There was no international flight, no long day upon arrival and no soggy football practice on Day 2 in Ireland for the Penn State football team.
There was only serene weather in a picturesque setting, a productive one-hour football practice, an enlightening try of hurling and Gaelic football — Ireland’s cherished national pastimes — and a nice team dinner at one of Dublin’s most storied locales on Thursday.
“Yes,” Franklin said when asked if a sense of normalcy has returned to the team. “It’s been fun but it’s been meetings and practice. The food’s been excellent, the hotel’s been great. I think the guys appreciate a change of pace. I do think that. But it’s been a business trip really for us.”
Rather than waking up on a massive airplane, Penn State players awoke to the accommodation of the Powerscourt Hotel, a five-star residence located about 30 minutes south of Dublin in breathtaking Wicklow. Many players and staff members posted pictures of the wooded, mostly green surroundings on social media sites.
Sophomore tight end Adam Breneman called the hotel “unreal.”
After a run of meetings, players and coaches bused to University College Dublin for their second practice. The Nittany Lions added shoulder pads to the mix but largely stuck to a walk-through pace, Franklin said. The first time the team practices at Croke Park, the venue for Penn State’s game against Central Florida, will be on Saturday during warmups.
“We don’t usually do walk-throughs at the stadium,” Franklin said. “I like to control environments so we don’t typically walk-through in other people’s stadium. We won’t do that. I think the fact that we got to check out the stadium the other day, that was good enough.”
Walker getting more looks
Former Central Mountain standout Von Walker has continued to get a decent workload in practice.
On Wednesday, Walker practiced as a kick returner and has battled his way up to the second spot on Penn State’s depth chart behind Brandon Bell at outside linebacker.
“We feel like Von Walker at the field linebacker, has improved and we’ve put him in a position he can contribute,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said.
Walker, a walk-on a year ago, starred for Central Mountain in multiple roles. He holds most of his alma mater’s rushing and passing records and his high school success translated into a big role unusual for a walk-on true freshman. Walker played running back last season for Penn State and was one of the team’s primary returners and blockers on special teams.
A former walk-on from central Pennsylvania himself, senior safety Ryan Keiser believes Walker will play an even bigger role this season.
“I think he has it down pretty good,” Keiser said. “He came in working hard every day trying to earn a spot and I think he’s done a good job of that and I think he’s going to keep doing that over the years. He’s a good player. He’s definitely going to help us out. Whatever position the coaches put him in he’s going to do a great job.”
Franklin happy to have a challenging start
Count Franklin among the college football coaches who prefer a big game to start the season.
This will be the second time in three seasons a Franklin-coached team opens against an opponent that won at least 11 games the year before. UCF went 12-1 last season and won the Fiesta Bowl over Baylor. In 2012 while at Vanderbilt, Franklin and the Commodores played South Carolina to open the season. The Gamecocks went on to win 11 games. Last season, Vanderbilt opened and lost to a tough Ole Miss team.
“I do think there’s some advantage to playing a big opponent in the first game of the year to get the guys juiced up and excited,” Franklin said. “So there’s a lot of ways to be right and we’re just going to embrace the situation that we have now which is opening with Central Florida and we have the opportunity.”
Fans of both teams ready
It was easy to spot college football fans in Dublin’s airport on Wednesday. They were wearing blue and white or black and gold.
For all of them, this is the farthest they’ve traveled to watch their teams — Penn State or UCF — play a football game.
John Cooper and his party of four came from Orlando, where he’s followed the Knights since UCF opened play as a Division III progran in 1979. Cooper graduated from UCF in 1985.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how our team comes together this year,” Cooper said. “I think we’ve got the best wide receiver corps in the country and we’ll see what kind of quarterback we have this year to get the ball to them. Penn State’s a great school to play against, a lot of history.”
Meanwhile, Bryan Glover, from northern California, actually had a shorter flight to Dublin. Glover flew in from London, where he was vacationing for a week to see the game. Glover, who said he was recruited by former Penn State wrestling coach Troy Sunderland before deciding to join the Marines, tries to get to at least one or two Penn State games a year.
He’d been planning this trip with two friends for about a year.
An experienced Penn State tailgater and veteran European traveler, Glover said he’s interested to see how the game — and the pregame and postgame hoopla — is perceived by the locals.
“I’m almost nervous as to how the Irish will receive Penn State fans because they’re so boisterous. It’s such a good thing,” Glover said. “Combining the American travel reputation with the noisiness in general of Penn State fans and the “We Are!” chants going around Temple Bar. But I think it’s going to be fun. It seems like Dublin is really excited and prepared for the game.”