Units have to move as a whole for Penn State to succeed on the football field, even if that means leaving some team members behind.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but the Nittany Lions have no choice. With less than two months until the season begins, they are without key players including cornerback Curtis Drake, cornerback Derrick Thomas and wide receiver Devon Smith.
"It was definitely a big blow losing [them],” cornerback Stephon Morris said. “But at the same time, we have this saying here, coach [Craig Fitzgerald] has this saying, ‘The train got to move on.’”
Head Football Coach Bill O’Brien first reported Drake had left in the beginning of June, but did not elaborate to the reason of his departure. Drake was involved in a locker room scuffle with quarterback Matt McGloin last December just before the TicketCity Bowl.
A source confirmed to the Collegian on June 20 that Smith was no longer with the team. The source did not know exactly what led to Smith’s departure, but said it was “a bunch of little things.” In April, Smith was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Assistant athletic director for communications Jeff Nelson tweeted on June 29 that Thomas had left the team for personal reasons that remain undisclosed.
All three players were big contributors in 2011. Smith had 25 receptions, averaging 16.1 yards per catch — second only to former wide receiver Derek Moye among primary targets. He was one of the Lions’ fastest players.
Thomas played in nine games for the Lions last season, notching four tackles. However, he had been slated to start this season at right cornerback on the preseason depth chart.
Drake spent his entire Penn State career on offense before O’Brien announced he would be switching to the secondary for spring practice. Drake had just one career tackle in his freshman season, but Penn State’s more experienced defensive backs said he was transitioning well.
Despite the losses, the players aren’t having any second thoughts.
“We can't slow down for no one,” Morris said. “We got to keep climbing that ladder. We can't take any steps backwards. It's not the time for it.”
Tight end Gary Gilliam echoed those sentiments.
“We know we have each other's backs,” he said. “We’ve been there for each other, and if anyone is gone, we'll just replace them and keep building. You can't be stressing about stuff that's gone and we have no control over.”
Cornerback Adrian Amos said many of the players still hang out with players that are no longer on the team, but they don’t really discuss football.
“We are all friends,” he said. “I don’t know how they feel personally. I can’t really say how they feel. We just hang out because we’re friends.”