8:00 a.m. We got to sleep in a bit with the 1:30 p.m. kickoff. I decide to ice my left ribs down (I got an elbow while getting jammed on a post route at WR) and start to get ready.
After packing my gear into the duffle bag I sit on the bed and start to have some emotion overtake me -- something I totally did not expect. But having the honor of putting on the uniform and come out of the tunnel hits me hard before I head down to breakfast.
Before breakfast the team has a meeting where we all talk about our PSU roots, why we came to camp and what we have gotten out of it. For me -- aside from the standard dillussions of grandure, my main goal was to get a better understanding and greater appreciation for what a student-athlete goes through -- and the camp certainly delievered.
After chow I head back up to dress up for the bus ride -- best dressed goes to fellow '96 grad Doug Stewart who is wearing his PSU vest and bow tie -- the same he wore in his wedding. In the hotel lobby there is a quiet buzz with some guys showing excitement and others reflecting. Patrick (camp director) simply says "Let's go" and everyone snaps out of it and shuffles to the bus.
11:30 a.m. I get on the bus and take the very last seat and have a flood of memories from the camp and my time at Penn State fill my head. We pull up outside of the stadium and the campers families are lined up cheering as we exit the bus -- it's pretty cool.
The guys head in to the locker room and everyone stops three o4 four steps before their lockers -- each locker has a Penn State uniform adorning it. Needless to say camera flashes fill the room.
As everyone starts to get dressed I hesitate trying to burn each moment in my memory. I start to suit up, which is not all that easy. The pants, particularly the belt, prove to be tricky -- the key is to feed the belt through first them put them on. As each guy gets suited up we start to look the part of football players -- John Barnes, who is a big man and plays center, looks like a lineman. Fred Kim, our 28 year old quarterback, looks the part. I even get guys saying, "Wow you look good!" I guess the uniform has some sort of mystical powers causing dillussions for onlookers.
We then head up to the top of the stadium's south endzone for some individual photos. Then we head out to the field for some pictures with family, friends, teammates and coaches, which is a lot of fun. We also take some team pictures.
1:00 p.m. We head back into the locker room for a bit and huddle up to discuss what is about to happen. Coach Tom Bradley enters the room in a suit and telss us to take a knee and circle up. He tells us he is going to tell us what he tells his players before a game -- focus, think, have fun and enjoy the moment. "You're going to drop balls, miss tackles and make mistakes," Coach Bradley explains. "Shake it off, learn from it and just keep going.
"Remember, and I always tell this to my guys -- you have limited time in there (pointing towards the field) -- make it count, don't take it for granted." We wrap up with a team prayer.
"Let's go!" We line up and walk out to a steady "click, clack" of cleats. The teams load into the tunnel like a bullet in the barrel of a gun. The fans play the part of the Blue Band, lining up to form the tunnel for the team to run out to.
Then a silence comes over the players as the jumbotron starts to play the Gladiator montage. All eyes are locked on the flashes of Hali, Posluszny, Connor, Hunt, Robinson and the like. The we make the run, which is incredible.
1:20 p.m. After each player is introduced and the National Anthem is (eventually) played, they toss the coin and my first team defensive unit takes the field. At strong safety I am calling out the scheme and positioning guys relative to the offensive lineup.
Coach Kenny Carter is relaying things into me, "Harrington float your corners out -- you've got to tell them what you see."
I am constantly talking and moving on defense -- pushing the Hero back, lining up the backers and calling what I see, "Motion, motion -- weak side watch the stack. Play containment -- guys keep it in front."
The defense holds on a three and out and I step off the field and it hits me as to what I just did -- I called a defense for Penn State in Beaver Stadium. (We'll have a full game recap soon, once we receive the stat sheet).
3:40 pm It was one hell of a classic game. My team, the Blue, lost 31-30. Jay Paterno comes up, puts his arm around me and says you just did Penn State proud. He says, "We could have run up the score, but it was more important to get our injured guys the experience." John Powell and Bruce Weirman both "had a leg" and were banged up, but both stepped in at QB for goal line series.
After the game we shower, change and head up to the President's suite for dinner. For me meeting the families was great.
