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Penn State’s Arrington Stirs Hubbub

September 16, 1999

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ Linebackers, start your engines.

With five Butkus Award candidates on the same field, Saturday’s showdown between No. 3 Penn State and eighth-ranked Miami already figured to be a linebacker showcase.

Now, a few choice words by Penn State’s LaVar Arrington has stirred some animosity into the matchup.

``Every team has one guy that runs his mouth,″ Hurricanes defensive tackle Damione Lewis said Thursday. ``He just made two linebackers step up their games even more.″

It’s likely no game this season will feature such an array of talented linebackers, five of the 65 players on the Butkus committee’s preseason list of candidates to watch.

Penn State was the only school to have all three of its starters make the list _ Arrington, Brandon Short and Mac Morrison. Miami’s Nate Webster and Dan Morgan also are candidates.

Arrington, featured repeatedly on TV and in publications before the season, apparently doesn’t keep tabs on the competition.

Asked Wednesday to respond to Morgan’s assessment that Miami had the better group, Arrington said, ``Who’s Dan Morgan?″

Long pause. ``No, I’m serious,″ Arrington said.

After somebody finally told him that Morgan is Miami’s starting weakside linebacker, Arrington replied: ``Huh. Hey, you’ve got to feel that way. If he didn’t feel that way, there’d be something wrong with him.″

It’s possible Arrington truly may have been oblivious. Nevertheless, the quote wound up on Miami’s bulletin board bright and early Thursday.

``He’s feeding Dan’s fire,″ Webster said. ``Dan’s not going to dwell on it, but it’s going to be in the back of his mind. I think Dan has something in store for them Saturday.″

For his part, Morgan spent much of Thursday trying to downplay the hubbub. Asked if he might take a moment Saturday to introduce himself to Arrington, the junior chuckled.

``All that stuff is funny to me,″ said Morgan, who has led the Hurricanes in tackles in each of his first two seasons.

But for a brief minute after the TV cameras turned off, Morgan took on a more serious tone.

``You can talk all the trash you want,″ Morgan added. ``I’m going to show who Dan Morgan is on Saturday. If they don’t know who Dan Morgan is, they’ll find out Saturday.″

It’s been a tough week for Arrington, who also has been roundly criticized for his two-penalty-flag takedown of Pitt punter Greg DeBolt last weekend.

``He has to understand that he is in the limelight,″ Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. ``He has to be able to have a little tighter control over himself than somebody else.″

Arrington, at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, has an NFL body and a knack for the big play. He was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year as a sophomore last season, sparked by plays such as stealing a handoff from Ohio State quarterback Mark Garcia.

But it was Short who led the Nittany Lions last year with 67 tackles, and he tops the team again in 1999 with 18 through three games. Morrison was fourth last season with 47.

For Miami, Morgan collected 150 tackles last year and Webster had 134 in 10 games, ranking them 1-2 in the Big East in tackles per game. Michael Smith, the only starter not on the Butkus list, added 69 tackles, more than any Penn State linebacker.

``I don’t know which one would be your better unit,″ Paterno said. ``I think Miami’s kids have played great football. All three of them run really well. In that sense, they are very much like our guys.″

Arrington, in fact, could have been playing alongside Morgan and Webster if not for a last-minute change of heart. He says he was set to commit to Miami until linebacker Marlin Barnes was fatally shot in a lover’s triangle and coach Dennis Erickson left for the NFL.

``Penn State ended up being the better pick for me,″ he now says.

He figures to be a target for some angry Hurricanes.

``For him to be talking before the game, that’s awful brave of him,″ Webster said. ``I guess everything will be shown Saturday.″

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