Nittany Lions, O’Brien Preparing for 2012 Season
BILL ALBRIGHT EasternPAFootball.com Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK — Calm, cool, collected, confident, professional, and most important, ready to lead the Penn State Nittany Lions into the 2012 college football season. That is how new Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien appeared as he addressed the members of the media Thursday morning at Beaver Stadium.
With all of the recent happenings that have surrounded the Nittany Lion program for the past several weeks, O’Brien and his staff like what they saw when they welcomed their players to pre-season camp Monday as they begin a new era in PSU football.
“The morale has been excellent,” O’Brien said. “The first day we got them up early. We got them up at 5:15, these kids were ready to go and they showed up early for practice that day. Has everything been pretty at practice? No. But there’s been a lot of hard working, a lot of guys out there that really care about each other, care about playing for Penn State, care about going to school here, and the morale’s been excellent.”
Although there have been some departures with the NCAA sanction that allows the players to transfer to another institution without having to sit out a year, there are also a lot of excellent football players still in the fold among those who chose to stay in Happy Valley and lead the Lion squad.
“We have a really strong senior class,” O’Brien said. “That’s where it starts. You can’t say enough about our seniors. (Gerald) Hodges, (Rich) Mauti, (Jordan) Hill, (Michael) Zordich, (Matt) McGloin, (Matt) Stankiewitch, (Mike) Farrell and others. You just cannot say enough about our senior leadership.
“Then we have a group of young players, guys that aren’t seniors who I think are really good football players that are also part of that leadership group. Billy Belton, Adrian Amos, and a couple of seniors I didn’t mention, two of them in the secondary are Stephon Morris and Malcolm Willis. But getting back to that younger group, you have those guys, Donovan Smith and Kyle Carter. You’ve got good freshmen leaders that you can see already in our freshmen class.
“So we’ve got leaders all the way through the football team, and I think that says a lot about those kids, and we’re letting them lead. That’s been good. So it’s a strong senior class, but it trickles down throughout the team.”
Although there are many leaders on the Nittany Lion squad, the individual players have bonded into one solid unit that is known as “We are, Penn State”.
Strong relationships are built on trust, honesty and telling the truth,’ said O’Brien. “That’s where relationships begin, and that’s how you strengthen relationships, because you stay true to that principle and those principles.
“These kids are fantastic kids. We’ve got guys that are great students, we’ve got guys here that love to play football and we’ve got guys here that have a passion for playing for Penn State. We also have guys that understand why we’re in the position that we’re in and they’re going to help guide us through the next few years. There is no question about that.
“Every day you go to work as a head coach, and I can speak for my staff here as well, we just really enjoy coaching these guys every single day.”
So when the pre-season workouts are completed and it is “game time”, what can Penn State fans expect to see from their Nittany Lions?
“We expect to go out there every single game and put a good product on the field,” O’Brien says. “We expect to be out there every single game and be prepared. We expect to be out there every single game and do our best and play extremely hard. We expect to go out there with the mindset in every game that we’re going to win, and that is the way it’s always going to be here.
“As long as I’m the head coach here, it’s not going to be any different theme or themes because that is what we expect to do. These kids practice hard, put a lot of time in, and we’ll show up on September 1st.”
Penn State football uniforms have been referred to by many over the years as being somewhat generic. Beginning with the 2012 campaign, the players will sport their names on their jerseys, something that many people might have thought would never happen at Penn State.
“I’m very respectful of the traditions here. Very respectful,” said O’Brien. “But it’s a new era of Penn State football in many ways, and there are several reasons for their names on the back of the jerseys. One of those is that I want people to recognize the fact that these are kids that are special, competitive kids that care about education, that care about Penn State, and have gone through some tough times over the last year as a team as well as individually and they’ve stuck with us. I think that says a lot about these kids, and I want people to recognize them.
“At the same time, I want people to understand that these are the kids that in many ways are going to reach out to the community and help lead this University through the next few years in many different ways in the community. Whether it’s Special Olympics, whether it’s THON, child abuse organizations, all the things that we’re going to do, these are kids that will be part of that and I want people to recognize it.
“However, at the end of the day, to me going into this year, the most important patch on the uniform will be the blue patch and blue ribbon that will signify putting an end to child abuse. To me that is the most important patch on the uniform or wherever we’re going to put it.”
As for moving ahead, O’Brien was quick to point out that it is going to be a gradual step-by-step process.
“It’s important to set a tone every day. It’s not year to year,” said O’Brien. “It’s important to go in there every single day you go into a meeting, whether you’re the head coach, coordinator or position coach and set the tone for that day. That’s my job. My job is to make sure every day I do the best I can to prepare the football team for that day which hopefully leads to that week, that game, that year. That is the mindset I take.“
Although O’Brien has been a very successful coach in the National Football League, he was quick to point out that if you don’t get a few butterflies floating around in your stomach prior to competition, then you are in the wrong business.
“Do I look nervous? I don’t know,” said O’Brien with a smile. “Again, I keep things in perspective. I try to prepare the team every single day, and I’m looking forward to the first game, but right now I’m thinking about today’s practice.
“When I’m sitting in that locker room before we go out for the first game, of course I’ll have butterflies. That’s what a competitor has. But it’s my job to focus on the football team, the situation in the game, and call the plays and do a great job with the football team. That is what I am looking forward to.”
The Lions open the 2012 campaign when they host the Ohio University Bobcats at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, September 1. Kickoff for that contest is listed as 12 noon.
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