begin.

Sue Wilson, Class of 1971, drove from Cleveland with a friend on Monday after spending her weekend baking cookies for the players.

"I'm angry at the university, but I'm not angry with these players," she said while holding a sheet she painted defending Penn State's code of honor. "They need our support."

Players invited the fans onto the practice field after their workout, and several stayed about an hour posing for pictures and signing autographs. Some fans showed their favorite players signs they had made the night before.

The fans left ther signs behind, leaning them against the Lasch Building. One poster praised O'Brien. Another expressed love for senior linebacker Michael Mauti. A third expressed hope about Redd's decision.

Pressed against the building where Redd would soon tell O'Brien he was leaving, one sign read, in dark-blue letters: "Get Redd-y For An Un-Bill-eavable Season!"

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