Most Penn State alumni support the new era of the university under a new president, new athletic director and new football coach.
But some say the new leaders have big shoes to fill, especially in terms of the football program.
“(James) Franklin seems like a hell of a guy and coach, but I’m just not sure if anyone else will truly replace and make an impact like (Joe) Paterno did,” said Ben Scarborough, a 1971 graduate.
Scarborough is a stranger to Penn State, but Penn State’s no stranger to him.
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The Massachusetts resident said Saturday was his first time back in State College for a home game since the mid-1980s.
Now retired from the engineering profession, Scarborough said he’s going to make a point to attend every homecoming game for the rest of his life.
“It got busier and busier with work and family that I didn’t make the time to come back,” Scarborough said. “I’d just plop on the couch and catch the game. ... It’s time to make up for the time I’ve been missing. I’d like to fit this one game in a year. It’s a special time to celebrate.”
Being back, tailgating with old friends and sitting in a crowd of blue and white reminded him what he missed so much.
Saturday’s homecoming game against Northwestern honored alumni with the theme “honor the purpose, carry the pride.”
The Wildcats handed the Nittany Lions their first loss of the season, 29-6.
The theme was picked by the Penn State Homecoming Committee as a way to remember the alumni, represent the current student body and celebrate Penn State’s future, said Kristine Zangrillo, public relations director.
The Homecoming Committee organized several festivities throughout the week leading up to Saturday afternoon’s game that included a tailgate competition and naming of student court.
Paul Frankhouser, a 1965 graduate, said he feels like he’s experienced nearly all of Penn State’s ups and downs.
“Things are changing for the better,” he said. “On campus, we’re seeing growth in student population and new buildings that weren’t there before.”
Frankhouser hosts a tailgate at his parking spot near Gate E of Beaver Stadium that has so much Penn State pride, he won awards in tailgating competitions for it.
His white Hummer was full of Nittany Lion stickers. Outside his car was a Penn State shrine that included a cardboard cutout of Paterno and a “magic rock” he encouraged guests a to rub for good luck.
LeVan Tyler, a 2001 graduate, stopped by Frankhouser’s tailgate. He put his hand on the rock, wished for a win and reminisced about good times he missed as a student.
“When I see fans welcome our opponent’s fans and being friendly, it only reminds me that there is a lot of positive things that come with this university,” Tyler said.
Tyler hasn’t been to a Nittany Lion football game since before the Sandusky scandal, but said the changes at the university are only for the better.
“I have trust that this school brings in the best people for the job,” Tyler said. “I think it takes time, but I think Penn State is on the right track to get its good reputation back.”
Frankhouser thinks it starts with the fans.
“We’re all about good sportsmanship and welcoming everyone,” Frankhouser said. “And as Penn State fans, we need to be part of the change. The worst is behind us.”
While Frankhouser said he’s a big supporter of Paterno, he thought coach Bill O’Brien did a good job filling in at a crucial time, and added that Franklin can make a positive impact on the team and community.
A group of community members held an annual floral memorial for Paterno at the site of the former statue.
Organizer Susan Deitterich said that through social media, she and a group of others spread the word for people to buy bouquets of flowers from Florals on the Corner in Lilly, and write a positive message about Paterno.
More than 100 bouquets were placed outside of Beaver Stadium that formed “JVP” and “409.”
Deitterich said those flowers would then be placed at Paterno’s gravesite and eventually go to Sue Paterno.
“We need to remember his legacy and remember to carry it on in the future,” Deitterich said.
Another organizer, Pam Burg, said the group would hold this event every homecoming game until the university decides to re-erect a Paterno statue.
During halftime, the Penn State Alumni Blue Band took the field in front of a crowd of 102,910 — the highest attendance for a day game in Beaver Stadium since the 2011 Nebraska game, said athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson.
Seniors Kevin Bunce and Kenya Crawford were then named homecoming king and queen.
Zangrillo said the court represents a group of Penn State students who are actively involved with the university through organizations, philanthropy and other extracurricular activities.
“They encompass well-rounded Penn State leaders,” Zangrillo said.
Voting was opened to Penn State students throughout Homecoming Week. There were 10 nominees, Zangrillo said.