Penn State football coach James Franklin and his players are leaving for Dublin, Ireland, on the same page.
They’ve repeatedly said their matchup with Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic is a business trip.
The Nittany Lions are determined to remain focused on the Knights despite the challenges and distractions that come with starting the season overseas.
“You’ve got to make sure everyone’s on the same page, doing the right things all the time,” Penn State linebacker Mike Hull said at a press conference Tuesday. “For us this is a business trip, at the end of the day winning is going to be the deciding factor whether or not the trip’s going to be a success or a failure, so we’re really just looking forward to the game.”
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Penn State and UCF are set to kick off at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Croke Park. The Nittany Lions practiced Tuesday before departing for Harrisburg for their overnight flight to Dublin. The team is taking more than 9,000 individual items and about 20,000 pounds of cargo for the trip.
Penn State has been working toward the season opener since Franklin was hired in January.
Every team meeting has included a countdown at the end of a powerpoint presentation. Franklin recently started including a countdown leading up to Penn State’s departure date.
The coach has sensed the excitement building.
“I keep telling them it’s going to be here before you know it,” Franklin said before snapping his fingers for emphasis. “It’s going to be here before you know it and it really has. So I think I put that up the other day and talked about when we were leaving and how many days we had left, it was a little bit different feeling in the room.
“And like we’ve talked about before they get to the point where they’re sick of seeing us, we’re sick of seeing them, they’re sick of practicing against each other. They want to play a different opponent. That’s part of camp, you spend so much time together.”
The focus has shifted to Central Florida.
The Nittany Lions released their depth chart for the season opener, and Franklin discussed the Knights’ strengths with an experienced defense and proven playmakers at wide receiver.
Penn State will also need to adjust to a different time zone — Dublin is five hours ahead of State College — after flying overseas. But Central Florida faces the same obstacles.
“We’re going to play a game and so is Central Florida. They’re having to deal with all the same issues of flying to another country and the time zone and all of those things,” Franklin said. “So I think that’s helpful, it’s not like you’re flying somewhere and playing a team in their element. And then besides that, this is not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For us this is a business trip to go play the football game no different than if we were playing at State College High School.
“We’d be excited to play Central Florida wherever the game would be and it’s not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience because we’re going to work really hard to make sure all of our players graduate with a meaningful degree from Penn State so they can afford to go back at some point on vacation with their family and their friends and enjoy the countryside.”
Franklin said the team will have a walkthrough practice Wednesday after its overnight flight.
The team will also have dinner at the Guinness Storehouse and take a bus tour of the city during the week.
But defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said that’s all secondary to trying to leave Ireland with the first win of the season.
“With the extra stuff that might be involved while we’re down there, we’re still going to have UCF in the back of our mind,” Olaniyan said.
In the end, this trip is all about playing a football game.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most is playing at Croke Park with my brothers and playing UCF,” center Angelo Mangiro said. “It is a business trip, so that’s what our mindset is. It’s also a great experience going over to Europe, you can’t deny that. So that down time we do have, I’m going to enjoy it with the guys on the team, whatever activities they have planned, and just take in the culture of Ireland as much as you can.”