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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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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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