Bernard Fernandez | THE NITTANY LINE: JoePa and Tressel go way back

JOE PATERNO recalls the first time he met Jim Tressel.

"His father, Lee Tressel, was [NCAA Division III] Coach of the Year one year at Baldwin-Wallace, when I was [Division I-A] Coach of the Year," Paterno said. "There were four or five clinics you had to go to, so we traveled together a little bit. Lee and I were not close friends, but as colleagues in our profession, I knew a lot about him. We talked football many times.

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Buckeyes' Jim Tressel (left) nearly joined staff of Lions' Joe Paterno.

"Jimmy was a kid, and he came on the trip with us. It was after the 1968 season and Jimmy had to be, I don't know, 11 or 12. [He was, in fact, 17.]

"I followed Jim's career when he was at Youngstown State. As a matter of fact, one time I was thinking about hiring him as an assistant."

Tomorrow night's nationally televised game in Beaver Stadium pits Tressel's No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes against Paterno's No. 24 Nittany Lions. Tressel - who coached Ohio State to the 2002 national championship, after leading YSU to four Division I-AA titles - was in awe of Paterno way back then, and still has deep respect for him. He came ever so close to joining Paterno's staff in the mid-1970s, and the only reason he didn't was because his father advised him not to. Tressel instead took a job as the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers coach at Akron.

Akron instead of Penn State?

"I told my dad [who was 56 when he died of lung cancer in 1981], 'This looks like the place for me,' " Tressel, 56, said of his job interview with Paterno. "And he said, 'No, it's not.' And that was that.

"Dad thought I would get more experience at Akron. Akron had four full-time assistants and one [graduate assistant]. Penn State at that time had unlimited assistants and eight GAs. Dad's rationale was, 'What are you going to get to do?' And now as I think about it, that made sense.

"Back then, though, I was, like, 'Who cares? I'll be at Penn State.' "

Tressel's acquiescence to his father's wishes is understandable. Not only was Lee Tressel his dad, but he was his coach at Baldwin-Wallace, where Jim played quarterback from 1971 to '74.

 

Getting their kicks

There are a lot of interesting tales to be told in college football, but Ohio State placekicker Ryan Pretorius' merits a spot high on the list.

There are a lot of interesting tales to be told in college football, but Ohio State placekicker Ryan Pretorius' merits a spot high on the list.

A 5-9, 180-pound redshirt junior, Pretorius is, at 28, the oldest player on the Buckeyes' roster. He also came to Columbus from the most distant point, Durban, South Africa, where he played high school soccer and rugby.

Pretorius was on vacation in France when, on a whim, he decided to visit the United States and explore the possibility of playing college football. He made a video of himself and sent it to numerous schools at the suggestion of Gary Anderson, the former NFL kicker who also is from Durban and is a friend of Pretorius' family.

Ohio State coaches must have liked what they saw, because he was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on and he enrolled in the fall of 2004.

He connected on one of two field-goal attempts in 2006 - from 52 yards out - and has become the Buckeyes' leading scorer this season, hitting on 13 of 16 field goals and 31 of 32 PAT for 70 points.

Penn State kicker Kevin Kelly's route to State College was not nearly as exotic or circuitous, but the former Neshaminy High standout is rewriting the school record book. With three chip-shot field goals in last week's 36-31 squeaker over Indiana, the 5-7, 167-pound junior now has made 52 of 76 in his career, bettering the mark of 50 field goals set by Craig Fayak from 1990 through '93.

Kelly and Fayak became fast friends a few years ago, when Fayak was a counselor at the Penn State football camp and Kelly a high school junior.

"From then on, I've kept in touch with him," Kelly said. "I probably talk to him two or three times during the season, then a couple of times in the spring. I just got an e-mail from him Sunday, congratulating me on the record."

 

King-sized threat

Penn State cornerback Justin King is tired of hearing how super-sized Indiana wide receiver James Hardy supposedly embarrassed him last week. The 6-7, 220-pound Hardy caught a career-high 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, mostly while covered by the 6-foot, 186-pound King.

Penn State cornerback Justin King is tired of hearing how super-sized Indiana wide receiver James Hardy supposedly embarrassed him last week. The 6-7, 220-pound Hardy caught a career-high 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, mostly while covered by the 6-foot, 186-pound King.

But King said the Lions' defensive scheme called for him to play well off the ball and to allow Hardy the short stuff, the better to prevent the sort of big plays that could result from mobile quarterback Kellen Lewis breaking containment.

"I'm my own worst critic," King said. "Everybody keeps talking about last week being such a bad game and how my guy caught 14 passes. Not taking anything away from James Hardy; he's a great receiver. But he caught maybe 10 balls under 8 yards. It's kind of frustrating hearing how it was a bad game for me. I don't feel like that."

It should be noted that Hardy, who had been averaging 19.8 yards per reception, averaged a smidgen over 10 yards per catch against the Lions.

Against Ohio State, King won't have to feel like a point guard being posted up by a power forward. The Buckeyes' best wide receiver, Brian Robiskie, comes in a more manageable 6-3, 195-pound package.

 

Agenda

Who: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 24 Penn State

Who: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 24 Penn State

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

Where: Beaver Stadium, State College

TV: Channel 6

Radio: WNTP (990-AM); WNPV (1440-AM); XM Satellite Radio channel 197.

Records: Ohio State 8-0, 4-0 Big Ten; Penn State 6-2, 3-2

History: The series is tied, 11-11. Home teams have won 12 of the 14 games since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, including the Buckeyes' 28-6 victory in Columbus last season.

Coaches: Jim Tressel (seventh year at school, 70-14; 22nd year overall, 205-71-2); Joe Paterno (42nd year, 369-123-3).

About Ohio State: Junior Brian Robiskie might be in his first season as the Buckeyes' featured wide receiver, but the Nittany Lions remember him well. Son of Miami Dolphins receivers coach Terry Robiskie, Brian had a 37-yard touchdown reception as OSU beat Penn State last season in Columbus ... Redshirt junior defensive end Vernon Gholston leads the team with five sacks, and it's easy to see why. The 6-4, 260-pounder has an Arnold Schwarzenegger physique and once squatted 455 pounds 20 times ... Sophomore running back Chris "Beanie" Wells has been bothered by a recurring ankle problem, but he was healthy enough to rush 31 times for 221 yards in a 24-17 victory over Michigan State last week ... The Buckeyes are 65-9-1 in games in which they went in ranked No. 1.

About Penn State: The Lions haven't hosted a No. 1 team since Nov. 18, 1989, when they fell to Notre Dame, 34-23. They're 4-9 all-time in matchups against top-ranked teams, but two of those victories - against Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and against Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl - resulted in Penn State's only national championships ... Redshirt sophomore Chris Baker, who started three games this season at right defensive tackle, will make his second straight start at left DT in place of Jared Odrick, who already was playing with a broken hand and fractured his right ankle last week at Indiana. He is out for the season ... Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Lions punt returner Derrick Williams is "dangerous as can be" and that "I'd just as soon punt the ball into the stands."

 

Prediction

Ohio State 24, Penn State 17.

Ohio State 24, Penn State 17.