Sunday, April 28, 2013

One Last Tour

One Last Tour
By Robert Roselli

This journey started with a tour so naturally it ends with one.

On that beautiful autumn day, the 17-year-old version of myself walked this stunning campus with wide eyes, unaware of the memories that each building would represent about five years later.

There’s something stale about those “senior sendoff” columns full of generalizations, because what makes the Penn State experience so great is that everyone’s experience is so unique. We all see our four years in Happy Valley through a different set of lenses. This is my experience squeezed into one tour. I want to share my final tour with you right here as we walk the campus together.

We begin where it all started for me: 5th floor Packer Hall in East Halls. That’s my room, 506, where my roommate Jake and I played at least 300 games of NHL 10. That’s the commons area on our floor where Dan’s booming voice kept us up until 2 a.m. and where we staged our own version of Fight Club on a spontaneous March night. It’s also where we started “Chinese Food Sundays.” Special thanks Hunan Wok for the great prices and our belated apologies for the questionable tips.

That’s the luxurious Packer Hall bathroom, where the 3rd floor guys thought it’d be funny to fill our sinks with mulch one night and where at least five of us ended up after rowdy Saturday nights.

We leave Packer Hall and see the courtyard where an East Halls snowball fight once erupted after a fresh snowfall. That’s the main commons: home of the “steak” that’s just a glorified burger and where about 15 of us 5th floor Packer guys got to know each other on that first weekend. I went on to room with guys from that floor for the next three years.

Let’s head down Curtin Road. That’s the Creamery. My buddy Darius and I would celebrate perfect scores on Stat 100 quizzes there with Creamery ice cream.

There’s the Borland Building, where Jake and I inexplicably attended an 8 a.m. African Art course 3 times a week.  At least five times, I left my room at 7:55 for that class. Watch out for these colored tiles as we approach the forum. I almost ate it at least 10 times there on rainy days.

This is the famous forum, where we’ve all had the pleasure of awkwardly squeezing by frustrated occupants into a middle seat after arriving late. There’s the library, where we’ve all put in late hours at the “stacks” and taken naps on those big chairs in the Harry Potter room.

We arrive at West Halls, where I spent my sophomore and junior years. That’s my sophomore year room, 14 Jordan Hall. I’m almost positive it was a janitor’s closet before they transformed it to a triple, hence the numerous exposed pipes. But it was a sick man cave. We watched Juan Fernandez kill Penn State’s NCAA Tournament dream there and watched Alabama roll our Lions in Tuscaloosa.

Here’s the West courtyard. You’ll find some interesting characters out there on nice days. From here we can see Hamilton Hall. That’s where I spent my junior year and where at least 200 games of NBA 2K12 were played. I’ll never forget our last minute weeknight trips to West Wing for mozzarella sticks to curb nighttime hunger.

Inside is the home of the famous West Cookies. Vegas has the over/under for cookies consumed by me at 158. That same dining hall is where my buddy Andy silenced the entire dining hall after dropping his tray and where I witnessed my friend Dan consume a meatball sub and lucky charms for dinner at least 6 nights in a row.

We head down Burrowes. You can see Rec Hall up the road. That’s where the Men’s Hoops team should be playing at least 2 games a year and where you’re sure to find a tool bag “tough guy” wearing a high school pinnie in any pickup hoops game.

Let’s hang a left onto Pollock road. There’s the Willard building, home of the preacher we’ve all heckled at some point. I can see Carnegie building up ahead. That’s home base for us Comm. majors. The fine people in there genuinely care about the career paths of us students. You won’t find nicer and more helpful folks on campus.

Here’s the backside of Old Main. If we walk around to the front, we see the steps where a confused student body expressed itself on a miserable November night amidst a historic scandal.  Inside is where I worked during my senior year, in Penn State’s Public Information Department. It took me four years to learn that students can indeed study in Old Main.

That’s Davey Lab. I once had to go there for an Astronomy course with two classmates on a rainy Wednesday night to hear some guy go on and on about constellations. Gotta love Gen Ed requirements.

