New Castle News

Penn State Scandal

January 26, 2012

Remembering Paterno: Local players reflect on life, death of their coach

NEW CASTLE — Todd Atkins arrived in State College with a heavy heart earlier this week.

He left with a sense of peace.

“There was a feeling of sadness that Joe passed on with the knowledge that his reputation was in the balance,” the former Laurel High and Penn State football star said. But if these last few days proved one thing, it’s that his legacy is intact.

“I only wish he could have been here to see this.”

Atkins was one of 2,385 former players and coaches who joined tens of thousands of fans in helping make that happen by joining together to pay their respects at visitation for Nittany Lions coaching legend Joe Paterno, who died Sunday at age 85 of complications from lung cancer.

Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I college football history, was fired after 46 years as head coach following a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, just days before his lung cancer diagnosis was revealed. Although Paterno reported an incident allegedly witnessed by a graduate assistant coach to his superiors, no action was taken and Paterno was one of those to bear the brunt of the fallout.

Atkins, a 1996 Penn State graduate who lettered four years on the defensive line, waited in line with other former players for two hours to file past Paterno’s closed casket in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, where they were greeted by members of Paterno’s family. Some fans waited as long as five hours to gain admission to the spiritual center.

“Only a man like Joe Paterno could get this many past players and coaches together,” he said. “It was a special tribute to a special man. I think the love and affection in that room spoke for itself.”

Atkins, who lives in New Castle and is a production supervisor at Praxair Service Technologies, joined more than 1,000 of his fellow lettermen at a luncheon Tuesday in Beaver Stadium. Much of the group then headed to a private party at a State College restaurant.

Atkins said they spent hours telling stories about Paterno and celebrating his contributions.

“Joe was more than just a coach,” he said. “The guy spent his life trying to do good things. Every life he touched was better for it and that includes mine.”

Atkins said he will help make certain that Paterno’s legacy remains intact.

“The guys who played for him will vouch for him until the day we die.”

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Penn State Scandal
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