CHICAGO -- The three young men could not have represented themselves or their school any better, and they reminded everyone who was on hand here Thursday of one important thing.
Penn State University is not the scandal. It's not Jerry Sandusky. It's not Joe Paterno's legacy, or what's left of it.
Penn State University is Michael Mauti and Jordan Hill and John Urschel -- not to mention thousands of others just like them. It's a place where young people such as those three are molded into leaders before they go on and enjoy success in the world as adults.
It's easy for people around the country to blast Penn State after everything that's taken place since November. But anyone making blanket statements about the school being an awful place or standing for all the wrong things should spend a few minutes watching some of the Internet video of Mauti, Hill and Urschel during Thursday's Big Ten media days.
They answered the same questions over and over again about the scandal, its impact on the program and their thoughts about the future of Penn State football. And they handled the difficult situation exquisitely, giving insightful, respectful answers to each and every question.
New coach Bill O'Brien has done and said all the right things since taking over the program in January, and he made one of his best decisions early Thursday morning.
Penn State announced Wednesday that no players would be making the trip to Chicago for the conference media days, in an attempt to give them a break from all the attention. But after a workout at 8 a.m. Thursday, O'Brien asked linebacker Mauti, defensive tackle Hill and guard Urschel to do the honors of representing the school, so they rushed home to get their suits and were on a flight to Chicago a little more than an hour later.
Having the three players there put a face, or faces, on Penn State, other than just O'Brien's. And to know that they and their teammates are paying the price for an awful situation that was in no way their fault, one cannot help but feel compassion for their situation.
Listening to Mauti passionately discuss the NCAA's transfer rules and trying to keep his teammates together through this incredible adversity, it should remind everyone that Penn State isn't just a place, it's actual people.
Listening to Urschel, a brilliant guy with a 4.0 GPA in mathematics, talk about how he never once thought about transferring, it should remind everyone that Penn State isn't just any school, it's a world-class educational institution.
Listening to Hill talk about the agony that his teammate and good friend Silas Redd is going through trying to decide if he's going to transfer to USC, it should remind everyone that Penn State isn't just football, it's student-athletes who have personal lives and relationships and friends both on and off the field.
Mauti, Hill and Urschel are three very good football players.
More importantly, they are three good, intelligent human beings, and there are many, many more like them on the football team and throughout the university, both students and faculty.
They are ... Penn State.
And they are examples of why -- regardless of the football team's play on the field -- there are plenty of reasons for people to still be proud of the school.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.