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Losing is an option, but PSU’s culture righted ship

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Sean Clifford

It’s a common theme for many college athletes: They dominated in sports growing up, winning championships and always being on stacked teams, so they don’t really know or understand the concept of losing.

Then they get to college, and winning gets a whole lot harder. Many athletes are humbled by either their own struggles or team struggles, and sometimes both. These are 18- to 22-year-olds still learning about the world, and in the world of major college sports they learn this:

Losing is an option.

Just take Sean Clifford. He talked about that this week, which is where we kick off our 5 Things feature.

1: Clifford learns through “terrible feeling” of losing: The QB won a state title his senior year of high school. He won three straight league titles. He’s never lost, and he doesn’t know how to lose.

But Clifford had to learn how this season with the 0-5 start.

“I’m not very used to losing,” he said. “I’ve never been a person who loses. My whole life — high school I won a state championship. I was always on a winning team here, we’re in the Fiesta Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, Citrus Bowl — we’re winning a bunch of games. … Losing just isn’t really in my mindset.

“So I kind of had to learn what what it’s like. And you know, it’s it’s a terrible feeling and something that I don’t I don’t plan on doing anymore.”

2: Penn State’s culture allowed the team to turn things around: The word culture gets thrown around a lot in sports, and it’s the most ambiguous of words, really. A team with a good culture can still lose. And a team with a bad culture can still win, if it just has tons of talent.

Penn State was able to bounce back from the 0-5 start, Clifford and James Franklin said, because the culture in the program helped make it happen. Franklin says you can’t just talk about a team’s culture when everything is going good, and then not look at it when things are going bad.

Clifford said a lot of teams might have just said forget it after the bad start PSU had, and looked toward next year. But the Lions didn’t do that.


“I think just the character of the guys Coach Franklin brings in,” Clifford said. “I don’t think that it’s anything less, it’s just how we’re raised. Through adversity, you got a bunch of guys who have learned early that I’m not going to give up on my family and my teammates. And that was one thing that you know I addressed the team one time, just talking about how the last thing that I’m going to do is in time of adversity in time where you know your team needs you the most is just turn your back just say, we’ll catch them next year. That’s just not how I was raised. My family wouldn’t be disappointed in me, honestly, if that was how I responded to this adversity.”

Franklin was asked why players didn’t opt out during the bad start, like some at other programs around the country have done. Again, he brought up culture as the reason.

There was a time not long ago when the culture represented some pretty bad things at Penn State. Now, the word culture can be used in a good context once again, and this team regrouping after the horrible start is an example of that.

3: Will PSU add transfers?: Franklin threw it out almost in passing Tuesday

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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