Gerald Cadogan, a 2004 graduate of Portsmouth High School, will line up as the starting left tackle for Penn State against USC in today's Rose Bowl at 5:10 p.m.
He will line up like he has 30 times before for the Nittany Lions, with couple exceptions. It will be his first time in the Rose Bowl, and his last game as a collegian.
"Who would have thought four and a half years ago, my senior year (of high school), that I would be starting in the Rose Bowl and had all of the successes that I've had," Cadogan said. "I had some successes at Portsmouth, but the coaches at Penn State have really helped me to develop into a better offensive lineman and given me the tools I need to have success."
At Penn State, Cadogan has flourished and become one of the team's most respected players. First year quarterback Darryl Clark, a junior, is comfortable with Cadogan leading in the huddle and protecting his blind side.
"He's a senior and a very very important leader for this team," Clark said. "Gerald has done everything he's been asked to do. He's done a very good job and we (underclassmen) feel like it is our duty and responsibility to do what we can to send these seniors off on a good note."
To finish on that good note, Penn State will need to get by an 11-1 USC team playing just ten miles from its campus in a bowl game it has won 22 times.
Cadogan, always ready for a challenge, looks forward facing a Trojan defense that ranks first in the nation in points (7.8 per game) and yards (206 per game) allowed.
"They have one of the best defenses in the nation," Cadogan said. "They have great athletes, and a great linebacker corps. We have to go out and play four tough quarters of football. Nothing's going to be given to us."
And why would USC give Cadogan anything? The senior has been working hard to earn everything he gets for years.
Coming out of high school, Cadogan was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect. The site reported that he had received offers from five NCAA Division I schools when he signed his letter of intent to play at Penn State before his senior season.
"There were some people who said they didn't know if Gerald could do it," said Curt Clifford, Cadogan's high school football coach at Portsmouth. "I thought he was a great player then. I felt like he was going to be a great player at Penn State. I thought he would have a shot at going to the NFL, and that's all transpired."
Though the potential was there, Cadogan wasn't an instant star at Penn State. He played less than 50 snaps in his second year of college, after red shirting his freshman season.
Cadogan was able to work and develop those years under a coaching staff assembled by Joe Paterno. Paterno, who has been the head coach at Penn State since 1966, has the NCAA Division I record for career wins, which currently stands at 383.
Over the years, Paterno has kept the style that gave him success in the 60s and 70s.
"Coach is definitely old school," Cadogan said. "No beards, no facial hair, no ear rings, no iPods. But Joe knows football. He knows how to motivate. He knows how to recruit, and he knows how to get his players ready for big games."
He made five starts at guard in the 2006 season before permanently entering the starting lineup at his natural position in 2007 when starting left tackle Levi Brown was selected 5th overall in the NFL Draft. He has started every game since.
Cadogan had a number of people to thank for the success he's had at Penn State.
"I have to give credit to my parents, my brother and my sister," Cadogan said. "They've been the backbone to help me be successful. I owe a lot to the Penn State coaches. And definitely to God. He gave me the ability and placed these people in my life."
When he came home in mid-December to visit friends and family before leaving for Pasadena, Cadogan received a lot of attention from people here at home.
"Things were a little different this time around," he said. "I heard a lot of congratulations,' this that and the other. My true friends have been there since day one, along with the Cadogan family. I've had a group of supporters who have been with me since my freshman year when I was riding the bench."
Parents, Anthony and Maureen Cadogan, as well as Gerald's siblings Marlita and Nate, make regular appearances at Penn State football games. They consistently make the seven hour trip to State College, Penn. to see him play.
"They have lives of their own, but for them to take the time out to come support me is big," Cadogan said. "My number one cheerleader, my mom, and her partner, my grandmother, come to all of my games. They're my biggest supporters.
"My dad is my biggest coach," Cadogan added. "He tells me if I did good or bad in a game and what I did right and what I did wrong."