There’s the HUB. The HUB defines the spontaneity of Penn State. One day you walk through and it’s silent, the next day there’s a live band, balloons and free pens. Good luck finding an open seat in there during the middle of the day.

That’s the Thomas Building straight ahead. I once had a class the size of my high school graduating class in there. If we glance ahead on Pollock we can see the Testing Center. That’s where you have to put your belongings in those goofy blue tote bags. Behind it is the basketball court with the 9-foot rims. I still can’t dunk on them.

We’re not too far from the Lasch Football Building. That’s where I worked in Penn State’s football marketing department. I met Joe Paterno in there. 14 years prior, he responded to a letter I sent, encouraging me to become a Nittany Lion. I followed his advice.

In the distance you can see Happy Valley’s mecca: Beaver Stadium. That’s where 110,000 of my closest friends and I wreaked havoc on opposing teams for fun on Saturdays in the fall. In the surrounding fields, we tailgated with the best in the country. I was lucky enough to work for the football marketing department for two years. Next time they play “Doop Doop Doop,” on the speakers just know that’s my doing.

There’s the Bryce Jordan Center. I can’t really tell you why my friend Dan and I trekked there on frigid Tuesday nights in January to watch 15-point losses, but I can tell you that weirdly enough it was all worth it. That’s where I began my court storm against #4 Michigan with 3 seconds still on the game clock. In fact, we got to storm the court every year after taking down a ranked opponent. What more can you ask for at a football school?

Let’s stroll all the way down College Avenue to the scenic corner of College and Allen. During the holiday season, there’s no cooler-looking spot on campus. It’s the gateway to the beautiful campus we cherish and will probably visit many times.

About a mile down the road is my senior year apartment. Far? Yes. But would I trade my senior year experience for anything? No. You haven’t lived until you’ve washed all your dishes by hand, hiked 20 minutes to campus in snow and rode the R Waupelani bus, whose route you didn’t know for your first three years at Penn State.

We stop the tour here because this corner, to me, is the center of my Penn State.  Everyone has a different center. It’s about a mile from my senior year apartment and about a mile from Beaver Stadium. My place of work is right up the mall and all my classes are all nearby.

This is my center. It’s surrounded by all the different buildings that represent my personalized Penn State experience. Everyone has a different center. That’s what’s so perfect about Penn State. Our experiences are so similar yet so unique. We all go to football games, party hard and study harder, but it’s all the little things along the way that ultimately define our Penn State experience.

Seniors and future graduates: before you graduate, do your own campus tour in your head. Relive the good times and visit the stops that signify your experiences.

Then stand at the center of your Penn State and just pat yourself on the back for making the decision to spend the best four years of your life in Happy Valley.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Two-Way Player: the Gridiron and the Clasroom

It is not often that a college athlete’s approach toward on and off the field endeavors is best summed up by the words of Plato.  Rowan defensive tackle Mike Rinaldi is the unique exception.

Rinaldi’s interpretation of the term “student athlete” comes from philosopher Plato, who wrote of two keys for the education of men: “gymnastic for the body, and music for the mind.” Rinaldi lives Plato’s words through the consumption of knowledge in textbooks and the consumption of opposing running backs on the football field.

“Too much reliance on academics can make one soft and too much focus on athletics can make one too hard,” said Rinaldi of Plato’s words. “That 50-50 balance is perfect and is still relevant thousands of years later.”

The six-foot, 275 lb. Rinaldi is the anchor of Rowan University’s defensive line. In 2012, he started nine games, posting 19 tackles on the year. He was a lone bright spot in Rowan’s 17-9 playoff loss at Salisbury, where he totaled 9 tackles. At Cherokee High School (Marlton, NJ), the two-sport standout impressed on the football field and on the wrestling mat. He received all-state honors for his accomplishments on the gridiron.

Rinaldi’s performance in the classroom rivals his knack for clogging would-be holes for opposing running backs. The scholar athlete boasts a 3.4 GPA at Rowan, good enough for 3 consecutive Rowan scholar-athlete honors.