Each player gets their PSU helmet from Larry Johnson -- this is the real deal not some cheap knockoff.
Honestly, if you have any interest in experiencing this camp (and the means) you should -- it is simply an unbelievable experience.
6:30 a.m. Another early morning and my ribs are a bit sore after taking a jab in practice, but I am feeling good overall. Today is a pretty big day — espn2 is interviewing Joe Paterno from the camp practice and we are covering special teams.
9:30 a.m. We head to Beaver Stadium, dress and bus it to Lasch. We get a comprehensive tour of the football facility (stay tuned for a gallery of this next week) — equipment rooms (the sheer amount of equipment is like a light infantry unit), locker rooms, training rooms (we saw Dan Connor closing out a workout and he looks phenomenal, as does Andrew Quarless), weight rooms (A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Anthony Morelli, Terrell Golden and Dennis Landolt are among the guys working out as we enter the weight room). Among the many interesting facts is that Penn State's weight room is the largest single sport collegiate conditioning facility in the United States. We also head up to the coaches offices and talk a bit with Galen Hall and Mike McQueary. This tour was a treat for most of the campers — like going inside the belly of PSU football. We finally head to the trophy rooms containing bowl, conference, individual and championship hardware and a slew of memorable PSU moments on the wall. It's great to see that classic FOS pic of Poz with the blood streaming down his nose (which we affectionately call blue, white and red) hanging on the wall.
10:00 a.m. We head to the practice fields for some special-teams instructions on field goals, kickoffs and punts, and practice lineups, formations, lane assignments, wedges and then run a series of drills. We also run a few drill sets and at the tail end Derrick Williams stops by to take some snaps at QB. Yours truly was at MLB and got the "Man Dog" call to blitz him, which I almost did before he dumped off an incompletion (good throw, the receiver dropped it). I am just glad they finally bring in some competition up to my level (I kid). There's nothing like saying you got to flush Derrick Williams out of the pocket, though. He looks sleek and lean, by the way.
One cool sidenote: Rich "Sexy" James shows a desire to meet his seemingly long lost twin in A.Q. Shipley, so of course A.Q. comes out onto the practice field to say hi and snap some pictures with Rich and his family. This truly is a fantasy camp.
10:45 a.m. After the espn2 segment interview (where I am told the host grilled Paterno on topics like being "embarrassed" by the player cleanup and asking when he'll retire), I'm told he said the fantasy campers have a 4 a.m. curfew Saturday night. I don't think I'll make it that long.
Paterno heads down to the practice field to talk with the players, sign autographs and take pictures. Needless to say the coach charms the players like you would not believe.
1:00 p.m. After another fulfilling lunch at the training table we head back over to Lasch for a recruiting orientation with Mike McQueary. This is a phenomenal talk where he takes us deep into the recruiting process, including having us debate and evaluate some player films. There is way too much to cover in this session, so look for more next week.
We then head to the QB room to review the quarterback game prep, including play review and preparation. The room even has a soft leather couch where the players who have the best practice get to sit during the sessions.
2:45 p.m. The Blue and White teams split for a punt, pass and kick competition with two of the big punters giving strong showings for FOS — your's truly boots a 37-yarder and PSUFreak100 nails another big kick. The White wins a moral victory in this one despite some serious foot fault violations along the way.
After the competition we run some Drill 6 scrimmage sets where I see some strong safety and tight end action. It's pretty cool having Kenny Jackson and Brian Norwood ride your skills and walk you through disguising your coverage.
7:15 p.m. We head to the Nittany Lion Inn for cocktails and dinner. Blair Thomas gets up and talks about his experience at Penn State (and he does a damn good Joe Paterno impression). It never ceases to amaze me how the former players brim with passion and pride when they talk about PSU.
That goes the same for the coaches. Bill Kenney gets up and tells some phenomenal stories about his decision to come to Penn State over Tennessee from Nebraska, despite a higher position and more pay with the Vols. He goes on to say Tom Osborn came into his office and said "What's up Billy?" So Kenney told him the decision he was trying to make and Osborne said, "Bill, I am not going to tell you what to do, but I want you to go to Penn State."
