Gerald Hodges smiled when he heard the question. His eyes twinkled just a bit and he leaned forward in his seat in the front of the Beaver Stadium press room.
It barely took him three seconds to gush out his answer. It was like he was waiting for the question – did you ever even consider leaving Penn State after the NCAA sanctions? – and he knew exactly what he wanted to say.
"No," the former Paulsboro High School star said. "Not at all."
As Penn State ushers in a new era, a lot of focus will be on what the team lost: Its sterling reputation, its opportunity to play postseason football as well as key players like Silas Redd and Justin Brown who decided to transfer when given the opportunity.
But perhaps just as important for Bill O’Brien as he begins to shape his legacy as Penn State’s 15th head coach is what he retained from the previous regime: Commitments from players like Hodges who are dedicated to sticking with the program.
"It was in our best interest to not just stay for us, but the community too," Hodges added. "Because that's bigger than us, it's bigger than a national championship or a Big Ten Championship."
The first-team All-Big Ten linebacker already thought about leaving Penn State once. After a breakout junior season –Hodges led the Nittany Lions with 106 tackles, including 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks – he considered putting his name in for the NFL Draft. But after consulting with his parents, he decided to finish out his collegiate career.
Hodges has been hampered by injuries throughout college. Last season was his first full season as a starter. But now he’s fully healthy and prepared to be a leader for Penn State. That’s crucial for O’Brien, who is expecting several freshmen – including linebacker Nyeem Wartman – to step up and play right away.
On a personal level, though, Hodges cited the benefits of playing for O’Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof as other reasons he stayed. They know what it takes to win. They can help him get to the NFL.
"I have an NFL head coach (O’Brien), a linebacker coach (Ron Vanderlinden) who is proven and can get guys to the next level, and that's what every player wants," Hodges said. We have a defensive coordinator (Roof) with a National Championship. It wouldn't make sense to leave."