DALLAS -- Drew Astorino grew up in Edinboro, a town in northwest Pennsylvania, and admired the great Penn State defenses that routinely finished among the top 10 in the country.
That's the school where Astorino wanted to go, but he was an undersized defensive back and wasn't heavily recruited out of high school. Still, he ended up with the Nittany Lions and has developed into one of the key pieces of their defense. This season, as a senior, Astorino finished with the second-most tackles on the team, 77.
Finding and molding players like Astorino to form an elite defense is what Penn State has long been known for. That isn't the case anymore, of course.
Now, Penn State finds itself in a major rebranding and rebuilding mode, trying to overcome one of the worst scandals in college sports history when child sex-abuse charges were filed against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky two months ago.
"Obviously, it's been a very interesting season for everybody involved," Astorino said. "What I reflect on more than anything is how proud I am to be a part of the team, to be a member of the team with these teammates. A lot of teams would have crumbled and broken, and this team came together more than any other team in college football history. I'm very proud to be a part of it."
Astorino and Penn State will try to end the tumultuous season, which saw legendary coach Joe Paterno fired in midseason, with a victory today in the TicketCity Bowl. The No. 22 Nittany Lions (9-3) take on No. 19 Houston (12-1), with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl.
"For us seniors, this is our last game, last time being a part of Penn State," Astorino said. "We want to leave a good legacy. Who doesn't want to go out [with a] win? That's more or less what it comes down to."
It will mark the end of the Paterno era at Penn State, as well. Although interim coach Tom Bradley, along with a few veteran assistants, have interviewed for the full-time head coaching position, most expect the school to hire somebody from the outside to remove itself as far from the Sandusky scandal as possible.
Bradley denied a report that he had a second interview scheduled with the Penn State search committee following the bowl game, although he reflected on what the school and team has meant to him throughout his three-plus-decade affiliation with them.
"After 33 years of coaching and being there and playing at Penn State, there's so many great memories I have," Bradley said. "The players, things that have happened, the bowl games. Met some great people not only on the football team but people with Penn State, people through football.
"It's been a tremendous, tremendous experience."
Bradley said he'll keep working until he's told otherwise by the school, and the players hope that he gets the job.
"I think he'd do a good job of upholding the traditions of Penn State," Astorino said, "and moving on to the next generation."
As the Paterno generation comes to a shocking and sad close.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760