Catching Up with Graham Zug

Mike Pettigano

Graham Zug has some advice for future walk ons: "Don’t hold anything back. Realize that even when you think you’re giving 100%, there’s always room for more," Zug said. "Don’t ever let somebody tell you that something’s not possible. Don’t let anyone talk you out of doing something you want to do."

Penn State football has always been a part of Zug’s life. His father has been a season ticket holder since he graduated from Penn State, and Zug, his brother, and his sister grew up going to the games. "Ever since I can remember I’ve been a Penn State fan," Zug said. "I always watched Joe walk up and down the sidelines, I knew the traditions, the history, and the legacy of Penn State and Coach Paterno and [his] staff."

As a kid, Zug listed Ki-Jana Carter and LaVar Arrington among his favorite Penn Staters. All-American Bobby Engram was one of his favorite receivers. "And then all the Johnsons: Bryant Johnson, Tony Johnson, they were great as well. And Larry Johnson as a running back," Zug said. "I had a bunch [of favorites]. I thought all of those guys were pretty special. Now, being a letterman is nice because I get to see all of them."

Two games in particular stick out in Zug’s memory. "I remember the game where LaVar Arrington did the LaVar Leap, and jumped over the line to make the tackle. That one was pretty exciting." The other one is a game that’s fresh in the memory of most Penn State fans: beating Ohio State in Beaver Stadium in 2005. "The fans stormed the field," Zug remembers. "That was the year before I got there, so it was a pretty exciting game."

Zug joined the team as a walk on in 2006, and said he felt comfortable at Penn State immediately. "One memory that sticks out to me was the first time I met Coach Paterno with my family," he said. "We were there on our recruiting visit, and I was there with two of the nation’s top recruits. Coach Paterno immediately came up to us and knew me by name. I thought it was amazing that he even knew who I was. [He] knew both of my parents’ names, and knew my high school and head coach. Even for a walk on, he still did his research. He knew who I was and respected me and committed himself to me before even committing himself to two of the top recruits in the nation."

Anyone who knows Joe Paterno will not be surprised by this story; that’s just the kind of man he was. "Right then and there Joe showed me that he was the guy on the sideline that we believed him to be," Zug said.

By the start of the 2008 season Zug had earned a football scholarship. In 2009 the receiver made quite an impression in Ann Arbor: he scored three touchdowns in the win against Michigan. He recorded 46 total receptions for the season.

Since graduating Zug has worked as a sales manager for Scott’s Miracle-Gro and is an assistant football coach at Palmyra Area High School. In June he married his longtime girlfriend, Lauren.

Zug laughed when I asked him which was more exciting: scoring three touchdowns at Michigan Stadium, or getting married. "Definitely getting married," he said. "It was very special. The three touchdowns were special, but the marriage is definitely more special." Zug said many of his former teammates attended the wedding, a day he described as "a great time."

Zug said he misses the friendships and the family he had as a student athlete at Penn State the most, and he values the lessons he learned. "Every day you learned something new with Coach Paterno, something that benefitted you in the long run," he said. "Each day that I live now, those things that he taught me keep coming back." Paterno, who Zug has referred to as a father figure, taught Zug and his teammates lessons that he continues to apply to his life. "Just be mature, and be on time," Zug explained. "Respect your elders." Paterno also taught his players how to treat a lady. "One thing he taught us was never let a woman walk towards the road. The guy always walks near the roadside. He taught you football, he taught you life, he taught you things such as walking on the roadside."

As for the future, Zug plans to raise a Penn State family while continuing to develop his career. As a season ticket holder, he plans to get to every home game and hopefully travel to an away game or two. "I think [Coach O’Brien] has done an unbelievable job," Zug said. "He’s carried on most of the same traditions that Joe had. He understands what college football is and what a university needs from a coach. I think it’s important that he keeps doing that and that the alumni realize that he’s not [trying] to change things around or make things different. He believes a lot of the same beliefs that Joe held, and he wants to use the traditions and the history of Penn State football."

In the meantime, Zug is trying to pass on the lessons he learned through football to the kids he coaches. "I try to get them focused on staying out of trouble and giving back to the community," Zug said. "Just being a good friend and a good son and a good brother. I think that’s most important in life. You can learn a lot through football...be on time, be committed, and don’t worry about yourself: worry about the team and help each other out."

As a letterman, Zug is more proud of Penn State than ever. "There are some guys from when I was recruited, and I’d hear them say ‘Man, I wish I had the opportunity to play for Penn State and Coach Paterno, that’s something special there.’ And hearing that kind of makes you realize that you really did play for somebody special and a school that’s extremely special."


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