Nittany Lions walk into Beaver Stadium, zap the Zips in home opener

CDT photo

Judd Paris lifted his 6-year-old son, Cody, over the top of a crowd of fans so he could greet some of his favorite Penn State football players as they walked by Saturday morning.

The first high-five Cody got was from safety Adrian Amos, who acknowledged Cody with a “What’s up, little dude?”

Cody just giggled and reached out farther to tap the next player.

Saturday morning — the day of Penn State’s first home football game against the University of Akron — saw the debut of the Nittany Lions’ new method of entering Beaver Stadium.

This will be the team entrance to the stadium for every home game this season, said Jeff Nelson, assistant athletic director of communications.

“Coach (James) Franklin wanted the fans to have an opportunity for more interaction with the team during their arrival at the stadium,” Nelson said.

Instead of dropping off players at the tunnel as in past years, buses stopped in front of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Coaches and players then walked down Curtin Road through a sea of fans and into the stadium through the normal entrance.

The setup allows for two lines of fans who need to stay in line to maintain a separate lane for the players to walk, Nelson said.

“It’s great,” said David Ward, who was standing on Porter Road holding a sign that said “Nittany Nation is ready to roar.”

“It’s great to see the buses come in and get that interaction with the team,” Ward added. “There’s a nice support between the community and the team.”

Late last month, the team tested the new routine with a practice walk in front of dozens of fans.

“It was a neat experience to be one of the first people to see it beforehand,” said Jenn Lyons, a spectator of the team’s run-through.

Fans had the chance to get fist bumps and high-fives from players during the walk but were not able to get autographs.

Most players usually sign autographs afterward, Nelson said.

Nelson said he doesn’t expect the team to normally have a large group of security during its entrance before each game. However, Penn State and State College police were present to keep the crowd under control. Bicycle patrol from Penn State’s DuBois campus also helped.

Members of the Blue Band, cheerleaders and the Lionettes dance team held a pep rally at 9 a.m., about 30 minutes before the team arrived.

The drumline could be heard around the stadium as fans such as Bennett Murphy and Byron Jordan sang along to the Penn State fight song.

Hundreds chanted, “We are!”

Penn State’s 21-3 win over the Zips was the team’s second win of the season. The Nittany Lions beat the University of Central Florida, 26-24, at the Croke Park Classic last weekend in Dublin.

It was also Franklin’s debut at Beaver Stadium for an official game, although he was on the sidelines at the Blue-White game in the spring.

“He has a lot of composure on the sideline and called some risky plays,” Jordan said. “Once we start playing teams like Michigan and Ohio State, then that’s where the real test of his coaching character will be.”

At halftime, about 50 members of the undefeated 1994 team were introduced as part of the 20th reunion weekend. The 1954 men’s national championship soccer team was also honored during the game.

The 1994 Nittany Lions were the Big Ten Conference’s first 12-0 team, winning the Big Ten Championship and defeating Oregon to win the 1995 Rose Bowl.

Jordan said he’d be happy with an 8-4 season and the chance to see Penn State in a bowl game.

The same goes for longtime Penn State fan and 1971 graduate Sue Wilson, of Cleveland.

“We go to all these games and the bowl games,” Wilson said. “There is something pretty special about the bowl games.”

Although a diehard Joe Paterno fan, Wilson said she believes Franklin can fill Paterno’s and former coach Bill O’Brien’s shoes.

“I was heartbroken when Joe died,” Wilson said. “Then Bill O’Brien came in and I looked into his blue eyes and knew he was a good fit, and prayed he’d stay forever. ... Now we have new leadership and there something that tells me he’s going to do a good job for a long time.”

Some fans said they hope the team can improve its running game. And with the addition of the new scoreboard, they said they also hope the university can include more player statistics to view on the screens.

The Nittany Lions play Rutgers at 8 p.m. Saturday in New Brunswick, N.J.