Penn State’s itinerary for its football team’s trip Ireland is beginning to come into focus.
The Nittany Lions will transport all of their equipment and personnel to Harrisburg International Airport on Tuesday for an evening departure. When they arrive in Ireland following an approximately seven-and-a-half-hour flight, it will be Wednesday afternoon as Ireland is five hours ahead of State College time.
With so much travel time built in, the season opener against Central Florida at Croke Park presents a unique chance for coach James Franklin and his staff to bond with players in what will be Franklin’s first game in the program’s most visible spot.
“I think it’s great for the staff,” Franklin said. “It’s a challenge, but getting everything organized and seeing how we kind of do our business and for the players as well to get accustomed to how we travel and how we are on planes and the hotels and meals and game organization, and all those types of things. Those things are important.”
After arriving, Penn State Director of Football Operations Michael Hazel said the team plans to make it through customs in Dublin in two hours or less. Afterward, the Nittany Lions will head to Croke Park first to get the lay of the land — check out the locker rooms and the field itself — and have lunch. Franklin will hold his first team meeting at Croke Park before the team takes an approximate 15 minute ride to its practice facility at University College Dublin.
Penn State is staying 30 minutes away from its practice facility at the Powerscourt Hotel in Wicklow. From the team hotel, it is about a 35-minute ride to Croke Park.
“They won’t get to their hotel room until approximately 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night,” Hazel said. “Once we go in the city, we’ll stay there for a little bit and then come back. It’s not like you can just go to the practice site, go to the hotel, go back into the city. It’s not as easy.”
Hazel said Wednesday would be one of the busier days in Dublin for the team. And Penn State players should be able to fall asleep without much difficulty. They’ll sleep on the plane en route and wake up once arriving on Wednesday.
“Once you get to Dublin you want to stay up and keep going that whole day until it’s time to go to sleep on that night that we arrive and your body will kind of get back on cycle there,” Penn State’s Director of Football Administration Kevin Threlkel said.
Penn State has not yet released its practice schedule.
UCF will hold practices at the Carton House Sports and Training Faciltiy in Maynooth, about 30 minutes east of Croke Park. The Knights are schedule to practice on Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Thursday from 10:40 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. On Friday, UCF will hold a walk-thru practice at Croke Park at 12:45 p.m.
Penn State’s open audition for offensive linemen has continued through training camp.
It’s been a challenging process as Franklin said the team hasn’t used the same five players consistently on the first-team unit for back-to-back practices. Tackles Donovan Smith and Andrew Nelson and center Wendy Laurent have all been limited at times in camp.
“What happens is, we might have a guy who misses a practice because he twisted his ankle. Or we might want to try a new guy at a different position or whatever and we haven’t really had the same five guys at the same five spots for multiple practices yet,” Franklin said. “That’s kind of where we’re at now. Now we’ve had a to evaluate all these guys, now it’s how do we get the best five on the field complimenting each other, playing as a unit and getting some consistency there. That’s really what we’re going to be trying to do now over the next week and a half.”
Franklin and his staff spent some time earlier this week determining which players could use redshirt seasons and preserve as season of eligibility.
“Mainly the freshmen and the new arrivals on campus (we) talked to them about how we saw them,” Franklin said. “Some guys that we saw will play right away and other guys are kind of like, wait and see, that we were going to try and hold their redshirt if we were able to based on injuries and then another group that was more than likely going to redshirt based on injuries.
“There’s still some ongoing conversations with their position coaches and me as well. But we did start that conversation.”
The Nittany Lions have 57 players with redshirts still available, 34 of which are true freshmen. In addition, 11 sophomores, six juniors and six seniors have not used redshirts.
Franklin hinted that a handful of true freshman will likely not redshirt this season as he praised their performances in camp and highlighted them as players that Penn State would need to play this season. Those players included wide receivers Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, tight end Mike Gesicki, linebackers Koa Farmer and Jason Cabinda, cornerback Grant Haley and safety Marcus Allen.
With less than two weeks until kickoff in Dublin, Penn State has begun implementing its game plan for UCF.
Franklin said the coaching staff has started to piece together individual roles for the scout team and assistant coaches have been analyzing UCF film.
“We’ve obviously done preliminary game plans all summer but now we’re going back after having a better idea of who we are on offense, defense and special teams and who we’re going to be playing with,” Franklin said. “Now we’re going to be modifying those gameplans and going through it.
“We’re at the very beginning of it right now although we’ve done some legwork ahead of time.”
The Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland continued to rumble with seismic activity on Thursday, keeping the possibility that travel to and from Ireland could be halted if it erupts.
But the Icelandic Meteorological Office kept the aviation warning level at orange — the fourth highest on a five-point scale. Resulting ash clouds from volcanic eruptions can spread hundreds of miles from the eruption site and pose serious hazardous to airliners. A volcanic eruption in 2010 forced European airlines to cancel all flights for six days.
According to the latest update from the IMO, the highest magnitude earthquake detected near Bardarbunga measured 3.8 on the Richter scale. As the Croke Park Classic is technically a home game for the Knights, a UCF spokesman told the Centre Daily Times that school officials are still monitoring the situation.