Coach Kenney goes on to relay a heartfelt tribute to his father, who passed away a few weeks ago, saying this camp experience has been therapeutic to him, watching a group of guys who "have such a deep passion for Penn State" and "took a risk trying something new and different." The room is filled with emotion as he shares his story.
11:00 p.m.Tomorrow is game day. It's been two and a half days here and honestly it feels like two and a half weeks. I would guess that although I have been trying to relay a lot of information here for fans to get a taste of this I have probably hit on only about 25 percent of the experience. You really have to experience it first hand to get remotely close to the full effect.
Tomorrow it looks like I am playing SS and TE. It's been 11 years since I came out of the tunnel with the Blue Band and I am chomping at the bit to do it again.
6:00 a.m. Up and at 'em, and the view from my room is not a bad one to wake up to (see picture to the left). Before I head down to breakfast there's one more story I forgot to share from last night. Walking out from the reception to the buses I had the opportunity to chat with defensive line coach Larry Johnson one-on-one. It's amazing how one man who fires up a crowd of guys like a Gatling gun can also be so soft spoken one-on-one.
I asked him about his experience playing for legendary Coach Herman Boone from the movie Remember the Titans. "I played for him in North Carolina," he explained. He went on to tell me how his team won the state title (I believe) 64 to 12, "and we were down 12-0 at halftime."
It's clear that Coach Boone was a major influence on Coach Johnson, saying, "I have modeled a lot of my approach after him." I went on to ask if the movie did him justice, to which he responded in a matter-of-fact manner, "No, he was tougher." Coach Johnson talked about how he pushed and demanded perfection, relaying some great stories about Coach Boone, whom he still keeps in touch with today.
OK, off to breakfast and then the practice field — notify the trainers! Stay tuned for more later from my stretcher.
The players head to the stadium to suit up into our practice gear and walk out through the tunnel to see Beaver Stadium's field and toss around a few balls, which is quite an experience. We then head for the bus and head over to Lasch Building for a defensive meeting with Brian Norwood and Larry Johnson.
Coach Johnson gives another one of his "fire 'em up" talks to get the group primed for Coach Norwood, who then reviews the defensive playbook at a solid clip. He proceeds to cover the sky zone coverage (Rip and Liz), Squirm (cover 2 zone) coverage, Man Free (man-to-man) and Man Dog (blitz) packages — reviewing matchups and film of each set. Essentially the drills we run are Drill 6, 7-on-7 sets.
After some time with Coach Norwood we head over to another larger conference room where the lights are dimmed and Coach Johnson says, "If this does not get your heart racing, nothing will," and plays an impressive montage of defensive highlights from the past few years.
9:45 a.m. We head out to the practice field outside Holuba, which is a nice, spongy turf field and impressively close to real grass. First we do a series of runs and then stretch with the trainers.
This practice has a defensive focus, so we split into two sides. My group heads off with Coach Johnson and run defensive line drills like agility runs(various step drills over the agility bags) and defensive "sweep and rip" drills.
Next we head over to Coach Nowood, who runs us through assignment drills in the different zone schemes, which is not nearly as easy as it looks, particularly when you have multiple guys crossing into your zones. For example, at linebacker, you have to understand when to "pick up" and "release" assignments. Needless to say, communication is essential.
10:50 a.m. We shower, change out of our gear and get ready to head over to lunch. If you have ever wondered how the gear for 100-plus players is washed and sorted, it is quite ingenious. Each player has a "loop." Simply put, it looks almost like a dog collar with a clip and a bungie cord attached. Your name is on the loop and you "loop" your shirts, shorts, jersey, etc. and tie the bungie around your socks. Well, I was impressed by it at least.
11:45 a.m. We head over to Pollock to eat lunch at the teams' training table — basically it is a dedicated dining hall for the players. The food is good although I am pretty light on the food since the second of our double sessions is still to come.
12:45 p.m. We head over to Lasch to meet with PSU offensive coaches Galen Hall and Jay Paterno. First, Galen talked about their run-pass philosophy, saying that although people think of PSU as a "running school" they actually passed 475 times last year to 417 rushing attempts. As he explained, the really pass the ball around a lot — at least in recent years — and are pretty close to that 50-50 split.
