Panu, a 6-foot-1, 240 pound former Class A First-Team All-State defensive end at Whitefield Academy, was given a full scholarship worth more than $50,000 August 8, by Commodores coach James Franklin. The fact that a fourth-year walk-on player earned a scholarship is not out of the ordinary, but the moment was recorded and then posted on the Vanderbilt website and YouTube. The video went viral registering more than 355,000 views to date, and for Panu, it has all been a bit overwhelming.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Panu, who has a 3.8 grade point average and is on track to graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering next year. “I’ve tried not to let it be a distraction (for the team).”
In this case, it’s been a good distraction.
After being posted on the Vanderbilt Website, Panu’s story gradually has gotten bigger and bigger. There have been stories by the Associated Press, blogs were written about him on ESPN.com, most of the other sports Websites linked to his video, and last Friday, Panu and Franklin were interviewed on Fox and Friends.
“I’m trying not to let it get to me,” said Panu has seen most of his previous action on the punt and kickoff units on special teams. “Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame.”
Franklin has been hailed as a great, young, up-and-coming coach that is changing the recruiting culture at Vanderbilt. He is a player’s coach and his surprising Panu with a scholarship is another way of proving himself. As Panu found out, it’s also a way of getting a former walk-on’s full attention.
“I had no idea it was coming,” Panu said. “Because he will often do stuff like that.”
The stuff was putting a highlight reel of Panu’s practice performance on the big screen in the team meeting room and showing the team exactly the kind of effort he expects out of each of his players.
“You want to watch a guy who is trying to find a role on this team?” Franklin asked. “A guy that keeps his mouth shut and loves being part of this team.”
Video roles of three devastating blocks Panu put on defenders during practice, including a pancake block that springs a running back for a touchdown.
It was after that where Franklin announced to the team that Panu had earned his scholarship. It was an announcement that stunned Panu knocking him back in his chair, and brought his teammates to their feet for a standing ovation.
“I was really in shock,” Panu said. “It was really a blessing.”
It was also a shock to his parents.
“We heard from him during a time he is normally in meetings or at practice,” Marc’s mother Judith Panu said.
She added that as soon as she heard the news, the tears began flowing.
“We were excited,” Marc’s father Al Panu said. “It was a sense of rejoicing that after working for over four years that he would get a scholarship.”
The Panu’s said Marc had earned some academic scholarships and had to take out some loans in addition to the financial help from the family. But while Judith Panu said it did “stretch” their finances, the celebration was about Marc’s perseverance and not so much about the financial break.
“We just appreciate the recognition from coach Franklin, (offensive coordinator and running back coach John) Donovan and his teammates for reacting the way they did.”
Franklin told Fox and Friends the decision to give Panu the scholarship was a “no-brainer.”
“It’s about giving the people opportunities and Marc’s done a tremendous job for us,” Franklin said. “It’s the perfect example of have a positive attitude, have tremendous work ethic, and good things will happen to you.”
A positive attitude and work ethic are things Panu said have carried him this far, and maybe a little luck to go with it.
“I have no idea why this (attention) has happened to me over anybody else,” Panu said. “Walk-ons all over the country earn scholarships. But hard work is the key. And luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.”