Ryan Scherer could have studied and played football at an Ivy League School or somewhere in the Mid-American Conference.
Had he chosen either of those routes, his impact on college football fields likely would have been far greater than it has been at Penn State, which plays today in the TicketCity Bowl against Houston in Dallas.
Yet Scherer, a former Avon Lake standout, insists he was prepared for the uphill battle he’d encounter with the Nittany Lions or Texas, the other major school at which he considered walking on. His brother, Scott, previously had walked on at Memphis when their father, Rip, was the head coach there, and
Ryan said he drew on Scott’s experience.
“It was tough at first, not getting playing time,” said Scherer, an All-Southwestern Conference pick in 2007 after catching eight touchdown passes. “But I knew I wasn’t going to get much recognition, and I wanted to walk on at a Big Ten school. I had to stay motivated, and (Scott) helped me out. I knew going in, if I played at all, it would be my fourth or fifth year. I was ready for that.”
What Scherer and the entire Penn State community couldn’t have prepared for, though, was the bombshell that broke Nov. 5, ironically a Saturday on which the Nittany Lions didn’t play and Scherer was with family in Colorado.
That day, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and a Penn State administrator were charged with perjury in the sexual abuse case of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
The fallout was swift: Four days later, legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired, along with school president Graham Spanier, who famously defended Curley in the immediate aftermath. Assistant coach Mike McQueary, who allegedly saw inappropriate behavior in the Penn State locker room and whose testimony led to the charges against Sandusky, was placed on administrative leave and left State College due to safety concerns.
The latter was a tough blow for Scherer, who said McQueary helped the receiver through the tough days of being a walk-on, including the program bringing in six new receivers after Scherer’s first on campus.
“It was tough for all of us. The receivers loved Mike. He’s the best coach I’ve been around,” said Scherer, who with former Avon Lake quarterback Nick Firment visited Paterno’s house on a recruiting trip as Shoremen juniors. “It all happened so fast. We were zombies for a while. Everyone was beaten by it.”
The scandal hit especially hard in the Scherer family. Rip — the former quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns — was a graduate assistant under Paterno from 1974-75 after playing at the College of William and Mary.
Ryan’s grandfather, William, played at Penn State from 1945-49, just before Paterno joined the Nittany Lions as an assistant coach after playing at Brown University.
Rip Scherer said his father and Paterno were close when the former was a high school coach in the Pittsburgh area and Paterno recruited heavily there.
“Obviously, it’s a sad situation for the victims, sad for Penn State, sad for Paterno,” Rip Scherer said. “I hope and believe Penn State will rebound from it.”
Now, as the school and community try to move past the tumultuous season, Ryan Scherer — still a non-scholarship player — hopes to play a bigger role as his career may come to an end. He’ll graduate with a degree in finance this spring and participated in Senior Day activities Nov. 12 when the Nittany Lions played Nebraska in the first game after Paterno’s firing. He said he’s still weighing his options past this season. He has played in four games year, notching two catches, and he’s traveled to each game.
Receivers Shawney Kerney and Curtis Drake will miss the team’s bowl game, the second played at the Cotton Bowl Stadium since the Cotton Bowl moved to Cowboys Stadium, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ $1.3 billion palace. That duo combined for 10 catches and 210 yards this season, and Scherer hopes to see more time in their absence.
The bowl game will be the first time Rip Scherer has watched his son play live.
Rip Scherer’s schedule with the Browns and later the Carolina Panthers never has matched up with Penn State’s. Rip and Ryan’s mom, Michele, were on campus two weeks ago when Ryan was named the team’s top student.
“It’s been an adjustment for him, but I’m proud that he hasn’t just accepted where he’s been, he hasn’t been content,” Rip Scherer said. “He has worked for everything he’s gotten.”
FAMILY AFFAIR: Penn State has played at the Cotton Bowl four times, and a Scherer has been involved in three: William Scherer played there in 1948, Rip Scherer coached there in 1975 and now, Ryan’s turn.