UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State’s summer football workouts are conducted at early hours, with players often trekking across dark lots to enter a quiet Lasch Building.
Rising for the workouts is a summer necessity. But it’s not always easy.
Muscles ache, sweat drips and the weight of the plates hoisted generates no external fanfare.
Strength training represents a solitary pursuit, which made Tuesday’s “Rise and Rally” event more meaningful for
Penn State players. The group encountered 3,000 fans before a workout designed to help them maintain summer gains when preseason practice opens next Monday.
“We had to keep them in the locker room,” director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald said. “Some of them love the love, and I had to talk to them about the actual workout. The fans really jacked them up. You can see the hair on the back of their necks.”
The rally, which was organized by former players Keith Conlin and Tim Sweeney, who co-host “The Goon Show” podcast, provided support for players enduring a turbulent eight months. The stretch includes the aftermath of the
Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, resulting in the NCAA levying major sanctions against the program last week.
The sanctions include a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, massive scholarship reductions and a transfer waiver that has turned Penn State players into college football’s version of free agents. The waiver is a nuisance because it gives players until the start of 2013 preseason practices a chance to transfer without having to sit out a season. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin said Tuesday’s scene could sway decisions, although Penn State lost junior running back Silas Redd to Southern California late Tuesday afternoon. Redd didn’t attend the workout.
Junior kicker/punter Anthony Fera and sophomore linebacker Mike Hull were among the undecided players who walked the gauntlet between buildings. After the 40-minute workout, players gathered with fans at the middle of a practice field. McGloin addressed the crowd before players posed for pictures with strangers.
“The guys that are here, that are a little on the fence, I don’t understand how you can leave this place after today,” McGloin said. “Honestly, I’m 100 percent proud to be a Nittany Lion. This is just a tremendous turnout, and I’m speechless.”
Players are making calculated decisions about their futures. The sanctions mean players such as redshirt freshman tackle Donovan Smith will never play in a bowl game at Penn State. He said it took “a couple of days” to decide to return for 2012.
“It was a big decision,” Smith said. “I definitely spoke with my family, but I grew up in a house where you have to be loyal to your decisions. I’m staying here.”
Senior Gerald Hodges immediately decided last week to return. The intense outside linebacker said he ignores discussions involving the sanctions. The way Hodges sees things, his focus must be directed toward the Nittany Lions’ 12-game schedule. The season begins Sept. 1 against Mid-American Conference preseason favorite Ohio University at Beaver Stadium.
“We still have 12 games to play,” Hodges said. “A bowl game ain’t nothing but a vacation anyway, except for the national championship, which I would love to play in. But at the end of the day, I can’t sit here and dwell on it. I have to move forward.”
Proactive teammates surround Hodges. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti constructed an emphatic defense of the football program during last week’s Big Ten media days in Chicago. Mauti has talked about “raising hell” on Saturdays and criticized the NCAA for the poaching situation it created through the transfer waiver. He receivedTuesday’s loudest cheers from fans.
Hodges, Mauti and the rest of Penn State’s projected starting defense has committed to staying this season.
“It wasn’t even a problem,” Hodges said. “This is Penn State. Defense is a big part of Penn State football. We never had a problem with any of our guys leaving or anything like that.”
Later in the day, more than 275 football letterwinners met with coach Bill O’Brien and players. The letterwinners addressed the team 12 hours after the early-morning rally. The meeting ended an inspiring day.
“We’re playing for pride, we’re playing for the university, we’re playing for all the students that come to these games,” said senior fullback Michael Zordich, whose father, Michael, played at Penn State from 1982-85. “You aren’t only playing for that, but you are playing for all the guys that played before you that made that tradition a tradition.
“It’s more than just a season, it’s more than just coming back, it’s about an entire family. It really is. It’s about making people proud of who you are and who they are and just being proud of being part of Penn State.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy