Thursday, January 26th, 2012
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Hartings' have fond memories of Paterno
As thousands of grief-stricken friends, family, former players and college students congregated at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center in State College, Penn. to offer their final respects to former Penn State head football coach Joseph Vincent Paterno, Joe Hartings proudly praised the coaching legend whom he initially encountered in his family's living room over two decades ago.
"I first met coach Paterno when I was in elementary school and he was recruiting my older brother Jeff to come and play football at Penn State," recalled Hartings, a former All-Ohio offensive lineman at St. Henry High School from 1993-1996. "Later in my high school career, I got to know him better through my own recruiting process before eventually following in Jeff's footsteps by playing for him. The first word that comes to mind when I think of Joe Paterno is integrity. In our society, so many people in the public eye fall from grace, and although a lot of people feel that he did in the end, I disagree. He held himself to a higher level and was a great teacher, coach and leader."
Jeff Hartings, an offensive guard at Penn State who earned All-American accolades in 1995, attended one of several public viewings yesterday in State College for the much-revered man who molded the Penn State football program for more than 50 years.
"It is sad to mourn the death of a great man. Penn State football will never be the same, but at the same time, it was very neat to celebrate the great life that he led," the former Detroit Lion and Pittsburgh Steeler commented. "It was a perfect opportunity to be among many friends and honor a man who was a very important part of all of our lives."
The younger Hartings vividly recalls Paterno, who passed away Sunday morning following his brief battle with lung cancer, incorporating a hands-on approach on the practice field, while other lessons undoubtedly covered more than just the Xs and Os.
"I can remember one time we were broken down into positions with us offensive linemen maneuvering through some chutes. One of the guys wasn't doing it right and coach got right in there with him and shoved him all the way through it. When I was in my early 20s, I didn't realize the effect he was having on me through his teaching and coaching. Now that I am a parent, I catch myself more and more trying to instill the same lessons on my children that I received from coach Paterno."
Jeff Hartings recollected his senior year in high school and the integral role that Paterno played in his decision on where to play college football.
"Honestly, I wanted to go to Notre Dame," admitted the former Rose Bowl and Super Bowl champion. "Although Notre Dame is a great school and I could have probably had a solid career there, I will never regret my college decision and the opportunity that playing for coach Paterno afforded me. He was very competitive on the field and always wanted to win, but he never sacrificed his integrity or compromised his players' academics in order to do so."
As this week closes a chapter on a tumultuous three months for the Penn State football program, countless hearts will remain heavy for the iconic figure, unsure of how his legacy will endure. For the Hartings' brothers, there is little doubt in their minds.
"When I heard of his passing, it was very sad and even sadder to hear so many people question what he may have been as a person. He was a true role model for so many of us and was absolutely a great man," remarked Joe, while his brother agreed with an unwavering certainty.
"Death has a unique way of making us reflect and emphasizes that this life is temporary," concluded the elder Hartings. "He persevered through so much in his life and continued to do so until the very end. Although Joe Paterno is no longer with us in all of the capacities he served for such a long time, the impact he had on this world will live on forever and in an even deeper way for those who knew him the most."
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