IT STRUCK me as strange that Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, son of the state's principal deity and an active campaigner for Barack Obama, spoke at a journalism conference recently in Gettysburg.

Invited by the Pennsylvania Society of Newspaper Editors, the 40-year-old coach talked on the theme of winning when odds are against you, a theme certainly appropriate to the newspaper business.

But when a "name" Pennsylvanian with links to politics goes outside his or her milieu into the arms of the statewide press, I start to wonder.

His famous father dabbled in politics. He was a friend of President Ford. And I covered him when he gave a seconding speech for George H.W. Bush at the 1988 GOP convention in New Orleans.

"Paterno for Governor" buttons showed up there, even though JoePa said that he had no interest in being a candidate for anything.

But what about JayPa?

"I've always had a real deep interest in politics," Jay tells me, "and last year, when I was going around speaking for Obama, lots of folks would ask whether I'd ever run for anything."

In April, he spoke at the Blair County Democratic Dinner, though he says that he wasn't partisan. He talked about "the challenges we face in this country."

He lives in State College in the 5th Congressional District, the state's largest in area, encompassing all or parts of 17 north-central counties.

It's a land of Republicans and wildlife represented by first-term Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson. It's a tough place for any Democrat.

Of the 17 counties, for example, Obama carried only Centre County, where PSU is situated, and Elk County, northwest of PSU.

Jay says that he made 15 speeches for Obama last year as "an officially vetted surrogate," did robo-calls and helped register young voters.

He says that in one part of State College, 11,000 students registered and 8,000 voted. When I ask about Elk County, he laughs and says, "I don't know. I spoke up there. Maybe that was it."

When I mention that the region is rough for Democrats, he notes that congressional reapportionment is coming after next year's census, which suggests that he's paying fairly close attention.

But for now?

"I'm a coach first and foremost," he says, "so probably not now, but somewhere down the road, three years down the road, who knows?"

Jay is one of five Paterno offspring and the middle of three sons.

He was a reserve quarterback at Penn State and a member of the 1986 national championship team. He graduated in 1990 and coached at Virginia, Connecticut and James Madison before coming to PSU in March 1995.

His younger brother, Scott, an attorney, ran for Congress as a Republican in 2004 in a central Pennsylvania district south of PSU; he was drubbed by incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, losing by a ratio approaching two-to-one.

Jay is married with five kids, 9 years old and under.

He got good reviews from journalists who heard him speak in Gettysburg, where he also flashed a sense of humor.

He told the audience that he was happy that newspapers finally (using the state's new right-to-know law) reported his father's salary, which for years was a tightly held state secret.

It's $1.03 million (not including outside income). Jay says that he was happy to see it in print because "now my mom and I know what it is."

Oh, and when he was on his father's football team, his jersey number was 3. I say too bad it wasn't 5. He says maybe after reapportionment, the 5th Congressional District will be switched from 5 to 3.

Which sounds like he's thinking a few plays ahead. *

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