UNIVERSITY PARK — Greg Lazor and his friends continued an old tradition Saturday morning, hours before kickoff of the Blue- White game.
Lazor hoisted a life-sized cardboard cutout of Joe Paterno on the back of his RV, parked outside Beaver Stadium, amid a sea of revelers.
“He’ll always be with us,” Lazor said as he and a friend took time to hang the cutout, before the grill was lit and the roughly 25 expected guests arrived for their tailgate.
But many of the Penn State faithful celebrating Saturday, including Lazor and his friends, seemed more interested in talking about the future, about new traditions.
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“We love Joe, but we are excited for the future,” said Terry Greenly Jr. as he walked toward the stadium with his father and daughter. “We’re going to give the new guy a chance.”
The new guy, head football coach Bill O’Brien, was almost unanimously the subject of praise Saturday.
“He’s doing all the right things,” said Lazor, of Sax-ton. “I’m very impressed with the things he is doing.”
Lazor predicted it would be a rebuilding season for Penn State football, something he said shouldn’t be held against the new coach. His friends are hopeful for an 8-4 season.
On the other side of the stadium, Terry Greenly Sr. was also feeling optimistic. “What if he goes 9-3? Imagine the support (he’ll have).
“I think they can win some games,” he said. “But who knows when everything is so different. We don’t know what to expect.”
Some said curiosity is what brought them to the spring scrimmage Saturday, some making the trip for the first time.
“That’s kind of why we are here,” said Jeff Laudenslager, of Allentown. “We want to see the new system.”
Much has changed since Laudenslager, a Penn State alumnus, was last on campus 30 years ago. His cousin, Brian Lakatosh, had never been to State College. Both were curious to see the start of a new era for the football program.
“It’s been 30 years,” Laudenslager said. “I miss Joe — everyone does, but I’m thinking positive. I wanted to see the change.”
Another Penn State graduate returning after a long absence was Mary Ann Ladd, of Boston. She and a friend, Cecelia Sheasley, of Osceola Mills, were in town for a meet-and-greet with the candidates running for three alumni seats on the board of trustees.
“I think it’s extremely important to vote in this election,” she said. “I think it’s important to have people in there who are not going to remain silent.”
Sheasley said they planned to attend the game as long as the weather held up. “We’re fair weather Blue-White game fans.”
She got her wish, as rain predicted for Saturday held off until the game ended. Still, many secured tailgate tents and canopies when the sky grew overcast and temperatures dipped before the scrimmage.
The sometimes rowdy tailgate celebrations in parking lots around the stadium gave way to a more somber atmosphere around the Paterno statue.
A large crowd stood around the statue, a steady stream of people coming and going. Some placed flowers, others took pictures of their children posing with the shrine to the former coach, who died in January.
“We just wanted to pay tribute,” said Matt Poff, of York, who was attending the game with his wife, Amy, and their two young children.
“We still hold JoePa in high regard,” he said. “It’s still surreal — hard to believe he’s not there.”
But Poff, like many others, also said he’s excited for the future, to see what O’Brien’s teams can do on the field.
“I’m certainly more optimistic than I was six months ago,” he said. “(O’Brien’s) going to win on the field and do things the right way.”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631.