The well-rounded Rinaldi’s polished vocabulary shines through when talking pigskin. “It’s something of a crescendo of preparation, practice and nerves that comes with each week,” said Rinaldi of the approach on game weeks. “I love the work you have to put into it and the high level of competition on every down.”

So what’s the secret for the man whose high school peers threw around the terms “genius” and “best player on the team” when describing him? “It’s really a secret for me as well,” said Rinaldi. “I guess I’d attribute it to an underlying competitive nature. When you want to be the best at something, the actual work required to accomplish that comes very naturally because it is what you want most.”

Football was not always a constant in Rinaldi’s life. He only played 2 years of football as a child. When 8th grade came around, he knew he needed another year under his belt before pursuing his dream of playing high school football.

From there, his love for the game grew into a genuine passion. Certain moments on the field validate this passion. “I love when I’m loosely huddled with my teammates waiting for the offense to take the line,” explained Rinaldi. “I take a moment to enjoy all of them, look into the excitement in the stands and finally, set my eyes on the target across from me.”

The fall of 2009 was an odd time for Rinaldi. It was the first autumn in which his weeks were strictly focused on academics. Football was absent. Following his Cherokee High School graduation, Rinaldi enrolled at Burlington County College. He had some Division 3 offers on the table, but with his mother living away from home and his father living in China, he was hesitant to act.

He spent a semester at Burlington County College in an unfamiliar role: just student. It wasn’t long though before this student-athlete would find his way to an environment that promoted the academic-athletic balance Plato wrote of.

“I didn’t like the student side as much when it was by itself,” said Rinaldi of his semester at Burlington County College. “Deep down, I knew I was a student athlete. My year off made me realize that and inspired a refreshed outlook for me to take to Rowan.”

By the fall of 2010, Rinaldi was officially a Rowan football player, but he had to start out in an unfamiliar role: the bench. He used his time as a reserve to observe the practice approach of Rowan’s best players. When given even a moment to shine, he made the most of it.

“I had a few shots to make an impression on the coaches that year,” said Rinaldi. “The final step was adapting to the speed of the college game.”

For someone capable of interpreting and applying Plato’s philosophies in his own life, adjusting to the speed of the game came easily. By 2011, Rinaldi was a starter. He held that same post in 2012. With another summer of weight training and film watching ahead, Rinaldi is poised for not only a breakout season in 2013 but also for a leadership role with his fellow seniors.

Passions don’t simply fade when the end nears. Mike Rinaldi will play his last college football game in November of 2013. But in the years to come, football will always play a prominent role.

Rinaldi will pursue a career in law upon his graduation from Rowan with a degree in political science and history. But the gridiron will remain an often-visited spot.

“He always talks about wanting to help out local teams with coaching,” said Rinaldi’s girlfriend Brianna. “He has so much knowledge about the game that he wants to share with future stars.”

“It’s a coach’s job to help players make changes in order to instill an attitude of perfection,” said Rinaldi. “I want to make a difference and help players make those changes.”

Wherever his career takes him, one thing is certain: the balance Plato spoke of will continue to pace his life. “A full education must use that 50-50 split,” said Rinaldi. “The result is good citizens in society.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Playing the Win/Loss Game: Penn State Style

I give in. I’m going to take a stab at the win/loss game usually reserved for trite sports talk radio filler. In what’s sure to be an unprecedented year (don’t you just love that word?), I see a few stone cold wins, some guaranteed losses and a whole lot of what should be a competitive crapshoot in the middle of the schedule. In true lazy blogger fashion (ah, the future of journalism), I didn’t do much research on the opponents. Just basing these predictions on what I already know and what you could call “gut feel.” Let me know what you think. Am I a homer? Too harsh? Just right? And remember, the first PSU victory will be its first since 1997. Thanks Dr. Emmert!

