STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Backup Penn State safety Tim Buckley has become the first player to transfer from Penn State in the wake of NCAA sanctions, while the future of a more prominent player, star tailback Silas Redd, remains in question.
Redd, a 1,200-yard rusher who would be a focal point of O’Brien’s reconfigured Penn State offense, visited Southern California over the weekend. Another good season could have the junior with the dazzling open-field spin move headed to the NFL draft a year early next spring.
Still, the majority of coach Bill O’Brien’s core players appear to be sticking with Penn State, determined to weather out what could be a stormy season after the NCAA meted out landmark punishments on the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
O’Brien said at Big Ten media days last week in Chicago that more than 50 players have re-affirmed their commitment to Penn State, though he did expect some transfers. Two Class of 2013 recruits have de-committed over the last week, but six prospects visited O’Brien over the weekend before standing by their verbal commitments.
“We have a really unique opportunity at Penn State to do something really special,” one of the six recruits, Cedar Cliff High senior Adam Breneman, said in a phone interview. Breneman, of Camp Hill, Pa., is considered one of the top tight end prospects in the country.
“We have a chance to bring a community together. We have a chance to be remembered for a long time and give a community hope.”
Buckley won’t be part of Breneman’s future team. North Carolina State released a statement Monday announcing Buckley, a North Carolina native, would join the Wolfpack for the team’s first practice Tuesday.
The former walk-on redshirted last season at Penn State, so he’ll have four years of eligibility left.
“The opportunity to come here and play at my state university, so close to home, was something that I couldn’t pass up,” Buckley said in the statement that made no mention of the scandal.
Other Nittany Lions appear to be at least looking around, most notably Redd.
He voiced support for former coach Joe Paterno as late as two weeks ago, after former FBI director Louis Freeh released the results of his investigation in the Sandusky scandal for the university. Freeh said Paterno, who died in January, and three other school officials concealed allegations against Sandusky — conclusions vehemently denied by Paterno’s family and the officials.
“It has nothing to do with us,” Redd had said about the findings. Penn State later handed the results of Freeh’s investigation to the NCAA.
Redd had also said his opinion of Paterno, the coach that recruited him to Penn State, hadn’t changed. He said Paterno, in his view, remained “the best college football coach of all time.”
Since then, the NCAA banned Penn State from postseason play for the next four seasons, including the last two years of Redd’s eligibility. College sports’ governing body is allowing Redd and all other Nittany Lions to transfer to another school and get on the field right away.
The only restriction is they cannot practice or play with Penn State this year and still play for another school this season, meaning the Penn State roster should finally be set once training camp starts in a week.
But the process sets up college version of NFL free agency, in which other schools have been busy trying to cherry-pick Nittany Lions.
USC could be a landing spot if Redd decides to leave. With an offense led by quarterback Matt Barkley, the Trojans will be highly ranked and one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 Conference.
A person familiar with Redd’s decision said the running back was returning from California on Monday and could make his decision as early as Tuesday. The person requested anonymity because no one was authorized to speak for Redd.
If Redd is back in State College by early Tuesday, he might find a bevy of fans urging him to stay.
Tim Sweeney, a businessman who hosts an online radio show, said he and his fellow host Keith Conlin, came up with the “Rise and Rally” event that has garnered community support. Sweeney said more than 1,000 people have indicated on Facebook they will attend the rally, which is scheduled to start at 6 a.m., in order to greet Nittany Lions scheduled to arrive at the football building for early-morning workouts.
“What these guys have had to endure and overcome, nobody has ever been faced before in college football,” said Sweeney, who like Conlin is also a former Penn State player. “There aren’t any better representatives of our university than our football team.”
Most downtown businesses are displaying “Proud to Support Penn State Football” signs on windows. Some stores have started selling shirts with the slogan “Billeave,” playing off of the first name of O’Brien, the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator.
Penn State fans and students have also started a Twitter campaign to sway Redd with the hashtag “StaySilas.”
“With Silas Redd, or without Silas Redd, I would not discount Coach O’Brien’s ability to make an offense and put points on the board,” said Sweeney, who also heads the Penn State football Lettermen’s Club, a group of former players.
Members of the football alumni group also plan to speak with players at a team meeting later Tuesday. Sweeney said he hopes hundreds of lettermen attend the meeting that O’Brien asked they attend.
“They’re going to be overwhelmed when they see how many guys are there. These are their Penn State brothers,” Sweeney said. “I’m sure the messages that will be delivered will be strong and impactful.”
Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson said any plans by players to transfer would come from the players themselves or his new school, not Penn State.
Nelson did confirm that former starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been allowed by O’Brien to speak with other schools. Permission was given before the NCAA had announced its sanctions on July 23, Nelson said.
Bolden began the season as starter the previous two seasons before losing the job at the end of the year to Matt McGloin. Bolden had also pondered transferring last offseason.
This spring, O’Brien tabbed McGloin the outright starter and demoted Bolden to the third team. Bolden was with the team as late a player charity event on July 13, the day after the Freeh report was released.
He was no longer on the team’s online roster as of Monday.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP