Penn State Football

What’s it like playing in a White Out? Penn State coaches, players talk ‘unreal’ experience

Penn State’s annual White Out has been called one of college football’s greatest environments, a bucket-list requirement for every diehard football fan.

And it’s back again Saturday night.

The No. 7 Nittany Lions (6-0) will take the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines (5-1) in the most anticipated home game of the year, where nearly the entire stadium dresses in white and cheers until it goes hoarse. ESPN’s “College GameDay” is in town, Beaver Stadium is guaranteed to be sold out, and numerous students are camping out in front of Gate A as part of Nittanyville.

“It’s college football at its finest,” Penn State offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez said.

The electricity of a White Out is evident on TV, and it’s a lifetime experience in the crowd. But on the field? It’s on a whole other level.

Here’s how James Franklin and Penn State’s players described the annual event this week:

HC James Franklin

“Obviously, it has an impact on game day and how we play and how challenging we can make it for their offense. It also has an impact that there’s going to be a bunch of young players sitting in those seats or hopefully standing in the stadium and feeling the energy that we have in this town and the energy in the stadium and say, ‘Hey, this is where I want to play.’

“I mean, you think back, I remember when I first got here thinking about that. Was it a four-overtime Michigan game? How many players ended up on our roster that were in the stands that night? Does it have an impact? Yes. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, I think it does, especially in a White Out.

“I remember (former PSU tight end) Jesse James talking about if you come to the White Out, it’s almost impossible for you not to come to Penn State. It’s almost impossible.”

(On how he’s come to embrace the White Out)

“I think everybody does. I’ve been telling Coach (Gerad) Parker what it’s going to be like because even though some of these guys have been coaching college football for a long time, it’s different. It’s different. I tell people, literally, I’ll have that eight seconds where I’m standing there in the tunnel and you see it and you hear it, but you literally feel it. You literally feel it. I’ll enjoy it for that eight seconds and then you run out and you’re so consumed doing your job from that point on, it’s kind of hard. ... But, yeah, it’s special.”

DC Brent Pry

“I tell you, it was breathtaking. My first experience with it, I came out of that tunnel and felt pretty normal until we got out there on that sideline and just kind of soaked it in. And Coach Franklin doesn’t like me to tell this story, but I about passed out. (laughs) It was pretty awesome. Being from Pennsylvania and having Penn State be such a big part of so much of my family, it was just an overwhelming feeling, the White Out itself and what it meant to be me to be coaching in that game.

“How do I describe it? It’s just a very, very passionate experience. The fans, the players, the coaches, the recruits — everybody that’s involved — gets very wrapped up in the moment, in the game. For spectators and recruits, it’s something that lasts throughout. And for us as coaches and players, to a degree, once the ball is snapped, it’s still a 100-yard field and things kind of go that way. When you throw those headsets on and you’re calling plays and evaluating things, you’re kind of oblivious to what’s around you until particular moments in the game. Certainly, the best college experience for me, personally — and I’ve been in quite a few.”

OL Steven Gonzalez, redshirt senior

“It’s college football at its finest. For some people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So for me to have it, going on my fifth year having it, it’s a blessing. And it’s one of those things — like I said, once in a lifetime. To me, it’s kind of the same experience I had with the Rose Bowl. Not many people are able to say that they’ve been to a Rose Bowl.

“I think it’s one of those things where you can only experience it once. If you’re able to experience it more, then it’s awesome. But it’s college football at its finest, to be honest.”

TE Pat Freiermuth, sophomore

“To be honest, there’s no real words to describe it, to actually say what it really is. I could say it’s electric. I could say it’s loud. But that wouldn’t really do it justice. You can feel the ground shaking at times; it’s an amazing experience. And you can’t really put words to describe how unreal it is.”

(On his White Out experience as a recruit)

“I couldn’t visit the White Out because my high school played on Saturdays, so I couldn’t make it. But I was committed prior to 2016, the Ohio State game, the White Out one. And it was crazy (watching on TV). I remember I was in the student center at my high school (in Massachusetts), and there were a bunch of people in my class talking smack, saying that Penn State’s not going to win — and then obviously they did their thing and they ended up winning. And it was awesome. It was a cool experience.

“You could just see the camera shaking on TV. It was pretty cool, and I can’t wait for this experience on Saturday, for another White Out. Last year, I can’t even describe what it was like. It was awesome.”

CB Tariq Castro Fields, junior

“The first word that came to mind was just ‘unreal.’ You get another sense of purpose to play, if that makes sense. It’s guys going out there with an extra energy throughout the whole game. It’s definitely an unreal experience.”

(On his first visit as a recruit)

“I went to the one where they played Michigan in the daytime (in 2015). Maybe I was in 10th grade. The only thing I remember was (DE Torrence Brown’s) hit, if you remember what I was talking about. And the crowd went ridiculous. I remember going back to my freshman year when we played Michigan. That was crazy as well.”

LB Jan Johnson, redshirt senior

“It’s pretty incredible. I mean, last year we had Ohio State in the White Out, and it’s just 100,000 fans on their feet — all wearing white, screaming and yelling. It’s definitely a tough environment for any team to come in and try to play. And it really gives us a lot of energy, the players having the fan support in an atmosphere like that.”

WR Jahan Dotson, sophomore

“My first time was last year as a player (on the sideline), and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve been a part of. The atmosphere is just amazing, and it’s crazy how all those fans come together and really support the players and the campus. So it’s definitely a pretty cool experience, and I just can’t wait to play in my first White Out game.”

DT PJ Mustipher, sophomore

“It’s going to be tough for people who haven’t experienced it to describe it, but it’s like a sea of white, just everybody is wearing white. Everybody is really loud. And, for me, that really helps. And for this defense, that really helps because you can’t hear anybody next to you, in front of you or behind you. So I would describe it like that.”

P Blake Gillikin, senior

“That atmosphere was electric. I think nothing in the country compares to a White Out. I think Jordan (Stout) told me a couple days ago that he still hasn’t heard anything louder than Virginia Tech, and I think he’s going to be proven wrong this weekend. So I think Coach is talking about trying to pack 112,000 in — and I think that’s probably a low-ball number. So we’re looking forward to it.”

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