vs. Ohio --- I just don’t see any way the Lions lose this one. Imagine that atmosphere for a second: a sea of blue and white clad students and alumni whose beloved university has been dragged through the mud that is the media and public opinion for months packing Beaver Stadium to cheer on those players who made the bold choice to stay and have been salivating at the idea of finally punching back. Yeah. Sorry, Bobcats. There’s still that coveted MAC title. Penn State 31, Ohio 10

at Virginia --- Pretend the scandal and the Freeh Report never happened. I’d still be telling you this game has loss written all over it. A September road game against an ACC program on the rise just screams defeat. Especially for a squad that may consider offensively challenged a compliment. UVA 28, Penn State 20

vs. Navy --- The triple option makes a stop in Happy Valley in week 3. I haven’t even looked at Navy’s roster but I’d bet money that they will field a roster that includes a quirky athletic quarterback, a shifty, small halfback and a white fullback with a number in the 40s who is the focal point of the offense. If anyone can sniff out that option, though, it’s Hodges, Mauti and Carson. And oh yeah, it’s Navy. Penn State 21, Navy 7

vs. Temple --- Every year, they think they have a chance. They sport their “We Are F*** You” t-shirts and play Juan Fernandez’s buzzer beater on repeat at tailgates. They reek of Penn State hate, even pre-scandal. It’s one of the great mysteries of Pennsylvania Sports fanship. I have my own explanation but will refrain to stay away from social media spats. Anyways, Temple isn’t going into Beaver Stadium and winning. Until I actually see it happen, it’s an unfathomable occurrence. I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a heck of a game though. Penn State 24, Temple 23

at Illinois --- How will Penn State’s defensive line ever get around offensive line stalwart Ryan Nowicki? What’s that? He wasn’t even on Penn State’s depth chart when he transferred? That’s odd. The way it was presented to me by the media had me thinking he was a bona fide All-American. There’s sure to be a little extra fuel in this fire after 8 Illinois coaches went all stalker-ish girlfriend on some football players in Nittany Apartments. I’d love to say PSU smokes these vultures, but how could they ever beat Ryan Nowicki!?!? Illinois 28, Penn State 17

vs. Northwestern --- It’s always nice to get a Northwestern on homecoming. Sadly, the 2014 Nittany Lions could become a “homecoming” team for opponents if things get ugly (fingers crossed). This is the kind of game PSU should be able to grind out and win with defense. I’m not expecting the kind of shootout the 2 teams put on last season. By this point in the season, we should know what this squad has. Penn State 17, Northwestern 13

at Iowa --- Something else that hasn’t changed post-scandal along with school spirit and strong academics: hating Iowa. I just hate them. If they pull off that black and yellow alternating stadium coordination for this primetime game, I might puke (how sick is that though?). Winning on the road would have been tough for this team strictly based on talent, but opposing fans, especially drunk Iowa morons, aren’t exactly going to give our Lions a warm welcome. This is a McGloin-throws-4-interceptions-and-tweets-about-it kind of game. Iowa 27, Penn State 10

vs. Ohio State --- This is the part where you can call me a homer and I can just shrug my shoulders. The last night game at Beaver was against Michigan in 2010. It was an absolute thriller. That’s when Matt McGloin won all of (some of) our hearts. The “gut feel” here is just a Penn State victory. I doubt it’ll be pretty, but it will happen. Oh, and can we still boo Urban Meyer? That’s okay, right? Culture! Penn State 20, Ohio State 17

at Purdue --- Everything I read tells me Purdue is on the rise. I believe it. This will be a close one. But Purdue’s football program is more unreliable than Robbie Hummel’s ACL (too harsh?). This could very well be a loss, but the Lions have to win 1 road game. They just have to. Penn State 13, Purdue 10

at Nebraska --- Romp city. This is one of those smack down games. Please prove me wrong, Nits, but our squad has no chance rolling into that sea of red in Lincoln on a Saturday afternoon and coming out victorious. If McGloin is still the starter, after this game people will be calling for Paul Jones… and Matt’s head. Nebraska 41, Penn State 14

