WATCHING SUPER BOWL XLVI IN EARLY FEBRUARY, SILAS REDD HARBORED MIXED emotions. Part of him rooted for New England and Patriots coordinator Bill O'Brien, who last Jan. 6 was hired as Penn State's coach. The other part pulled adamantly for New York; having grown up in Norwalk, Conn., Redd was a lifelong Giants fan.
Redd's ultimate feelings about the 21--17 defeat suffered by O'Brien's team? "It was bitter because he's my new coach, and it would've been great for him to get a ring," Redd says. "But the outcome was obviously sweet. I didn't want to rub it in."
Redd remains reluctant to razz his new coach. The junior tailback is still becoming familiar with O'Brien's system, still learning the coach's tendencies and schemes. As the months have passed, the two have come to admire each other. That's a good thing: For O'Brien's offense to succeed, Redd needs to be the focal point. "We play to our strengths," declares the 5' 10", 200-pound Redd, a journalism major who hopes to make a career in advertising. "We were able to run the ball with some success last year, and [O'Brien] says he's definitely not trying to shy away from that. This is Penn State football; we're going to run the ball."
After having been named second-team All--Big Ten as a sophomore last season, Redd is expected to play even better this year. Although he rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns (with a lofty average of 5.1 yards per carry), the Lions' attack largely sputtered. During Penn State's regular-season finale at Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions were outscored 38--0 after the first quarter, squashing their dream of a Big Ten championship-game berth.
In addition to breaking off big runs, Redd wants to improve his pass-catching and blocking skills, two areas that he worked on extensively during spring practice. He's aiming to advance his reputation as Penn State's latest great tailback, a status that was forecast for him when he came out of King Low Heywood Thomas School in Stamford, Conn., where as a senior he gained 1,924 yards—on 14.0 yards per carry.
Redd's ambition is not lost on O'Brien. "He's tough," says the coach. "He's smart. I think he's got good vision. He's got very high character, and I think that's a big part of what makes him so good. But just like everybody else, he's got a ways to go in learning the offense."
There is perhaps an even more crucial element to Redd's junior season. Following the devastating fallout from the Jerry Sandusky case, Redd wants not only to do his part to rebuild his school's shattered reputation but also to help lead Penn State back to its status as a national power.
After O'Brien was hired, he summoned the players for an introductory team meeting. He explained his vision for the future and described his expectations for the months to come. For Redd, it was rejuvenating. After months of turmoil the focus was on football again.
"[O'Brien's] aura, the way he carries himself, it made you want to pay attention," says Redd. "It made you excited to play for him." Come the season opener against Ohio, he'll get that chance. This time Redd and O'Brien will be on the same team. And Redd has no mixed emotions whatsoever.
"This season," he said over the summer, "can't come fast enough."