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Senior Morris helps keep Penn State intact

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Senior Morris helps keep Penn State intact

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The whispers from some younger Penn State defensive backs about transferring started after the 0-2 start, disappeared after the five-game winning streak and resurfaced after a loss to Big Ten rival Ohio State.

Senior cornerback Stephon Morris would have none of it. He gathered his secondary teammates in a room for a heart-to-heart meeting.

The senior class might be playing its last game Saturday for Penn State, but Morris wants others with eligibility to follow his lead and stick with the Nittany Lions through the NCAA sanctions.

``I talked to those guys in front of a room, closed the doors and told them it would be stupid for them to leave here,'' an emotional Morris recounted this week. ``Let's not talk about football. Let's talk about getting a degree, the support you have.''

This isn't the type of problem a big-time college football program such as Penn State (7-4, 5-2 Big Ten) typically has to consider heading into its season finale, when Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) visits Beaver Stadium.

Then again, this has been anything but a typical season in Happy Valley.

The uncertainty stems from the NCAA's sanctions in July for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The harsh penalties included a four-year bowl ban and scholarship cuts. The NCAA gave players an out - they could leave if they wanted without having to worry about transfer rules and play right away.

Defensive tackle Jordan Hill called it the lowest point of the year.

``It was the first time it affected us as players. We were put in a position - yes or no? It was `Are you going to stay or are you going to go?''' Hill said.

In the end, 10 players - including senior receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma) - transferred, though more than 90 percent of the team stayed. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti and running back Michael Zordich made the impassioned public statement that seemed to rally the players.

Seniors Hill and Morris were influential. Sophomore Allen Robinson, who has emerged as a star at receiver, cites the pair as his biggest mentors.

``Going out and practicing hard ... and playing for each other,'' Robinson said. ``You play for the man next to you. That's something the seniors made us appreciate.''

And made other coaches notice.

``Obviously, very impressed with the way they've handled it,'' Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. ``A really good group of seniors. They have bought into what (Penn State coach Bill O'Brien) is preaching, and more importantly, what they're coaching.''

Morris still talks with reverence about Joe Paterno, the Hall of Fame coach who was ousted in the aftermath of the arrest last year of Sandusky, a retired Penn State defensive coordinator. It was Paterno, after all, who recruited Morris out of Greenbelt, Md.

O'Brien was hired as coach in January. Two weeks later, Paterno died.

``We never could forget about coach Paterno and what he's done. He's the reason why we were all here,'' Morris said. ``I stayed because of him. I stayed because of the team, the adversity we faced.

``You can't run away from adversity. You've got to look at it eye-to-eye. You can't run away from anything.''

O'Brien calls Morris one of the most improved players this season. The defense has had to adjust to the schemes tweaked by O'Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof to play more aggressively. That's left Morris more in single coverage this year; he's fourth on the team with 55 tackles.

As successful as this team has been despite the adversity, the future remains uncertain. The NCAA exception to transfer doesn't expire until the start of the 2013 preseason in August, meaning a whole new round of college ``free agency'' could start again for Penn State players in the offseason.

Robinson, who leads Big Ten receivers with 73 catches, 983 yards and 11 touchdowns, may be one of the most attractive Nittany Lions to other schools. Sophomore Adrian Amos, who has combined with Morris to form a good cornerback duo, could be an enticing prospect, too.

But for now, most key underclassmen haven't given any signal that they're thinking about leaving.

``I believe that everybody will be back that's eligible to be back next year, but, again ... I don't have a crystal ball and I'm not a genie,'' O'Brien said. ``But I think they know that they can achieve a lot of their goals here.''

Morris said he expects younger players to stick around, and he constantly speaks with his defensive backfield teammates about the future. According to Morris, Amos has told him he'll be back.

If Amos and junior starting safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong return, the secondary should be a position of strength next year.

``Anyone who is leaving, if I was to talk to them,'' Morris said, ``I would tell them to just take a deep breath and think about everything.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

Defenseman Jakub Jerabek is really happy about the opportunity to play with the Washington Capitals, but it could have come at a better time. The trade came with his parents already on their way from the Czech Republic to visit him.

“It was crazy days past three days because I had my parents on the way to Montreal and they didn't know so it was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek told reporters Saturday after his first skate with the team.

A native of the Czech Republic, Jerabek signed his first NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens in May 2017. After spending some time in the AHL and struggling to consistently earn a spot in the Canadiens’ lineup, he knew a trade was possible.

“My family, maybe we expected some trade. When its come with Caps and it was Washington, I was really happy.”

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Jerabek said he came into the NHL with no expectations and was simply happy for the opportunity, but it is fair to wonder if he was not just the least bit frustrated with how he was utilized by Montreal.

For a player with experience playing for the national team, the Czech league and the KHL, getting only 25 games with a bad Montreal team seems a bit low.

“In first two weeks, I didn't know what's going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but we just make some competition between the [defensemen] and that I have to wait for my next chance,” Jerabek said. “It was hard, but now I'm happy down here.”

Washington now offers a very different opportunity. In need of help on the blue line, Jeraebek has the chance to earn consistent playing time for a team on pace to reach the postseason.

Jerabek will not play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but he was hopeful he would be in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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For now, Jerabek and head coach Barry Trotz are unclear as to what his ultimate role on the team will be. With eight defensemen now on the roster, Trotz cautioned any lineup decision could not be rushed because of the trickle-down effect it will have on the other players.

“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group depending how high that player goes up the lineup, it affects different people,” Trotz said. “In a forward group, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there's four other guys that are bumped down and one guy's bumped out.”

The addition of Jerabek, however, offers the Caps another defenseman who can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone, something the team has struggled with immensely throughout the season. Though he shoots left, he also said he is comfortable playing on the right said and has played there regularly over the past few years. That provides the lineup with some flexibility on the third pair behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

As for Jerabek’s parents, they will be arriving in Washington on Saturday.

“I tried to figure out the situation with them to get them to here and they will come today,” he said. “So I'm really happy.”

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

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The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

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