Virginia's Rocco relishes ties to Penn State

Posted: September 03, 2012

Michael Rocco had a chance to continue the family football tradition at Penn State, where his father was a member of the 1982 national championship team and his grandfather worked for Joe Paterno.

But after Paul Jones and Rob Bolden committed to the Nittany Lions for the freshman class of 2010, Rocco decided on Virginia and hasn't regretted it. He started all 13 games as a sophomore last season and led the Cavaliers in their 2012 season opener.

Now he gets a chance to see those familiar – except for the names on the backs – uniforms on Saturday when the Cavaliers host Penn State.

Rocco's father, Frank Rocco Jr., backed up starter Todd Blackledge on the 1982 championship team and coached his son at Liberty Christian High in Lynchburg, Va. His grandfather, Frank Rocco Sr., served as an administrative assistant at Penn State for 19 seasons and coached the tight ends in 1985.

The youngest Rocco, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior, saw many Penn State football games when he was younger on visits to his grandparents. He figured he attended his last game at Beaver Stadium in 2008 when he was a junior in high school.

"Now we hardly get up there because of a busy schedule," Rocco said Monday in a conference call. "Maybe once a year we get to go up there and visit. They do more visiting us than we go up there just because of retirement for them and how busy our schedules are.

"They love coming to sporting events and stuff and see the grandkids and see their children. So it's really a cool relationship that I have with my grandparents and family members."

He could have been there full-time. When attending Penn State's summer football camp, Paterno invited him to come in as a grayshirt, meaning he would delay his enrollment until the spring semester and not have anything to do with the football team the previous fall. Rocco said Jones and Bolden already had given oral commitments to Penn State.

While he called meeting Paterno "a cool experience," Rocco turned down the offer. He then verbally committed to Louisville but after the Cardinals and Virginia changed coaching staffs, he reopened his recruitment and gravitated toward new Cavaliers coach Mike London.

"Once I talked to coach London and kind of made my decision to come here, I was fully committed," he said, adding that Penn State "was one of the top five schools on my board but I became a Cavalier and haven't looked back since then."

Rocco passed for 2,671 yards last season, the most by a first-year starter at Virginia. He threw for 312 yards in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Auburn and set a school bowl record with 26 completions.

In his opener on Saturday against Richmond, a team coached by his uncle, Danny Rocco, he completed 25 of 37 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown in a 43-19 win over the Spiders.

Rocco said he hit his stride last year with the help of his coaches.

"The coaches trusted me and had confidence in me and so did my teammates," he said. "That really just boosted my confidence and so our offense hit its stride from the middle to late last season."

Of course, it helps to have three coaches in the family. Rocco said he relies on his father to share his experiences and knowledge of being a quarterback in a major college program. He said he is close to his uncle and also gets advice from him.

As for his grandfather, he credited him with doing "a great job of balancing his role as a granddad and staying out as much as he can of being too in-depth on his football kind of critiques and stuff like that.

"He keeps the coaching to my dad and my uncle," Rocco said.

It's been an interesting two weeks for the Rocco family. Michael played against his uncle's team last weekend and now faces the alma mater of his father and grandfather. He said he had "good childhood memories" of his time visiting Penn State but "I'm at UVa now."

"I've had so many affiliations with Penn State, it's crazy how it's worked out," he said. "But my approach doesn't change based on the opponent. I really just come into it like it's any other game. But it's great to be able to play Penn State."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq

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