Things were happening quickly for Derek Dowrey before he even attended his first practice at Penn State. The high school defensive tackle from Winchester, Va., committed to Joe Paterno but signed his national letter of intent under Bill O'Brien's watch nearly two months after Paterno was fired in the wake of Jerry Sandusky's arrest.
He had been on campus for just a few weeks in the summer of 2012 when the NCAA handed down harsh sanctions against the Nittany Lions program that included reduced scholarships over a four-year period and a bowl ban. The NCAA said that players in the program could transfer to another school without needing to sit out a year.
Some players left. Dowrey stayed. He said the reasons he went to Penn State were still intact, to be with "high-character, blue-collar guys" who did well in the classroom and in the community. The fact that former players such as Todd Blackledge, Franco Harris, and Adam Taliaferro went to Penn State after the sanctions to help keep the program together was persuasive.
"That was enough for me," Dowrey said this week. "I had just gotten to know my teammates at that time. We had just been on campus for a few weeks, but I had already formed relationships. I could tell that the guys I was with were great guys, high-character guys. I didn't want to go anywhere else."
Even after five years in which he redshirted his first year, saw limited action at defensive tackle his second, was moved to the offensive line the following spring, and started five games at guard last season and the first four of this season before losing his job to a true freshman, Dowrey said he wouldn't have gone anywhere else.
"I think tough times either tear people apart or bring them together," the 6-foot-3, 323-pound Dowrey said. "It wasn't easy, but at this point I can say that all the struggles we've gone through, whether they were four years ago or one year ago, have brought us closer together as a team. When you are closer together, you play better. So I think that's where we are right now."
Dowrey is among 17 seniors who will be honored on senior day Saturday before to the start of the No. 7 Lions' game against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. He is one of six fifth-year players from the freshman class of 2012 who will participate, three of whom - Dowrey, center Brian Gaia and safety Malik Golden - originally had committed to Paterno's staff.
Dowrey made his fifth start of the season at right guard last week against Rutgers while Connor McGovern recovered from an injury. With all the injuries along the offensive front this season, he credited his teammates for staying prepared and ready to fill in when needed.
Dowrey also has stayed prepared even though he is not getting as much playing time. He lost his starting role to McGovern, a true freshman, in the season's fifth game against Minnesota. But it doesn't seem to bother him because, as he said, his personal goal "is to do anything I can to help this team win on Saturdays."
"Anything we achieve as a team would outweigh anything I could achieve on my own, by far," he said. "So I'm not going to try and achieve things on my own selfishly when I could help the team achieve what we want to achieve. I think so many people have bought into that, and that is a huge reason as to why we've had success this year."