vs. Indiana --- Indiana football should have an alternate uniform with pants that resemble their basketball team’s warm-up pants. How sick would that be? This will be one of those Oh-My-God-We-Almost-Just-Lost-To-Indiana games, which would mean back to back seasons with such a game. Penn State 24, Indiana 21

vs. Wisconsin --- This is your standard valiant-effort-on-senior-day-against-a-great-team matchup. Think Michigan State 2010. I expect the Lions to be feisty in this one, but chances are Wisconsin will be wrapping up their second trip to the Big Ten title game. Expect a loss here, but hopefully we’ll get to witness Hodges and Mauti give former Maryland QB Danny O’Brien the Beaver Stadium treatment. I wonder if he still has that Penn State jacket. Dibs. Wisconsin 38, Penn State 28

Final Record:     7-5 (4-4 B1G)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Anything But Boring: The Spurs Brand of Ball

To put it simply, if you don’t appreciate what the Spurs are doing on a nightly basis, or if you even have the nerve to call them “boring,” you are not a real basketball fan.

It surfaces every year the Spurs find success, which has become an annual occurrence. “They’re not flashy,” they say. “It’s a boring brand of basketball,” they say. The “they” in this case is the basketball-inept: those who only gawk at Sportscenter highlights of Blake Griffin slams and Miami Heat box scores. Are the above mentioned impressive? Yes, there’s no denying that. Griffin plays with springs in his ankles and the James/Wade tandem can explode for 80 combined points on any given night. It’s okay to let your jaw drop as witness to these feats.

But if you can’t appreciate the Spurs in the same fashion, I can’t classify you as a hoops junkie. The San Antonio Spurs have mastered perhaps the two most important concepts in professional basketball: roles and decision-making. When I watch this machine operate, I can’t help but think that even Hickory Hoosiers coach Norman Dale would encourage some of the players to be a bit more selfish at times. In their untarnished playoff run, I’ve seen Spurs players pass up good looks for great looks throughout the course of every game.

It’s as if their offense revolves around a well-developed mathematic formula that starts with the high screen for Parker. From there, the options become endless: an open 20 footer for Parker, a lob to a rolling Duncan or Splitter, or a kick-out to one of many beyond-capable shooters.

Unstoppable isn’t a term that is thrown around lightly in professional sports, but right now, there aren’t many other words to describe the San Antonio Spurs. If you fall into the “they” mentioned at the beginning of this post, I encourage you to reevaluate your stance on the Spurs’ brand of basketball. It’s anything but boring.

The only question that remains: can team reign supreme? For the Spurs to complete this remarkable run, they must finish off the Thunder and dispose of the Heat (I’m counting Boston out). Between those two teams are 4 of the top 8 players in the world. It’d be a feat worth praising.

With no more #LuvToShow for my Sixers, count me in as a Spurs fan. I’m pulling for the ultimate culture clash: Team (Spurs) vs. Stars (Heat). My gut tells me San Antonio will remind us that 5 is always greater than 2.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nittanys Lionized: Penn State's Top 6 Athletes

At Penn State University, world-class athletes are everywhere. A storied football program, recently dominant wrestling program, and track and field and basketball programs on the upswing all attract some of the best athletes in the country annually.

You won’t find a name on the back of a jersey in Happy Valley, so individual accomplishment is often overlooked. The concept of team reigns supreme. But individual accomplishments shouldn’t go unrecognized. Some of the things these Nittany Lions are doing are simply stunning.

Who is the best, though? Who is the best sheer athlete at Penn State based on speed, agility, strength and success at his respective sport? Is it realistic to put one above the rest, or is it like choosing from a lot full of Mercedes and BMWs? First, we must define athlete.

Dr. Robert Kretchmar is a professor of exercise and sports science in Penn State’s kinesiology department. How would he go about defining and crowning the best athlete at Penn State? “The best athlete at Penn State is that individual who is furthest above the norm in his sport,” he said.

In the Big Ten conference, the norm is often excellence. So the best athlete at Penn State must be excellent at, well, excellence. He must have success at success. And there’s a pretty good chance he’s an absolute physical specimen as well.

