UNIVERSITY PARK — UNIVERSITY PARK — After learning about a planned rally Tuesday for the Penn State football team, the Koch family drove from Cleveland to State College on Monday night.
They got up before dawn Tuesday and headed for the Nittany Lions’ practice facility, not knowing what to expect.
But they encountered a full-blown Penn State pep rally, complete with signs, cheers and Blue Band fight songs.
An estimated crowd of 3,000 welcomed the football players for a voluntary workout, just eight days after the program was hit with severe NCAA sanctions.
“On the way, I told them, ‘There may be 50 people there.’ We didn’t know,” Sue Koch said. “But it was terrific.”
Koch made the trip with her husband Matt and 12-year-old son Benjamin. She said they watch every Penn State game they can on TV, and make it to about a game a year at Beaver Stadium.
“We’re not season-ticket holders, at least we haven’t been in the past. But we may be this year,” said Sue Koch, a Titusville native and one of five siblings to graduate from Penn State.
Those gathered outside the Lasch Football Building cheered and clapped as the players arrived and were greeted at the door of the football building by Sue Paterno, wife of the late Joe Paterno.
Fans lined the walkway from the Lasch Building to Holuba Hall as players moved to the practice facility together.
The rally came little more than a week after the sanctions that followed the Freeh report into the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sandusky, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator, was convicted June 22 on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse.
“Obviously, this has been a horrible story,” Sue Koch said. “Because we support the team doesn’t mean we support a monster. The people who should be are being held accountable. But there are so many other folks who are affected by this.”
The crowd included Penn State students, employees, retirees, local residents and people who drove to town in the dark to support the football team.
The university closed McKean Road to accommodate the event.
“We expected a couple thousand people,” Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham said.
They got that and more.
“After all the things that have happened, it’s good to see the community coming together,” State College resident Gene Tyworth said.
Bob Nicely, of Boalsburg, a retired Penn State professor and former associate dean with the College of Education, attended the rally with his wife, Donna, and several friends.
“When we saw the crowds of people flowing in from multiple directions simultaneously, it was surreal,” Bob Nicely said. “I was choked up.”
“This is Penn State,” said Lisa Benson, of Boalsburg. “People don’t get that.”
The crowd included many Penn State students.
“When I got here, I was surprised and pleased with the turnout,” said Rachel Isaacs, a Penn State junior from Pittsburgh.
Penn State student Olivia Francois, also a junior from Pittsburgh, said: “This is what Penn State pride is all about. We got up early and came out to support the team together.”
Sponsors of the event included Old State Clothing, Nittany Bank, Dante’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The rally concept came from co-hosts Tim Sweeney and Keith Conlin of “The Goon Show,” a local Internet podcast. Both Sweeney and Conlin are former Penn State football players.
Sweeney was thrilled with the turnout at the rally, which was organized in four days.
“My expectations were far exceeded because of the limited amount of time we had and the fact that it was on a Tuesday morning,” Sweeney said. “But in the same breath, I must say that it doesn’t surprise me that Penn State would rally like this.”
State College resident Cindy Bittner said despite the early hour, “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Added Boalsburg resident Pam Francis: “It really is a family.”