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‘LawnBoyz’ chain is linked to success

COMMENTARY

With Penn State’s 59-0 victory over Maryland safely tucked away — actually, that happened shortly after the opening kickoff — a collision of the past and today’s Nittany Lions took place.

The presence of a “LawnBoyz” chain, worn by the PSU running back who scored a touchdown, drew the attention of fans watching on TV.

It immediately brought criticism, including from Joe Paterno’s son Scott, with some comparing Penn State to Miami. In the past, the Hurricanes have displayed a “turnover” chain worn or passed by their defensive players, and “The U” long ago set a standard for flamboyance.

Twitter reaction, as usual, was not flattering.

Penn State’s fan base was lately built by Paterno, who did not tolerate individual expression and reacted strongly to anything, real or imagined, that he perceived as taunting.

He wanted the ball tossed to the official after scoring, infamously said a player didn’t need to react to a key play “by going into rapture,” and definitely didn’t have receivers signaling first downs.

I can imagine his reaction, watching the game from heaven (assuming he didn’t have Dish Network), when he saw the “LawnBoyz” chain.

“We just wanted to show some personality and have some fun,” Ricky Slade, one of the “LawnBoyz,” along with Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, said. “We can show the world who we are — I’m not surprised it’s blowing up on social media.”

For those just reading about or learning about the chain, it was born out of the nickname for the running backs for eating up grass. Other position groups have nicknames; the defensive ends are “Wild Dogs,” and the tight ends are “Aces.’

Slade said running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider is in charge of the chain.

“All you got to do (to get it) is score,” Slade said.

James Franklin said the subject doesn’t keep him up at night, adding he wasn’t consulted before the chain appeared.

“I didn’t sign off on Sean’s (Spencer) dog bone, (either),” he said. “I’ve got things that are probably more important on my list than that.”

Franklin actually seemed to welcome the subject this week, both at Tuesday’s press conference and on his radio show Thursday night. Maybe it was because HBO is in town, doing its college football version of “Hard Knocks.”

He used the window to defuse any idea that this is a big deal — it’s not — and emphasize how his program has respected the tradition and those who laid the Penn State foundation before him while also being his own man.

“Ultimately for me, I want to make sure we’re playing a brand of football that people can really respect and a brand of football that our fans and our lettermen and our community can feel good about, about how our guys conduct themselves on the sideline, how they conduct themselves during the game, how they play, from a discipline standpoint, how they are in the classroom, how they are in the community,” he said. “Those are the things that really matter so a little personality that may be different here, I’m good with.”

Penn State has checked a lot of boxes under Franklin, whose teams have generally beaten the teams they’re supposed to, stayed out of trouble off the field and represented Penn State well.

And when he’s seen a player step out of line, Franklin hasn’t hesitated to suspend him (recall both the Rose and Fiesta bowls).

“It’s the overall culture,” he said. “Our guys know what’s acceptable within our program and what’s not. We’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be things that our fans see that they are unsure of. There’s going to be a hiccup from time to time, but I think we’ve earned that. I hope people feel like that we’ve earned that.”

And they have.

I’m fine with some individual expression and am not offended when a receiver signals first down. It’s supposed to be a game, and the players are supposed to have fun.

But it’s also too early to say whether the “LawnBoyz” chain, and the attention it brings, is a good idea.

Awakening the opposition with bulletin board material is a risky proposition. Maryland couldn’t do anything about it, and Purdue, today’s opponent, likely won’t be able to, either.

But if Iowa or Michigan State or Ohio State hold the Lions’ running game to minus yardage and cites the “LawnBoyz” chain as added motivation, well, then Penn State might have to reevaluate its gardening philosophy.

In the meantime, before somebody accuses me of being a wet blanket, enjoy it while it lasts.

¯¯¯

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football from the Altoona Mirror.

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