Head basketball coach Patrick Chambers has seen his share of world-class athletes over the years, having recruited and coached NBA talent at Villanova prior to becoming the head man at Penn State. He pairs the term “athlete” with the usuals: speed, strength and agility, but thinks IQ for the sport and freakiness must be heavily factored in. “You hear the term ‘freak’ a lot,” said Chambers. “The best athlete at Penn State has to be an absolute freak.”

It’s time to crown the best of the best: freaks in the most positive sense of the word. Here are the lionized ones, the top athletes at Penn State based strictly on speed, agility, strength, IQ and success at sport.

Silas Redd --- The bowling ball on wheels

As soon as 18-year-old Silas Redd got to campus, Chima Okoli knew the guy was something special. Redd’s strong freshman campaign validated Okoli’s prediction that Redd would be the “real deal.” tells us Redd ran for 437 yards on just 77 carries during his freshman year playing backup to the leading rusher in Penn State history, Evan Royster. The numbers, though, don’t do Redd’s freshman campaign justice. Redd played a vital role in the Lions’ 2010 victory over Northwestern, which happened to be Joe Paterno’s 400th win. Fast-forward two years and he’s in an elite class of the Big Ten’s best backs.

“Silas had everyone’s respect from day 1,” said Chima Okoli, who was one of five Nittany Lions who had the pleasure of creating holes for the bowling ball on wheels. “I’d make a small crease for him and he’d just slide right through there for 17 yards.”

And how about that trademark spin move? You know, the one that he utilizes so often he should probably be nicknamed Tornado. “That spin is nuts. I just say wow. It gets him 5 to 7 more yards every time.”

Last summer, a video hit the Penn State blogosphere. It featured Redd showing off his summer workouts, which consisted of sit-ups on park benches, pull-ups on swing sets and core exercises on picnic tables and beach sand. Check it out, and you’ll think you’re watching a warm weather version of Rocky Balboa’s outdoor training in the Russian tundra in Rocky IV.

Redd is the superstar of the offense at a university where football reigns supreme. His physical traits and success on the field aren’t too shabby either, making him number 6 on my list.

Tim Frazier --- The pogo stick that dribbles

The phrase is overused, but Tim Frazier may actually be able to jump out of a building. He’s the create-a-player who you awarded a 99 “jumping” rating in basketball video games. He navigates the court with 6 sets of eyes like a speed skater with springs for ankles.

The 6’1” guard from Houston just completed his junior year as the Nittany Lions’ floor general and it was his best campaign yet. Frazier was a first-team Big Ten selection. He finished 2nd in scoring, 1st in assists and 2nd in steals in what is widely regarded as the best conference in college basketball.

Frazier’s assist mark is perhaps the most impressive element of his stat line. He led a team in assists that would have considered “offensively challenged” a compliment. That speaks to his basketball IQ, something his coach urged me to factor in to my rankings.

Basketball information director, Brian Siegrist, has witnessed Frazier’s athleticism courtside for 3 years. He puts Frazier’s speed the elitist of classes, comparing him to the fastest player on the football team, Devon Smith.

One moment in particular jumps out to Siegrist: Penn State’s 2011 Big Ten tournament semifinal victory over Michigan State. “In that game, Tim literally outran the opponent,” he said. “He just kept blitzing the ball down the court for layups, which is what Michigan State was usually doing to opponents.” Frazier burst onto the national scene after that performance and hasn’t looked back.

Tim’s head coach pointed out what makes Frazier so elite. “He has a superior internal drive,” said coach Patrick Chambers, who considers Frazier an athletic freak.

Chambers is Frazier’s biggest advocate. During practices, Chambers and his staff keep track of every stat, including hustle points. “Tim won at least 90 percent of our stat competitions,” said Chambers. “Not only is he a freak athlete, but he uses his talents in so many ways.”

