Kickoff Classic begins trying year for Hoboken native and Penn State QB
Rashard Casey will return to his roots this week when he arrives at Giants Stadium with his Penn State teammates in time for the Kickoff Classic.
It should be a joyous time for Casey, coming home as the starting quarterback for the nationally-ranked Nittany Lions. The long-awaited chance to play in front of family and friends. A chance to come back to Giants Stadium, where he had so much success as a superstar with the Red Wings, brilliantly guiding Hoboken to back-to-back Group III state championships.
Casey hasn't stepped foot on the field at Giants Stadium since guiding the Red Wings to the state title in 1995. That's when Casey last showed New Jersey fans why he deserved to all the accolades he received that year - Gatorade Player of the Year, Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year.
Now, Hoboken's native son, the Mile Square City's greatest athlete ever, is coming home. It should be a time for everyone in Hoboken and in Hudson County to rejoice, stand up, be proud. One of our own has made the big time. And he's coming home to show us all what he's done.
But there are mixed emotions surrounding this return visit. No one is exactly doing cartwheels or rolling down a red carpet as a welcome mat. There is no parade planned, no public celebration. Needless to say, Casey's return is very low-key. And it all stems from that now-dubious incident outside a Hoboken tavern three months ago.
We all know by now about the alleged altercation between Casey and off-duty police officer Patrick Fitzsimmons, the incident that left the cop with severe injuries and left Casey with a possible indictment for felony assault hovering over his head.
The incident has been reported and written about so many times now that it really is taking on a life of its own, almost as bad as the JFK assassination. People have their own theories and opinions. Rumors are flying around about "what really happened that night."
One well-respected columnist from the Bergen Record, a Pultizer-Prize nominee by the name of Adrian Wojnarowski, actually went as far as to imply that Casey was guilty of the crime without a trial. In a recent column, Wojnarowski cited Casey as the instigator in the incident and wrote that Casey was "reportedly" arrested while wearing "clothes stained with blood," although this has not been reported before.
"When [Penn State head coach] Joe Paterno gets No. 324 [career victory] and is carried out of the stadium, the conscience of college football shouldn't risk that it'll be on the shoulders of a felon," Wojnarowski wrote. "If Paterno is gambling his march into history on the wrong kid, he needs to understand that people won't just remember the blood was smeared on his quarterback's shirt."
Pretty harsh words - with no real justification or proof.
Wojnarowski appeared on the Fox Sports Net talk show, "The Final Word," hosted by Jim Rome last week to discuss the Casey case - along with Casey's attorney, prominent local lawyer Dennis McAlevy. Needless to say, the loquacious McAlevy tore into Wojnarowski about the column.
There was another story indirectly concerning Casey that made news last week. A Penn State student, who was suspended for a semester for his part in an on-campus brawl, went on the record to say that it was unfair that Penn State didn't choose to punish Casey for his part in the May incident with Fitzsimmons.
Senior Michael Byrne, who was one of 18 Penn State students involved in the melee, told reporters that he felt Casey was receiving preferential treatment from the school.
"It's a double standard," Byrne told the Associated Press. "It's just because Casey brings in millions of dollars. This whole school is about money. It's ridiculous."
And yet, Casey has to worry about being an effective college football player through all the taunts, accusations and alleged stories.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. This was going to be a glorious year for Casey, filled with accolades and honors. Filled with hopes and aspirations. In a high profiled program like Penn State, perhaps the multi-talented Casey could have played himself into a Heisman Trophy candidate. One never knows.
But because of one fateful evening in which Casey was guilty of bad judgement and lack of common sense, none of the harshness will go away.
Casey has tried hard to put it all behind him. So have Penn State officials, who have stated that Casey will not speak to any reporter about the incident all season. He will speak - but only about football.
That was proven last week at Penn State's media day, where Casey didn't utter a sound about the incident.
"I don't think I have anything to hang my head over," Casey told the media, according to the Associated Press. "My spirits are fine. With the support of my family, teammates and coaches, I'll walk with my head held high. I'm not ashamed of anything. I don't have anything to be embarrassed about."
Casey told reporters that he would have talked about the incident, except that school representatives and McAlevy advised against it.
"If I could talk, I'd talk," Casey said.
As it stands now, evidence is still being collected by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office to be presented to a Grand Jury, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to indict Casey on the original charges. The case will probably be turned over to a Grand Jury sometime in the fall. A timetable has yet to be determined.
But it's wild to see how many people have already tried and convicted Casey of the crime. There aren't a lot of people who truly know what transpired that fateful morning outside that Hoboken bar. Perhaps no one will ever know. But too many people are willing to jump the gun and label Casey as a felon.
For some people it's easy to do, because after all, Casey is a black man who wears dreadlocks and obviously has football rage. But those people truly don't know Rashard Casey, don't know his makeup, don't know his personality.
From a sportswriter's standpoint, from someone who has watched this young man on every level, in every facet, for the last 12 years, grow from a shy 10-year-old into a respectful young man, it's hard to swallow that Casey could actually be charged with this crime. I've been taking the "wait-and-see" approach, hoping that things turn out right for him.
There's no question that Fitzsimmons is paying the price, because he still has not been able to return to work. He is truly a victim. No one deserves such a brutal beating.
But Casey is also paying a price, because he cannot avoid the rush of controversy as easily as he can avoid the rush of an oncoming defensive end. And as much as he's trying to keep a stoic and stiff upper lip, it has to be tearing him up inside.
Rashard Casey comes home this week. It should have been as a conquering hero. Unfortunately, he returns with a dark cloud hovering over his head.
Only time will tell if there are sunny skies ahead.