He also explained that he decides whether to run or pass and confirmed that he calls the running plays and Jay Paterno calls the passing plays.
Coach Hall also fielded a number of questions. Among the topics discussed were:
He has coached at programs like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida, and Penn State runs more drills and gives their players "less downtime" than any other program he has been a part of.
When asked about the apparent diminished role of the fullback at PSU, he said, "We still look to the fullback, but if we put a fullback in you then have a playmaker like [Jordan] Norwood or [Derrick] Williams on the bench, which limits you.
He was asked about the state of the offensive line, to which he said it really comes down to recruiting (size, footwork, etc.), but he did explain that it can be hard to measure heart or desire and that a lot of linemen dominate in the high school game simply because they are so much bigger at that level, but then are shocked when everyone at the collegiate level is their size.
He was asked about the focus of the passing game to the wings in recent years with less work in the flat. He said that teams were looking to pack in the middle of the field to limit the passing game, but they are always looking to spread the ball around.
Jay Paterno was up next and walked us through film focusing on the "little things" that can transform a passing game — like early route breaks, mismatches, route drifts, etc.
We went onto watch film on a variety of passing schemes — like Spread Right 5 Streak, Spread Left Pistol 5 Y X Cross, Trips Left Hitch Y Go Z Out, Split Right Gun Option Pass — all plays we memorized and were set to run (yeah right).
1:45 p.m. Back to Beaver Stadium to suit up and head to offensive practice.
2:45 p.m. We head back to the practice field and partake in some run sets and stretching. The squads break up again and this time my group heads over for linemen footwork drills with Bill Kenney on "the ladder." You've seen the ladder before; it is grid of 12 or so squares in rows of two that player run through laterally, in and out, etc.
Next we head over to run passing drills. There are four teams of seven players to run the Drill 6 set — a running back (A), center, tight end (Y) wideouts (X, Z and Y). Each group rotates running various plays. Each unit has a coach — ours was Coach Blair Thomas (All-American running back), who loved scrapping the drawn up play and inserting his own. I played running back and Z wideout, making some catches, but let me tell ya, I don't think the coaches have any slants, curls or hitches drawn up for the Z role — it was streak, streak, streak — so I got a workout, but managed to pull in a few balls.
After running a handful of plays, who comes over to "D up" on us, but a group of players that includes Darryl Clark, Phillip Taylor, Ollie Ogbu, Maurice Evans and A.J. Wallace. It was pretty awesome matching up against Wallace from the split wing position — of course, I think he was walking through the drill, but it was fun nonetheless.
3:45 p.m. We then head over to Holuba Hall to watch some of the offensive players run some passing drills — Anthony Morelli, Derrick Williams, Chris Bell, Andrew Quarless, Brett Brackett, Terrell Golden. A few side observations: Williams looked sharp, as did Bell; and Brackett has some impressive hands.
4:00 p.m. Back to the buses to shower change and get ready for dinner. As an aside, I feel pretty good, but have some slight left rib pain due to a shot I took in drills (I won't say who did it). But I'll have to play through it.
7:30 p.m. After a bit of a rest, which I spent writing this blog, the team hops the bus and heads over to the Mount Nittany Club in the stadium for dinner. There I have the opportunity to chat with PSU's Direct of the Football Brand Guido D'Elia (who tells me the program now has a single official brand and font in the classic profile Lion logo and the Helvetica font), Ricky Sales, who started the phenomenal Penn Civilian's organziation and runs the banquet during Blue-White weekend, and former QB great Wally Richardson.
After dinner Ricky steps to the podium and shares the impressive "trials and triumphs" he has experienced in large part due to Penn State. He also announces that the Dauphin Youth Program he runs for PSU is going statewide to thunderous applause.
Jay Paterno speaks next and talks about the "difference" Penn State has from other programs, citing the 1973 commencement speech Joe Paterno made where he said, "Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." This drove the programs battle cry, if you will, of "Success with Honor."
