Penn St. riot ends aspiring Army officer's dream

Penn St. riot ends aspiring Army officer's dream

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Associated Press

Stints in jail. Hefty fines and restitution. Clouded futures. The consequences of their bad behavior have been steep for the Penn State students who took to the streets and rioted in the chaotic aftermath of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno's firing last November.

Perhaps none have learned a harder lesson than Justin Strine, a young man from central Pennsylvania whose planned career as an Army officer is over before it began -- the casualty of his own split-second decision to put his hands on a news van, and a judicial system that considered him as guilty as classmates who did far worse that dark night in State College.

As the fall semester gets under way Monday, Strine has returned to campus, along with 15 other students found to have taken part in a nationally televised riot that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage and embarrassed Penn State.

As he resumes his studies, nothing's the same for the 21-year-old from Hummelstown. He spent part of his summer in jail. Far worse: He's been kicked out of ROTC, his dream of carrying on his family's proud military tradition now out of reach.

"I'm losing everything I worked my entire life for," Strine said.

Strine's father, a career soldier, questions whether that's a just result.

"I had to stand by and watch my son plead guilty to something he didn't do," said Jim Strine.

Penn State sanctioned 32 students for their involvement in the riot, suspending 10 of them from one to three semesters and giving probation to the rest, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. Dozens of students were criminally charged, as well, and the guilty pleas have piled up over the last several months.

An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people poured into downtown State College on Nov. 9 after the Penn State board of trustees abruptly and unexpectedly fired Paterno -- the beloved football coach who led Penn State for nearly 46 seasons -- and removed President Graham Spanier over the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

What began as a peaceful protest of Paterno's unceremonious dismissal quickly turned ugly as a "riotous mob," as State College police would later call it, threw bottles and rocks, damaged cars, and tore down light posts and street signs.

Strine was in his off-campus apartment when he learned of Paterno's firing. He and a few friends decided to head downtown.

It was a rare misstep in what had been a slow, steady climb toward the officer ranks.

Strine's father is a helicopter pilot and instructor whose 28-year career has taken him to Iraq and Afghanistan. His grandfather is a retired Air Force flight surgeon. His brother and sister, aunt and uncle, cousins -- all serve or have served. So it wasn't a surprise when Strine began plotting his own military career as an adolescent, reading the autobiographies of famed Army officers like Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.

At Penn State, Strine threw himself into ROTC as well as his studies, making the dean's list and spending the summer at Fort Benning, Ga., learning to jump out of airplanes. His goal: to be a pilot like his father.

"He was a good cadet," Jim Strine said.

A good cadet who made a bad decision the night of Nov. 9.

Strine had driven himself and a couple friends to the State College commercial district, where they joined thousands of other protesters. At one point Strine and his friend, Christina Assainte, found themselves in a large crowd moving toward a WTAJ-TV news van, where vandals were pelting it with rocks.

To the rippling chants of "Flip it! Flip it!" two young men approached the side of the van, motioning others to join them, a video recording shows. That set off a frenzied rush toward the van, and within seconds a large group started to push.

A second wave of spectators then pressed toward the front of the van, perhaps to get a better view. Strine and Assainte were in the front of that group.

With the vehicle already on two wheels and going over, Strine placed his palms on the hood. Four seconds later, the van was on its side. But that's all it took for police and prosecutors to charge him with felony counts of riot and criminal mischief -- the same charges filed against students who did the actual pushing.

"I always felt I was on a good path, and all the sudden I'm being made into a criminal. It was shocking to me they wouldn't even hear me out and let me explain that yes, I was there and shouldn't have been, but I wasn't this person they are making me out to be," Strine said. "No one ever looked at me as an individual. They looked at me as 5,000 Penn State rioters."

Terrified of being branded a felon, Strine agreed to plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. He served 30 days in jail -- getting out Aug. 4 -- and will either be on parole or probation until 2015.

The consequences didn't end there. Penn State suspended Strine for a semester, and he was booted from ROTC and will have to repay every dime of his scholarship money, a total of 34,000. He also owes 8,500 in court costs, fines and restitution.

Strine said he knows he never should have left his apartment that night, never should have been in the vicinity of the van, never should have laid a finger on its hood.

"The van was already going over. It was so crazy, it was mayhem, and in that moment you stop thinking," Strine said. "I know I wasn't completely blameless. I was there, I touched the van and that was wrong. That's why I was happy to do community service for Penn State. But the criminal justice system went overboard."

His father said he's not seeking to minimize or excuse Justin's involvement, but contended the district attorney's office was far too aggressive -- and his son's punishment far too severe.

"He owns something in this," Jim Strine said. "He just doesn't own what he's got."

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller did not return multiple calls and emails seeking information about her office's handling of Strine's case or the other riot cases.

Messages left with State College police Chief Tom King were not returned.

Lt. Col. Ken Weiland, commander of Penn State's Army ROTC program, declined to comment Monday on Strine's removal from the program but cited military regulations that list a multitude of reasons why a cadet could be kicked out.

Powers, the Penn State spokeswoman, said any student who goes through the university disciplinary process can contest the charges or sanctions.

"Justin accepted responsibility and the sanctions in the disciplinary conference, and did not contest them through either avenue that was afforded to him," she said, adding that Penn State carefully assessed each student's culpability, the impact of the crime on the community, and other factors before imposing punishment.

Strine said he didn't contest the charges because he wouldn't have been permitted an attorney, and his testimony before the school could have been used against him in the criminal courts. He didn't challenge the sanctions because Penn State warned him that if he did, he could wind up being penalized more severely. And he said he was never told that a suspension would cost him his spot in ROTC.

Assainte, who was with Strine during the riot, said he had no criminal intent that night. She said he got a raw deal.

