Paterno steals day at Howard

Penn St. coach addresses students, eases doubts of All-Metro recruit Smith

High Schools

January 07, 2000|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Howard High threw a party yesterday.

And Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was guest of honor.

The legendary coach came, hoping mainly to cement the oral commitment Gerald Smith -- an All-Metro defensive back standout last fall -- made to the Nittany Lions more than a year ago.

Smith, a 175-pounder who also was an outstanding running back in high school, sat inconspicuously among the rest of the students whom Paterno addressed in the school's media center.

Because yesterday was the last day of Ramadan, a 30-day period of fasting for Muslims, Smith could not partake of the party food. Neither food nor drink can pass his lips from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.

Rumors on Internet recruiting sites say Smith has visited other colleges and wants to play running back -- a position not likely in his future at Penn State. Maryland, on the other hand, could use a running back, and Smith grew up in the Washington area.

But after meeting privately with Paterno yesterday, Smith said he doesn't have to play running back, and he declined comment on the rumors.

"The main thing is that I want to start as a true freshman," said Smith, a good student and leader on Howard's best team in decades. "It could be at cornerback, kick returner, or maybe at wide-out. I think I've made a good choice."

He rushed for 3,681 yards -- 1,167 as a junior -- and 52 touchdowns on 560 carries during his high-school career, scoring 381 points. Hampered by injuries much of last fall, Smith still managed to rush for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. Defensively, he made 73 tackles, 50 of them solo.

Paterno told an assembly of about 100 students to try to get a college education, and that they should want to do something to make the world a better place.

On the lighter side, he kidded with Howard coach Vince Parnell, who was a star running back at Waynesburg (Pa.) College. He called Parnell one of the greatest runners in Pennsylvania history. And Paterno mentioned that Waynesburg defeated Penn State twice in the 1930s.

Paterno stressed the importance of academics, telling one questioner: "I have no use for people who just want to come to college and play football. If you cut classes, then you don't play."

A guest at the party was former Howard standout DaLawn Parrish, who completed a successful career as a defensive back at Wake Forest last fall, is studying for a master's degree in education and expects to be drafted by the NFL.

Parrish, a quarterback and defensive back at Howard who hoped to play quarterback in college, said Penn State recruited him but told him that at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, he was too small to be a quarterback.

Sometimes he wishes he had persisted, he said, adding: "But then I might not be looking at getting drafted."

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