UNIVERSITY PARK — Clouds, wind and rain moved people indoors Friday as the overnight RV lot opened to campers for the annual Blue-White game, but the weather didn’t put a damper on a group of Penn State fans who drove in from Erie.
Dan Heise, Ashley Ganzer, Matt Ganzer, Amanda Smith and Mark Smith made the more than three-hour drive Thursday night into State College. They first spent the night in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and then were one of the first campers to make it to the Penn State parking lot by 8 a.m. Friday.
With an RV borrowed from a family member and two large pop-up tents to shield them from the rain, the group took most of the morning setting up a flat-screen TV with video games and music, and an area for grilling, food and drinks.
With a lot of experience under their belts, the group has gone through six years of tailgating enhancements, said Amanda Smith.
“We started out with just ourselves and a tent, and then got into all this,” said Smith, who makes the trip each year with the gang who all graduated from Harbor Creek School District in Harborcreek Township, Erie County. “It’s become a tradition.”
Six years ago, Ashley and her husband, Matt Ganzer, a 2006 Penn State graduate, met at the Blue-White game and were married about a year later — just in time for the next football season.
“We actually planned our wedding in August because we knew it couldn’t interfere with football,” Ashley Ganzer said.
With the football program under the leadership of new head coach James Franklin, fans are hoping for a good season — but have realistic goals. Matt Ganzer said he hopes the team stays healthy and that he would be happy if it ended the season with a .500 record.
Earlier this year, Franklin replaced Bill O’Brien, who accepted an NFL job with the Houston Texans.
“A change of coach is a change of culture for the game,” Ashley Smith said. “I think it will take a little getting used to, but I think he can live up to the hype.”
“I think once he gets to know the team, then he can set the bar for the team,” Heise, a 2011 Penn State graduate, added. “He seems like one of those guys who’s committed to sticking around for a while.”
The group expects a few more friends to tailgate with on Saturday before the 1:30 p.m. kickoff, but said that, friends or not, the Penn State bond expands out of their group.
“When you’re a Penn State fan, there is this unspoken family within each other,” Heise said.
Mark Smith, a 2006 and 2008 Penn State graduate, added that Nittany Lion fans even take in fans of opposing teams.
“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “I think everyone embraces the culture, has some fun, has a few drinks and has a nice time.”
The Blue-White game is a team scrimmage open to the public, free of charge. Jeff Nelson, Penn State assistant athletic director of communications, said that more than 60,000 people are expected to attend the game.
Gates A and B open for fans at 10:30 a.m. for a team autograph session. Gates C and E open at noon.
Saturday’s forecast predicts 69 degrees and sunny conditions with a low of 49 degrees, according to AccuWeather.
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.