He went onto relay the family atmosphere and multiple generations of players the program has seen. One thing that stuck with me, though, is what he said Joe Paterno tells his coaches when they go out to the homes of recruits. He says someone has made a tremendous investment raising that young man — be it a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or whoever — but you're asking them to entrust their future in you, and that is a tremendous thing to ask. He also talks about the importance of preparing young men for life after college and after football, citing guys like Ricky Sales, Michael Robinson (who graduated with degrees in marketing and broadcast journalism) and Paul Cianciolo (who will graduate with a bachelor's and MBA).
He also talks about a new book coming out which he was asked to write the foreword for called Playing for JoePa; a book with 20 chapters about 20 different player families and how they have been impacted having their sons play for Joe Paterno and Penn State.
To close the dinner the teams for Saturday's game are announced — the coaches held a "draft" this afternoon and here are the breakdowns:
Jonathan Story, No. 1
Mark Harrington, No. 3
Bruce Weirman, No. 5
Fred Kim, No. 7
Jacob Graham, No. 9
Christopher Ladd, No. 11
Scott Weaver, No. 14
John Powell, No. 15
Shawn Staley, No. 28
David Lipson, No. 42
John Barnes, No. 43
Doug Stewart, No. 43
Alex DellaBella, No. 48
Robert Kowalczyk, No. 79
William Roberge, No. 87
Mike Deitz, No. 1
Steven Bubb, No. 4
Guy Ostrander, No. 7
Scott Heiser, No. 10
Eric Ratner, No. 22
Robert Bates, No. 25
Bob Fiore, No. 31
John Rooney, No. 31
Randy Weirman, No. 31
Gary Binsberger, No. 42
Dan Hall, No. 42
Rich James, No. 44
Rich Foellner, No. 71
Jim Carson, No. 75
Despite the White Squad have not one, not two, but three versions of the legendary No. 31 (a likely reincarnation of Paul Posluszny, Andre Collins and Shane Conlan on the same team), the early edge in this one is apparently going to the Blue Team, despite me being a handicap for … I mean member of … the unit.
As PSU Fantasy Football Camp Director and former Big 33 quarterback Patrick Steenberge said, "Flag football is about offense and the Blue Team is loaded with some great offensive minds — you have Jay Paterno who knows the passing game inside and out, Kenny Jackson, a former Penn State and NFL wideout coach, and Blair Thomas, who is one of PSU's all-time leading rushers. The opening line looks to be Blue by three."
3:15 p.m. After registering at the Penn Stater hotel for camp with Becky (an Indiana native making her first trip to PSU), I get handed a duffle bag of gear — golf shirt, fitted hat, T-shirt, shorts and badge, featuring our name and jersey number.
4:30 p.m. I head to the hospitality suite to meet some of the guys after unpacking my stuff and getting the room situated. There are some fascinating Nittany Lions here — like Jacob Graham, a recently retired Marine helicopter pilot who moved from Washington, D.C. to State College, and PSU fans from as far off as Seattle, Indianapolis and North Carolina.
One particularly fascinating guy is former PSU player Tim Bronish, a camp coach. Tim's larger than life personality grabs hold of your attention and does not let go — he exudes PSU passion when he speaks and shared a variety of stories about his playing days at Penn State during the mid 1980s.
Tim is Penn State's very own "Rudy"-type story. He walked-on not once, but twice, making the team both times after losing his roster spot due to a "number's game," as Dick Anderson explained to him back in the day.
Tim talked about moving up through the ranks from a walk-on, beating out some 200 other prospects, to dressing for every game during the 1985 season, in which PSU made a national title game appearance.
Unfortunately, due to a tragedy, he elected to forego his final year of eligibility to be with his family, a "bitter-sweet" decision which resulted in him missing out on the opportunity to play for the 1986 championship squad.
Just talking with Tim fires you up enough to want to run through a brick wall — if he's any indication of the coaching staff here the guys are in for a treat.
6:15 The players load up into one of the blue team buses. The seats are pretty small (I guess they look bigger back in those fourth-grade days), and it is hard to imagine a massive lineman squeezing into one of them. It is funny to think about a guy like Levi Brown shimmying his way into one.
6:25 p.m. The players unload the bus and head into the All-Sports museum for a reception to meet and greet the other players, current coaches and former players like Blair Thomas, Kenny Jackson, Bob White and John Greene, among others.
