UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - In quarterback Matt McGloin, coach Bill O'Brien found the shining example of how much a former walk-on can succeed at Penn State.
A year for McGloin that included school records for career touchdown passes and single-season passing yards ended with the senior winning the Burlsworth Trophy, an award given to the top college player who started his career as a walk-on.
Perfect timing for a program that may need to rely on walk-ons more over the next few seasons. Scholarship cuts that are part of the NCAA sanctions for the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal start taking effect in 2013.
"I did realize throughout the season that I could be the face of the program and help out walk-ons everywhere," McGloin said this week. "It's not how you get there - it's what you do when you get there."
The award comes with a bit of irony for McGloin, who has been vocal throughout his career about disliking the term "walk-on." The fifth-year senior did go on scholarship about 11 months after arriving at Penn State in 2008.
"It's unfair in a way due to the fact that I've done everything that a scholarship kid has done here, but what people don't understand is that as a walk-on you have to work twice as hard to earn your keep," McGloin said.
He certainly made a name for himself this season.
He broke the school record with 46 career touchdown passes, throwing 24 in 2012 to tie Daryll Clark (2009) for the Nittany Lions' single-season mark.
The season is over despite an 8-4 record and second-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division because the sanctions also included a four-year postseason ban. But the better-than-expected record and the Nittany Lions' fiery, blue-collar mentality under first-year coach Bill O'Brien have left a lasting impression with high school coaches like Central Dauphin's Glen McNamee. One of McNamee's players, former walk-on Derek Day, ended up starting a game at running back and becoming a special teams ace.
Tight end Matt Lehman also came to Penn State a walk-on from Newport, in central Pennsylvania, and emerged into a pass-catching threat in O'Brien's new passing offense orchestrated by McGloin. Senior safety Jacob Fagnano arrived at Penn State as a walk-on from Williamsport and ended his career as a key reserve and starting his last two games following an injury to Malcolm Willis.
"There's a tremendous amount of pride in the community," McNamee said. "Guys like Derek grow up dreaming of playing at Penn State. There are still a lot of kids who have that dream."
The NCAA sanctions limit Penn State's recruiting classes to no more than 15 a year for the next four years, starting with the 2013 class to be signed in February. Most teams can sign 25.
Starting with the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions can only have 65 players on scholarship until after the 2017 season. The usual scholarship limit for major college teams is 85.
Walk-ons will need to fill the gap for Penn State.
One of McNamee's players, Drew Scales, said he's looking at Penn State in hopes of getting a scholarship offer, but that he could also see coming to Happy Valley as a walk-on with a shot to contribute early in his career. The speedy 5-foot-8 senior said he's being recruited as a slot receiver.
Seeing Penn State's offense transform into a successful passing attack under O'Brien changed Scales' view of Penn State.
"Honestly, I haven't been a huge Penn State fan, but when Bill O'Brien got there, it completely changed my view," he said. "I like the way he opened up the offense."
Guy Montecalvo, the athletic director at Canon-McMillan High School in western Pennsylvania, said walk-ons will be needed to bolster depth in order for the Nittany Lions to remain competitive. Montecalvo also coached current Nittany Lions linebacker Mike Hull, who figures to be a key player on defense next season.
Montecalvo, who also played at Penn State, said McGloin became a model for other prospective walk-ons.
"I certainly think he is a shining example of what can happen to a young man if he has the courage of convictions to pursue his dream," Montecalvo said.
McGloin did that and became a starter against long odds, beating out highly-recruited players during his career including Rob Bolden. He has since transferred to LSU. McGloin and Bolden split the job the previous two seasons under former coach Joe Paterno.
O'Brien named McGloin the starter after spring practice, and McGloin flourished with a full offseason knowing he was going to lead the offense redesigned by O'Brien.
Now, being known as a former walk-on isn't so bad.
"Walk-ons want their names recognized. Myself, I liked the challenge," he said. "I like being the underdog, wanting to earn respect and recognition each and every day."