With little exception, the things Cadogan has done have been right. With his position on the team, they have to be.
"As a senior, I definitely have a leadership role," Cadogan said. "I have enjoyed taking advantage of each opportunity because this is my last year. I've been doing what's expected of me, not only by talk, but by example. That's doing the extra stuff, working hard in the weight room, winning the sprints and doing the things I need to do while we're getting ready for each game."
Cadogan has taken advantage of his opportunities this year, and become someone the team can lean on when times are tough.
"There are practices we may have where a lot of people are dragging and may not feel like practicing because they are sore or tired," Clark said. "(Gerald) is the guy that picks up everyone and explains that 'we're living, we're doing our thing, playing a game that we love to play.' He gets everyone to stop thinking of the negative and to think of the positive: we're playing Penn State football. We're playing the greatest sport in America. He picks everyone's spirits up."
Because of his work both on and off the field, Cadogan was honored with the Ridge Riley Award at a Dec. 7 banquet honoring members of the Penn State football team. The award is given to a senior football player for displaying "sportsmanship, scholarship, leadership, and friendship."
"It means a lot," Cadogan said. "It's voted on by the coaches, and just shows the hard work can pay off and you can achieve a lot."
Though Cadogan was surprised and pleased that he was named for the award, it came as no surprise to his teammates.
"There's no one else that could have gotten that award but him," Clark said. "He fits the award -- the way they described it. He's touched so many people off the field, the kids he's reached out to. He's mentored a lot of people. He's done a lot of things that have touched others' lives, and he gets the job done on the field."
The Ridge Riley award was not the only honor Cadogan received this offseason. He was named First-Team All Big Ten by the Associated Press.
"Coming in, I didn't think I'd be able to do this," Cadogan said. "There are some great players in the Big Ten. It's a hard, smash mouth football league. To be named one of the better offensive tackles in the conference means a lot."
Cadogan, known for his academics as well, was named Academic All-Big Ten for the third time this year. He was also named, for the second consecutive year, to ESPN the Magazine's Academic All-America team. Cadogan becomes the sixth player from Penn State to be named to the team twice, joining the likes of Buffalo Bills linebacker Paul Posluszney who was honored in 2005 and 2006.
"Gerald deserves all the recognition he gets," Clifford said. "It seems like the only guys who get the ink anymore are the guys like Chad Johnson and T.O. and Pac-Man Jones, the guys who are exactly the opposite of what you want in players. Gerald is 180 degrees different from those guys."
Cadogan graduated from Penn State Dec. 20 with degrees in psychology and rehabilitation services. He maintained a 3.68 GPA in college, while balancing his academics with football and community activities.
"That is a big step in my life," Cadogan said. "It's the reason why I went to Penn State. I (graduated) with two degrees: one in rehabilitation services, and my main focus in psychology, and it's just a blessing. It's been a long time coming."
Cadogan was one of 11 Penn State players to graduate in December, and teammates have taken notice of his accomplishment.
"He's a great student," Clark said. "He's an all-around great guy. He's done a big things in his career here at Penn State. I'm very proud of him and he deserves everything that's been given to him."
Cadogan has made a long journey from his 2004 graduation from Portsmouth High School to the cusp of his final game at Penn State.
He went from blocking for local talent to future NFL players;
From learning under one of the area's most successful coaches to one of the NCAA's all-time greats;
From playing in OHSAA playoff contests to one of the NCAA's biggest stages.
Cadogan has a sense of perspective after four and a half years of college football, and is prepared for his final game as a collegiate athlete.
"It's bittersweet," Cadogan said. "I feel like I've maximized every opportunity that I've had at Penn State. But I'm ready to graduate and see what the future has in store."
Gone is another chapter of his life and football career, but ahead could be a call from the NFL in April's draft. The future, for Cadogan, just may be even brighter than the present or past.
CHRIS DUNHAM can be reached at email@example.com