Bob White welcomed the players and talked about the relationships he forged at Penn State with teammates like Kenny Jackson.
I also had the opportunity to chat with Kirk Diehl, PSU's equipment manager, who is married to a Blue Band friend from college and fellow New Hampshire native. Kirk's job sounds amazing and tiring at the same time — he helps to coordinate all the sports camps, including the football camp and senior-only session. He also oversees facilities like Holuba Hall and works directly with the coahing staff to help manage the team's equipment needs.
7:30 p.m. The players head to the Letterman's Club, a beautiful lounge with pub height tables and a fantastic view of Mt. Nittany. For dinner I grab some carbs and protein and stick to water — no dessert to keep in "game shape" (yeah right).
At dinner I get to sit next to Blair Thomas (who had 4,512 all-purpose yards during his college career). He's hilarious, particularly with his former teammate and "blocking back" John Greene. The two share a slew of stories and discuss the trials and tribulations of having to run "880s" in college (basically two timed runs around the outside of field).
Blair talks about a variety of topics with the three of us (Doug, Mike and I), from his transition to coaching, which was "pretty easy since I worked with so many younger guys at PSU and got them ready to play" to how D.J. Dozier helped prepare him for his time to run the backfield.
He went on to discuss the essential "vision" a back must have to be successful, saying (paraphrasing), as you play the game slows down, but you have to know what all five linemen are doing to spot a hole before it opens up.
Blair also talks about his own recruitment out of high school, which included schools like Ohio State, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt.
8:30 p.m. John Greene steps to the podium for some welcoming remarks and talks about his time in the program and what it means to be part of the program.
PSU announcer Steve Jones then gets up and shares some stories about his 16 years as the "voice of the Nittany Lions." One story involves his announcing partner and Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham. As Steve explains (parapharising), Jack rarely ever makes a mistake, but during this one game Joe was reading scores and Ham hands him a note that says Wisconsin 22 Ohio State 7! — so Jones proceed to say '...and the Wisconsin/OSU game will kick off in a few minutes. We go to break and Ham said "Why didn't you read the score?" So Jones ask, "Where did you get that score" Ham points to the scoreboard and Jones replies, "Yeah Jack, those are where the teams are ranked." Needless to say, the story got a hearty laugh.
9:00 pm Safeties coach Brian Norwood gets up and talks about his role at PSU and what it is like to be part of the program. He compares PSU to his time at the Naval Academy, saying PSU has "the same sort of discipline." He also talks about his son, Lion receiver Jordan Norwood, who he later tells me one-on-one greatly benefited this spring from his time playing hoops.
Coach Norwood then hands out playbooks to all of the players.
Next defensive line coach Larry Johnson steps up and starts talking about the intensity and passion he expects from the players and also has some mentions of the upcoming Notre Dame game in September. I can see why he is an amazing recruiter — it's incredible to hear him give a pep talk.
10:00 p.m. Athletic Director Tim Curley makes a surprise appearance and talks about the ins and outs of the economics of football, including:
Penn State nets about $4 million per home football game.
The Big Ten places 35 percent "tax" on each home football game, with a $950,000 cap — only PSU, Michigan, OSU and maybe Wisconsin hit that cap.
For one-time games, called "guaranteed" games (guaranteed because the opponent gets a guaranteed payout, not because it's a guaranteed win), teams (like Akron, Kent, Youngstown, etc.) get around $500,000 from PSU.
For home-home series, teams will swap payments to cover travel expenses, about $150,000. Penn State generally keeps the entire gate take for out of conference games.
Some other Big Ten points of interest:
The Big Ten recently discussed adding a ninth conference game to the season slate, but ultimately decided against it since one team would have to play eight games each year.
PSU is focusing on adding "national exposure" games, like Notre Dame, Alabama, Nebraska — currently they are working on scheduling out to 2015.
There has been no apparent movement on adding a 12th team to the conference, although the thought is there.
He addressed scheduling Pitt, saying setting up a long-term series in such close proximity to State College has no real benefit to PSU.
Well that's day one, and it's only been a few hours. Stay tuned for more.