tampabay.com

Lions safety is 'just a winner'

Penn State's Anthony Scirrotto built himself into a South Jersey legend.

By DAVID MURPHY AND JOEY KNIGHT
Published December 28, 2006


TAMPA - Just across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia International Airport sits a small town called West Deptford. There, behind a pack of oil refineries that sit in the shadow of the Walt Whitman Bridge, Sean McKenna watched as a youngster named Anthony Scirrotto built himself into a South Jersey legend.

As a sophomore, he started at defensive back and led the state with 11 interceptions. As a senior, he quarterbacked West Deptford High School to its second straight state title and was a projected second- to fifth-round pick in the baseball draft.

McKenna swears Scirrotto took up wrestling one year - and went 24-0.

"I've never seen the kid lose at anything," said McKenna, a West Deptford police officer who grew up three houses down from the Penn State strong safety and coached him in baseball. "He's just a winner."

Which is why Scirrotto's early success at Penn State doesn't surprise him. After struggling to pick up the various nuances of the defense as a freshman, the 6-foot, 192-pound sophomore started all 12 games this season and finished tied for the Big Ten lead with five interceptions.

Against Illinois Oct. 21, his two third-quarter interceptions helped Penn State overcome a 9-3 halftime deficit. He returned an onside kick for a touchdown to cap a 26-12 win.

Yet the 2006 All-Big Ten selection could just as easily be making his mark in a different sport.

As a high school senior, scouts were telling Scirrotto he was a top-five round pick in the baseball draft, likely as a third baseman. But after visiting Penn State and talking with his parents, Scirrotto decided to focus on football, despite the chance at a six-figure signing bonus.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing now," said Scirrotto, 20, whose brother Derek is a freshman safety on the team. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."

WHAT LAYOFF?: Tennessee players and coaches continue to downplay the fact that at kickoff Monday 36 days will have passed since their regular-season finale.

The team had 10 practices in Knoxville this month and will have six more in Tampa, including Wednesday afternoon's mini-scrimmage at USF.

"I thought the last three practices in Knoxville were our best three practices of the season," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "I was to the point where I wished we played that Saturday before we left because we were ready to play. Now the challenge is to get it back after a few days off."

UT ODDS AND ENDS: Vols receiver Bret Smith, who had some flight difficulties in his home state of Arkansas, arrived Tuesday night and joined the team at Wednesday's practice. ... Coach Phillip Fulmer said sophomore weakside linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed the final regular-season game with a left knee injury, will play but likely will come off the bench. Look for freshman Rico McCoy to make his second straight start at the position.

Fast Facts:

Wednesday's weather watch

High in Knoxville: 51 degrees

High in State College, Pa.: 37

High in Tampa: 63