“I think it's going to be a very emotional day,” fullback Michael Zordich said, looking ahead to the Sept. 1 meeting with Ohio during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. “We're all going to be everywhere for that.”
After a tumultuous offseason, one unlike any ever experienced by a team (or university), the Nittany Lions “have a chance to make history,” in the estimation of quarterback Matt McGloin. They can bring the school “back from the bottom,” he said during a conference call of his own, and “bring the community and the university back together.”
“That,” McGloin added, “is definitely going to be on our minds, come Sept. 1.”
A lot of things will be, no doubt.
“It's going to mean a whole lot for me personally, and my family, to be part of this new era,” said Zordich, whose dad, also Michael, was a star safety for the Lions in the '80s.
Like McGloin, the younger Zordich mentioned “the power football has to bring people together,” and cited as an example the way New Orleans rallied around the Saints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“We know (the game) can't heal everything,” he said, “but it can help.”
A new coach, Bill O'Brien, has stepped into the maelstrom, succeeding the late legend, Joe Paterno, and absorbing the most horrendous of NCAA sanctions.
“He's definitely comfortable with the position he's in,” McGloin said.
And while O'Brien has had a lot of things on his plate, one thing has come shining through, according to the senior quarterback: “He loves coaching the game of football. … He's the type of guy that likes to coach the game and see his players improve.”
Zordich has noticed that while O'Brien has a light-hearted side, he's also “very authoritative,” to the point that guys are “a little scared” of him.
“He's got a very strong demeanor,” Zordich said, “and people listen when he talks.”
O'Brien, a New England Patriots offensive assistant from 2007-11, laid the groundwork for his offense during spring practice, and has built on that during preseason camp. Zordich called it “very tricky” and “a tough offense to learn,” but believes he and his teammates have gotten the hang of it.
McGloin agreed, saying that everyone has made “a ton of progress from this spring” and taken “a major step forward in terms of the playbook.”
McGloin has taken some steps himself. Freed from last year's QB merry-go-round when O'Brien named him the starter in the spring (and because Rob Bolden moved along, to LSU), he has settled into a job that has more responsibility than ever. Checking off at the line of scrimmage, a foreign concept previously, is not only welcomed but encouraged.
“You don't want to run a bad play, ever,” he said.
Zordich believes McGloin, who will start his first opener, is more confident and poised than at any point in his career, and is certain it is related to the faith the head coach has placed in him. No longer, Zordich said, does McGloin have to worry about getting yanked when he makes a poor throw.
“He can kind of just let it out there,” he said.
As was the case on Media Day a few weeks ago, McGloin mentioned sophomore Allen Robinson as an emerging receiver. He also said Bill Belton, the new tailback, has had “a great camp,” that young receivers like Eugene Lewis and Trevor Williams have shown promise, that the offensive line is looking great, etc., etc.
It goes without saying that the tight ends will be a prominent part of the attack, as they were in New England. But the Pats seldom used the fullback, leaving one to wonder what Zordich's role might be.
“Basically, I play one of those F-spots,” he said, referring to one of the two tight end positions on O'Brien's offense.
Sometimes he's a fullback, he said. Sometimes he's an H-back.
“I do a little bit of everything,” he said, “so I'm having a lot of fun with it.”
As a group, the Lions have engaged in some team-building activities -- paintball, movies, bowling and the like. O'Brien has also brought in a series of speakers -- none more impactful, McGloin said, than Rick Slater, the Navy SEAL-turned-defensive lineman-turned Navy SEAL who served as a deep reserve for the Lions in the late '90s.
“He really, really motivated us,” McGloin said, “and put things in perspective.”
Zordich said Slater pointed out that “everything's riding on this season” -- that this team can build for the future while at the same time doing their predecessors proud.
“It's very important,” Zordich said, “for us to go out and win, and make things happen for this university.”
Added McGloin, “I'm definitely more excited for Sept. 1 than any one I've ever had before. … We're one team and one family, and we just want to start playing football again.”