Sean Fantuzzi is a men’s basketball athletic trainer at Penn State. He’s had the privilege of watching Frazier in his most intense strength conditioning workouts. He declared Frazier “the genetic freak.” Tim Frazier has it all and does it all, earning the “genetic freak” the number 5 spot on my list.

Robby Creese --- The machine in motion

According to Track and Field News, as of February 2012 just 366 Americans had achieved perhaps the greatest physical feat known to man: the sub 4-minute mile. Cracking the list requires an athlete who completes unimaginable training, utilizes natural ability and has valuable collegiate racing experience. Someone forgot to tell Robby Creese about the whole “experience” thing.

Creese is just a freshman at Penn State. He has defied the inferiority often associated with the average freshman – he’s superior at superiority.

In his first collegiate race Creese broke Alan Webb’s NCAA record in the 1000M at the Nittany Lion Challenge, clocking in at 2:19. Teammate Nick Scarpello recalls this as the moment Creese exploded onto the NCAA track scene.

“We knew when he toed the line that day he was in store for a great race,” said Scarpello. “But no one quite expected this. A lot of jaws dropped that day.” Creese has since made a habit of dropping jaws.

Creese fits the bill of your standard distance runner. His results, though, are anything but standard. His movements seem effortless. His results? Machine-like.

Distance running is by no means a glory sport. The training is brutal and unlike Hodges and Redd Creese doesn’t have 100,000+ to keep him moving. So what keeps his motor running? Nittany Lion assistant track coach John Gondak works with Creese daily. His answer: “Creese lives for the competition.”

Gondak described the mindset necessary to become an elite distance runner. “You have to be able to tell yourself you are going to run 10 miles in 15 degree temperatures or pouring rain,” he said. Creese and his teammates have a 10-mile loop they often run. On his “light” day, Creese maintains a conversational pace for 10 miles: 5:30 per mile. No big deal, right?

To put it simply, the things Robby Creese does on a daily basis require a physical prowess possessed by no one else on this campus. A 3:58 mile is world class for the most elite runners, let alone for someone that attended his senior prom just months ago.

“The training is supremely unique to him,” said Gondak. “I’ve never seen guys train like this.”

Expect more record-shattering and jaw-dropping moments from Creese during the next 3 years. Creese may struggle to define “the norm,” because he’s only known what exists beyond it. The freshman sub 4-minute miler clocks in at number 4 on my list.

Ed Ruth --- The stud with a green streak

During the 2012 174 lb. NCAA championship match, Penn State wrestler Ed Ruth rocked a green streak in his hair. As if he wasn’t already intimidating enough…

To put it simply, Ruth is an indomitable ox on the mat. Correction: indomitable doesn’t do his feats justice. Ruth’s 2011 campaign ended in what he’d consider a disappointment, finishing 3rd at the NCAA championships. The remedy? Go undefeated the following season en route to individual and team championships, which is just what Ruth did.

Ruth didn’t lose a match this past season. Talk about going beyond the norm.

Pat Donghia has had the privilege of watching Ruth up-close all season as the sports information director for the wrestling team. What amazes Donghia most is Ruth’s famous move.  “Everyone knows the cradle is coming,” said Donghia of Ruth’s go-to move. “The opponent is just simply helpless to stop it.” All of Ruth’s 2011-12 opponents shared this feeling, probably comparable to the helplessness they felt as infants.

Ruth looks like he was sculpted by the wrestling gods. And what about that green streak he sported in the tournament? We’ll call it creative genius. Ruth cradled his way to a dominant national championship victory over Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui. This week, Ruth headed to Iowa along with teammate David Taylor, vying for a spot on the US Olympic team. Now that’s world class.

All season, opponents took the mat with Ruth to simply prolong the inevitable: defeat. Assistant coach Cody Sanderson attributes this to Ruth’s absolute physical dominance.

What about speed, though, which isn’t necessarily linked with wrestling? “Ruth is considered the fastest in the country,” said Sanderson. “He’s on the takedown before the opponent can even think about reacting.”

Ruth possesses everything that goes into being a supreme athlete. As for going beyond the norm, Ruth is among the best of the bunch, making him number 3 on my list.

