Stephon Morris heard teammates whisper about transferring after Penn State lost its first two games of the season.
Those whispers calmed after the team's five-game winning streak, then resurfaced following a loss to Ohio State. Now, the Penn State senior cornerback says, he anticipates that most of his teammates will stay.
"I expect everyone to be back and everyone to keep fighting," the senior said.
Penn State caps an exhausting but satisfying 2012 season on Saturday, when it hosts Wisconsin. The game marks an interesting matchup between two teams on different paths.
On Monday, Wisconsin begins preparing for its second consecutive appearance in the Big Ten title game. Penn State, meanwhile, will head into an offseason with the focus going beyond weight training.
Since the NCAA transfer rules extend until the beginning of preseason camp next August, Penn State faces the prospect of more players leaving the program. It also can sign only 15 players in its recruiting class as the scholarship sanctions begin.
Then there's head coach Bill O'Brien, who has chose not to discuss his intentions following last Saturday's win over Indiana. O'Brien, who has eight years remaining on his contract, has been mentioned in media reports as a candidate for NFL jobs.
"I'm expecting him to be back, but, like I said before, I'm not sure what Coach O'Brien is going to do," receiver Allen Robinson said. "Only he knows that. I would say that you never know what anybody's going to do."
On Tuesday, O'Brien sounded like a coach who intends to return. He praised the Big Ten's addition of Maryland and Rutgers, talked about having to recruit quarterbacks and again mentioned the positives of playing at Penn State.
And though he said he's not a "mind reader" or a "genie" with a "crystal ball," O'Brien said he believes those players eligible to return will do so.
"I think there is a lot to play for at Penn State and I think our guys realize that," he said.
Morris, who will play his last game, picked up the crystal ball instead. The cornerback considered transferring last year, prior to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions, because of concerns over his role with the team.
But Morris decided to stay not only after last season but also after the NCAA imposed sanctions. In fact, he told his father to ignore all calls from opposing coaches.
Lately he has told his teammates, particularly those in the secondary, that they'd be "stupid" to leave. He said sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos already has assured that he's staying, along with several other young defensive backs.
"[Amos] said, "If you didn't run away, them I'm not going to run away,'" Morris said. "All those guys are pretty much staying. I talked to them. I told them, 'Just take a deep breath and think about everything.' You've got a great group of guys in that room, you've great support, and there's no better atmosphere than playing in front of 100,000 people every week.'"
Robinson will be another target, since he's on the verge of becoming the first Penn State receiver to finish a season with 80 catches and 1,000 yards receiving. The sophomore has stated repeatedly that he plans to return. Still, he acknowledged that "it will be interesting to see in the offseason."
"I'm not really sure as far as that goes right now," Robinson said. "It will all be addressed when the time comes. Right now we're just focusing on the last game. When the offseason comes, that's when we'll focus on everything else."
'Finish what we started,' Mauti says: O'Brien would not discuss the specifics of linebacker Mike Mauti's injury, though he hinted that it's severe. The coach said he has experience with players sustaining major injuries, having coached Tom Brady (ACL, MCL) and Wes Welker (ACL) in New England.
"It's a tough deal for us," O'Brien said. "It's an even tougher deal for him,"
Mauti addressed teammates Monday, telling them to "finish what we started" and complete an 8-4 season.
"He's been strong," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "He said, 'Let's finish this season out strong, get this win and finish with eight wins. Let's not settle for anything less than a win.' The thing about Mike is, he's a winner, he's always going to be a winner and that rubs off on everyone. It doesn't matter if he can't play. He's going to lead."