Penn State QB puts up numbers in business school

 

From the first day he arrived, Paul Cianciolo had one goal -- be the Penn State starting quarterback.

However, right now, he's only a Penn State quarterback.

He wears a red jersey in practice and one of those little wristbands with the plays on it. He takes part in quarterback drills every day, shuffling his feet, dropping back around obstacles, right arm cocked, his eyes straight ahead. He's ready to deliver the football.

In the huddle, he stands in the center, just like his signal-calling colleagues, Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. And, much like Clark and Devlin, when it's Cianciolo's rep, his teammates look to him to lead them down the field.

But so far, Cianciolo's career has been that of a backup, and his on-the-field stat line is dwarfed by the numbers he's put up in the classroom.

Cianciolo, who hails from Charleston, S.C., finished his undergraduate finance degree last summer. He graduated with a 3.94 grade point average and immediately jumped into another degree program.

Now, Cianciolo is pursuing his Masters in Business Administration. He is on pace to earn the degree this coming spring.

Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno has developed a keen admiration for Cianciolo. Some mornings and afternoons, Cianciolo's 6-foot-4 frame will enter Paterno's office and take a seat.

Among the topics of conversation: Global markets and economies, the price of oil and gasoline, baseball and football.

No politics, however.

"Paul is one of those guys that you hope that you have a son grow up like he does because he's a very detail-oriented guy, he's very conscientious on the field and in the classroom," Paterno said.

"In five years he will have gotten his undergrad in business and his MBA. He's just that kind of guy. Really sharp. He'll make tens of millions of dollars when he leaves Penn State, and I'll be his best friend."

Cianciolo's best friend -- his brother Joe -- lives and works in New York City. He graduated from Penn State in 2006. Joe played linebacker for the Nittany Lions and also earned an MBA.

Joe, who finished his undergraduate degree and his MBA in six years, describes his brother as an independent student. Paul doesn't often call him asking for help. After all, he's on pace to finish a year quicker than his older brother, while balancing football and moonlighting as a relief pitcher for the Penn State baseball team last season.

"I had football and I kind of had the spring which was a little more low key because it wasn't in the middle of the season," Joe said.

"He has football in the fall, and in the spring right away he was into baseball. He really has no offseason."

Director of Student Services Robin Brouse has been involved with the MBA program at Penn State for 28 years. She said she hasn't seen a student like Paul Cianciolo, who has had to balance so much at once and succeed at such a high level.

The MBA program is time-consuming. Classes run from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Not only are MBA students expected to finish 48 credits in two years, Brouse said, but they also must work in teams on group projects for much of the semester.

"In Paul's case and especially doing two sports, whoever the individual doing it has to be very committed and disciplined," Brouse said. "They're not only balancing the MBA, the educational side of things. That in itself is a lot of balancing of work. On top of that Paul has to manage his practice schedules and game days and things like that."

Todd Kulka, the coordinator of student-athlete programs at Penn State, is there to help players like Cianciolo balance school and sport. But, Kulka said, he doesn't lend a hand to Cianciolo often -- he doesn't have to.

Kulka says Cianciolo handles "nearly all of it."

"He's really driven," Kulka said. "The different thing is, going out and finding another Division I football player in the Big Ten that will have finished his finance degree and MBA inside of a five-year time frame. I don't think you'll find any other ones.

"I think he's a bright spot in college football and what college football is all about. He's able to get two degrees done in one time period. Most college football players at the Division I level barely get fifty percent graduation rate."

So where will he be five years down the road? Paterno, Brouse and Kulka did not hesitate: "He'll be one of the guys, one of the big donors [Penn State] will be courting out there," Paterno said.

"He'll be well situated to just move in to a job or into corporate America," Brouse said.

"Somewhere on Wall Street," Kulka said.

While those three are making long-term financial predictions, Cianciolo's focused on the upcoming season, and his goal from day one.

Be the Penn State quarterback.

Clark and Devlin are the names most associated with the job. Unless you talk to Cianciolo and Joe Paterno.

"We're going to give both Pat and Daryll plus a kid by the name of Cianciolo -- who nobody's talking about who's a senior who I like very much," Paterno said last month at Big Ten media day in Chicago. "We'll give them a shot at it, and we'll see where we go."

At Penn State media day, reporters mobbed Clark and Devlin. Cianciolo joked around with his roommate Greg Miskinis as reporters passed by. When he got the opportunity to answer a question, he took charge.

After all, Cianciolo has made his name being a jack-of-all trades. Two years ago against Michigan the Wolverine defense pulverized Anthony Morelli, then abused Clark. With no starting experience, Cianciolo stepped in, commanded respect, his teammates say, and pulled Penn State closer when he spotted Tony Hunt in the flat and tossed him the ball.

Touchdown.

Cianciolo will be there if his coaches call out "15." But he also wants to be the guy.

"I think I absolutely have a shot. I'm not sure who in the media decided I wasn't a part of the competition, but if you have to have one guy that keeps throwing your name into the ring, then Coach Paterno's a good guy to have doing that.

"Quarterback's a position on the team where there's usually just one singular guy occupying that for an entire season unless an injury occurs," Cianciolo said. "I'm ready to go, just like the rest of these guys."

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