Penn State Football

Former Penn State walk-on Graham Zug reflects on lessons learned from Paterno, remembers muddy Capital One Bowl

Penn State’s Graham Zug goes high for a first down during Friday’s Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Penn State defeated LSU 19-17.
Penn State’s Graham Zug goes high for a first down during Friday’s Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Penn State defeated LSU 19-17. Steve Manuel

In this week’s edition of “5 Questions” we caught up with former Penn State wide receiver Graham Zug, a former walk-on and go-to target for Daryll Clark.

We discussed everything from the muddy 2010 Capital One Bowl to his perspective as a Penn State season-ticket holder.

Q: Last season was the first time Penn State got back to 11 wins since you, Daryll Clark, Derek Moye and all those guys did it in 2009. What was it like to watch James Franklin’s team do what they did in 2016?

A: It was awesome. Starting off, people really started doubting them. But to see them rebound the way they did and put on the season and show they did, it was just phenomenal. It was awesome to see them accomplish what they did considering the circumstances early in the year. It was a special team and a special year. The future is bright.

Q: You’re a season-ticket holder now. Whether it was the talent or approach, did you see any similarities between the 2016 team and your 2009 squad that won the Capital One Bowl?

A: It’s hard to say without being inside the locker room, but that (2016) team was playing as a team. There weren’t individuals. They’ve got guys who are superstars, but they never called themselves superstars. They never bragged about themselves. They were humble the whole time. That really compares to what we had. We did a similar thing. We had some good players, but there wasn’t a guy that’d be the standout guy that could win it himself. You truly needed 11 guys on the field playing together as one team. And once they got that balance, they were able to accomplish a lot more.

Q: We mentioned the Capital One Bowl, the final win of that 2009 season to get to 11 wins, against LSU. Worst conditions you’ve ever played in? I mean, that field looked nasty.

A: I’ve played in two really bad games — that one in the rain and the other was my high school state championship game in 2003 in the snow against Pine-Richland and (Mets second baseman) Neil Walker and those guys. They had to shovel the field off. Very similar with bad conditions and very similar with results. My high school game, there were no turnovers by either team, and in the Capital One, I think there was maybe one. It was terrible conditions, nothing you really want to play in. But it makes it all the more memorable.

Q: Earlier in the 2009 season, you caught three touchdowns at Michigan in a 35-10 win. After being put on scholarship earlier that year, how gratifying was that performance?

A: I’m not going to brag. I always try to remain humble. Being put on scholarship, I didn’t go to Coach and ask him for it. I just worked as hard as I could, and honestly it was guys like Lydell Sargeant who, whenever coaches would walk through, they’d say to put me on scholarship. Once I had the players believing in me and saying those things, it helped motivate me even more. That motivated me to do better. Once I hit that season and was starting, having that Michigan game really settled me in. Not only did I know I could play at that level and give me some faith in myself, but my teammates knew, too.

Q: These days, there are videos on Twitter all the time of walk-on players receiving their scholarship in a cool way, whether it’s a big team meeting or whatever. What was it like for you? How’d you find out?

A: (laughs) I didn’t have some big announcement. ... When I got mine, (former director of football operations) Tom Venturino came up and told me that Coach Paterno decided that he was going to put me on scholarship. He awarded me with one, so I immediately went and thanked Coach Paterno and the rest of the staff. He told me that scholarships are a yearly thing, and it’s up to you. Don’t plateau or go downhill. And I think that was just Joe’s style. He wasn’t going to be flashy. He would always teach life lessons. And even though I was there — I was where I wanted to be — it wasn’t over. There was a lot more left with football, college and in life. You’ve always got to strive to improve. That was the message that stuck with me from that moment.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9