"I remember him saying, All I wanted to do was serve my country, and now I can't because of one little mistake that was caught on tape.' One lapse of judgment and he gets all this thrown at him? I felt so awful," she said. "I just think what happened was really, really unfair."

Virginia Tech reveals uniforms for Battle at Bristol game vs. Tennessee

Virginia Tech reveals uniforms for Battle at Bristol game vs. Tennessee

A big-time game deserves a big-time uniform.

Virginia Tech delivered on that claim aturday as they revealed their look for the upcoming Battle at Bristol game vs. Tennessee.

The Sept. 20 non-conference game between the border rivals will be played in the infield of Bristol International Speedway in is what expected to be the largest crowd in college football history.

The official reveal was made via a video posted on YouTube:

Other views of the uniforms were also posted on Twitter:

The famous Hokie Stone was the inspiration for the look. The Hokies Stone is a type of rock found in Western Virginia almost exclusively in a nearby quarry owned by the school. It has become an iconic symbol of the school as several building on campus were built from the stone. Players will tap a Hokie Stone that hangs over the tunnel as they enter Lane Stadium during the football season.

The uniform's primary color scheme of black and grey pays homage to the team's history as those were the official colors of Virginia Tech before the school adopted the classic burnt orange and Chicago maroon we recognize today. The color grey was also chosen because it is a prominent color of the Corps of Cadets, according to a statement on the school's athletics website.

And boy do they look sharp. What do you think? Be sure to let us know!

The Battle at Bristol against Tennessee will take place on Sept. 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

RELATED: HOKIES QB COMPETITION A THREE-MAN RACE?

Former Top 100 recruit White to transfer from Georgetown

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USA Today Sports

Former Top 100 recruit White to transfer from Georgetown

BY JEREMY FIALKOW (@JeremyFialkow)

For the seventh time since the start of the 2010 season, the Georgetown Hoyas are losing a player to transfer.

On Thursday, the school's athletic department announced rising junior Paul White — a small forward by trade — will be leaving "The Hilltop" to continue his basketball career at another school.

RELATED: SON OF FORMER BULLETS STAR SET TO JOIN HOYAS

Hampered by a nagging hip injury during the Hoyas' 2015-16 season which saw them finish 15-18, White will try to make a name for himself in another uniform. Last year, he averaged 1.6 ppg, 1.6 apg and 1.6 apg in seven appearances before calling it a year with season-ending surgery.

White began his career in a promising manner, putting up 5.0 ppg and 2.8 rpg as a freshman in 2014-15. But a wealth of talent at the forward position and an lingering injury meant White spent more time on the bench than on the court. After averaging 18.4 mpg in his freshman campaign, he averaged just 9.6 mpg as a sophomore.

White has a smooth mid-range game and his long frame allows him to play in multiple spots on the floor, providing a matchup problem for opposing defense. But the Hoyas just have too many players at forward. With L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland, Marcus Derrickson, Reggie Cameron and Louisville transfer Akoy Agau all competing for solid minutes, there just isn't enough time to go around for White. 

The Chicago native was a four-star Class of 2014 forward from  Whitney Young High School who received offers from Miami (Fla.), Arizona, UConn, DePaul and Minnesota in addition to Georgetown. He was ranked No. 34 in ESPN's Top 100 for the class of 2014. 

RELATED: HOYAS PART OF A LOADED MAUI INVITATIONAL FIELD

Virginia Tech quarterback competition suddenly a three-man race

Virginia Tech quarterback competition suddenly a three-man race

The quarterback competition at Virginia Tech was thought to be down to senior Brenden Motley and Juco transfer Jerod Evans, but now it seems a third contender has emerged. On Tuesday, Justin Fuente spoke glowingly of freshman quarterback Josh Jackson after practice, seemingly declaring the quarterback race to now be between three players.

“[Jackson's] had a really good camp and a great summer," Fuente said. "Don’t overreact to what I’m saying. I still don’t know what way it’s going to go, but he’s had a really good camp."

A true freshman out of Ann Arbor, Mich., Jackson was recruited by former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. His emergence in the quarterback race is rather sudden.

RELATED: VIRGINIA TECH THEMED RACE CAR REVEALED

Jackson enrolled at Virginia Tech early and took part in spring practice, but at the time he appeared to fall behind Motley and Evans. His work at practice this summer has impressed Fuente enough, however, to put him in the running for the starting job.

“I think he’s done the three things that we have set out for those guys to do," Fuente said. "I’m not saying that he is doing it on a more consistent basis than anybody else. I’m just saying he is doing things more consistently than he did in the spring. In turns of valuing the football, managing the ups and downs in practice and predicting outcomes – distributing the ball in the places it’s supposed to go."

Fuente has remained diplomatic in his comments on his quarterbacks, but his direct praise of Jackson who was not previously thought to be in the running is notable.

Virginia Tech has already lost one quarterback this summer as the highly touted Dwayne Lawson elected to transfer to Hutchinson Community College. Jackson is a freshman from Michigan who was recruited by a coach no longer on the staff. With three-star quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and DeJuan Ellis committed to the 2017 and 2018 classes respectively, perhaps there is a fear that Jackson could follow Lawson out of Blacksburg. Making Jackson feel as if he is competing for the starting job could be Fuente's way of trying to keep Jackson from leaving.

Could Jackson actually emerge as the team's starter this season? If Fuente believes he gives the team the best chance to win then yes, but considering what Jerod Evans was able to do in junior college and that he was recruited by Fuente while he was still at Memphis, it seems safe to assume he remains the front runner.

Still, Fuente has made clear that it's too soon to count out anyone, including the young Jackson.

"I’m encouraged by all three," Fuente said. "All three work hard. They are good people, and they want what is best for Virginia Tech.”

MORE VIRGINIA TECH: Hokies nab local four-star receiver