DT Still an anchor through PSU's stormy season
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)
It has been a challenging season, after all, for the 24th-ranked Nittany Lions.
''This year has been an emotional roller coaster,'' Still said.
Through the highs and lows, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Still has been a respected voice in the locker room and the disruptive anchor on the field for the Penn State defense. His 17 tackles for losses are tied for third in the nation, and Still probably could have had more had he not been slowed by illness late in the year.
No matter. Still's campaign has earned him first-team status on a bevy of postseason all-star teams, including Associated Press All-America team honors last week.
''No, no, I'm keeping count,'' Still said last week in an interview after learning of his AP All-America honors.
For the record, that's 10 first-team honors for Still as of Sunday.
His accomplishments, though, have been lost somewhat to the scrutiny the program has encountered off the field that have nothing to do with the players themselves. Penn State (9-3) is preparing to face No. 20 Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2.
Retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged Nov. 5 - a week before Penn State's home finale against Nebraska - with the first set of child sex-abuse charges that dated back to 1994. School trustees fired Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno days later, amid mounting pressure on trustees that school leaders should have done more to prevent alleged abuse.
Sandusky, who pleaded not guilty last week, has requested a jury trial. Paterno testified before a grand jury investigating the charges, but he is not a target of the probe.
Interim coach Tom Bradley, who has guided the Nittany Lions (9-3) since Paterno's dismissal, has given lots of leeway to his players like co-captain Still to take ownership of a tumultuous season.
For Still, it's a leadership role he assumed a year ago as a junior preparing for the Outback Bowl against Florida. That turned out to be one of the best games of his career with seven tackles - 3.5 for losses - in the 37-24 loss to the Gators.
Still might be stoic and reserved in front of TV cameras, but his voice is heard loud and clear on the practice field.
''I'm going to remember him and thank him for his great leadership off the field with the players, the way he's handled the team,'' Bradley said last month. ''And what happens is nobody gets to see that side of it. They just see him on the field. He spends a lot of time in that locker room off the field communicating, making sure we're on the right page.''
''I think me stepping up at the Outback Bowl ... really prepared me for the thing we faced this year by just keeping the team on track,'' Still said. But ''I can't take credit for it myself because I had fellow captains that helped this team concentrate on football.''
But football is far from the only concern for the likely NFL first-round draft pick. Besides finishing his degree, Still is also the proud father of 19 month-old daughter Leah; Still and his longtime girlfriend Channing Smythe, raise Leah in an off-campus apartment.
Still gets good-natured ribbing at times from teammates about being a family man. But the tackle credits his fellow Nittany Lions, especially senior tailback Stephfon Green, with helping to juggle practice and football with school and fatherhood.
Daughter Leah, her proud father said, is finally sleeping soundly through the night.
''It's been quite the experience,'' Still said last month about fatherhood. ''It's helped me to mature faster and become a man, to do as much for my family as I can ... That's the reason I go out every Saturday and play as hard as I can.''