Gerald Hodges --- The ball-seeking missile

“An absolute monster athletically.” That’s how Ben Jones, a football reporter for describes Gerald Hodges, Penn State’s ball-seeking missile.

A simple observation of Hodges in game might have one thinking he’s magnetically attracted to the ball carrier. That’s because he is. Hodges has Ed Reed’s instincts and Brian Urlacher’s toughness, which has led most to crown him the second coming of Navarro Bowman, the Penn Stater Pro Bowl linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.

At a University nicknamed for the position on a team where 7 linebackers could probably start at 50 other D-1 schools, it’s not exactly easy to stand out. But Hodges has done just that, and more.

Hodges has teammate Chima Okoli’s vote for best athlete at Penn State. “Gerald’s the most athletic person I’ve ever seen,” said Okoli. “He has it all - speed, instincts, strength and a high motor.” That high motor allowed Hodges to make a living in opposing backfields during his 2011 campaign.

In the weight room, Hodges is one of, if not the strongest guys on the team pound for pound. The 6’2”, 233 lb. stud possesses a ridiculous stature. You’d think he borrowed Dwight Howard’s shoulders and Ivan Drago’s chest.

That build and strength helped Hodges become an all-state wrestler at Pauslboro High School in South Jersey, where he lost only one match during his junior season. Hodges has since mastered the football takedown, registering 97 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2011. A successful NFL career is in his future.

Okoli described Hodges in his ultimate beast mode. Prior to a lift, Okoli was stretching at the Lasch Building. He witnessed Hodges, who he calls “G,” wolf down 3 ham and cheese sandwiches, a protein shake and a Gatorade. 10 minutes later, Hodges was pumping ridiculous amounts of iron effortlessly. “He’s crazy,” said Okoli.

Linebacker U’s best linebacker is poised for a record-breaking senior campaign. He’s an athlete in the truest sense of the word: a football star who could have wrestled at most D-1 programs. Keep an eye out in 2012 and in the NFL for “G,” number 2 on my list.

David Taylor --- The Takedown Czar

Let me remind you: the best athlete at Penn State must be excellent at excellence. He must have success at success. David Taylor doesn’t just fit this description, he goes beyond it. Taylor is dominant at dominance.

David Taylor is the best college wrestler in the nation. Period. The 2012 Hodge winner, awarded to the nation’s best wrestler, has just one loss in his 2-year career at Penn State. He’s just the third sophomore to win the much-heralded award.

Unfortunately, wrestling often gets brushed under the rug. If you’ve never witnessed the Takedown Czar, simply YouTube Taylor’s 2012 165 lb. NCAA championship match. With all due respect to Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh, Taylor made Hatchett his little brother, tossing him around like any good big brother should.

If you analyzed the match in 8th grade English, the only recurring motif would be “takedown.” Just 5 seconds into the match, Taylor registered his first takedown. For you wrestling illiterates, it’s like Taylor ran back the opening kickoff untouched. Takedown after takedown ensued. On the road to the championship, every opponent thrown to the pack of wolves that is David Taylor was pinned. This feat had not been achieved in 32 years. Taylor scoffs at the norm.

He racked up 22 points in his championship victory. It wasn’t a fair fight. Assistant coach Cody Sanderson gave some insight into Taylor’s offensive strategy. “David has an unmatched ability to put his body in the perfect place to score,” he said.

Wrestling information director Pat Donghia attributes Taylor’s success to his short-term quick muscle speed. That speed, paired with Taylor’s strength and his incurable addiction to winning qualified him for the 2012 Olympic trials.

If I were a betting man, my life savings would be on Taylor bringing home two more Hodge trophies along with two more national championships. It’s easy money thanks to a kid that makes it look easy.

Someday Taylor, like his head coach, will be an Olympian. That puts him, along with Ruth and Creese, in a class the remaining athletes on this list can only dream of attaining. Chalk up yet another victory for David Taylor, who comes in at number 1 on my list. Dominance reigns supreme, again.