Penn State students will tell you the that their section is where it’s at during home football games.
On Saturday afternoon, more than 21,000 students in the section stood up and cheered as the Nittany Lions beat Eastern Michigan, 45-7, honored the undefeated 1973 Nittany Lions, and saw the first retired jersey number in school history.
“It’s incredible here,” said Penn State sophomore Zach Zajac. “We all sit together for one purpose and it’s a little bit like family bonding.”
Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Jeff Nelson said the university sold just more than 21,000 student season tickets. He added that, on Saturday, students were able to buy individual tickets for $40 in a different part of the stadium since the student section was at capacity.
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When freshmen Abby Conklin and Andrew Hearn woke up Saturday morning at Nittanyville, — the “City of Tents” where students camp out pregame day at Gate A of Beaver Stadium — they already had their seat assignments. Conklin said as the seating is first-come-first-serve, she was able to get herself and her fellow campers second row seats in the student section.
On the opposite side of the stadium, the crowd was just as rowdy.
Fifteen-year season ticket holder Cal Benz and his family sat in the north end zone, near where the Eastern Michigan band played.
Heckling the opposing team and getting section NH to cheer, “We are Penn State” are his traditions.
“At least once, me or my son will stand on the bleachers and yell ‘We are’ as the rest of the sections hopefully yells, ‘Penn State,’ back,” he said. “We’re usually pretty successful. Around here there’s no short of football-loving fans who love the blue and white.”
Benz and other fans said that part of the stadium puts in extra effort to cheer to drown out the other team’s marching band.
“Just because we’re sitting down doesn’t mean we don’t cheer,” yelled Erica Suetterlin, a band assistant with the Eastern Michigan Marching band, to her bandmates.
“And when we hear things like that, we want to cheer louder than them,” Benz added quickly.
And while fans said they’re just happy Penn State football season is underway, Saturday’s win was icing on the cake.
“Football is life here. When they win, it’s even more of an incentive to celebrate,” said sophomore Tyler Zulli. “With all the Sandusky stuff, I think it makes us cheer more for our team and makes the guys play harder to prove themselves because they’ll always be under even more pressure. I kind of like that even though there is bad news about Penn State, us fans still support them through it all. It shows the kind of character of our school.”
Zulli and a group of his friends said they’re happy with the outcome of the first two games, but still hope the team continues to improve.
“(Christian) Hackenberg is sharp. He makes good quick decisions for an 18-year-old kid, but I think he has a lot of room to grow,” Zajac said.
“I agree,” Zulli added. “We’re looking pretty good. We’re more of a second half team, but hope they can boost that energy early on.”
Attendance was announced at 92,863, and many of those tailgated beforehand.
A best of three-round tournament of KanJam was underway in a parking lot near the Bryce Jordan Center around 9 a.m. Saturday.
Penn State fans Karen and Don McElroy, of Lewisburg, were in the last heat against their daughter Kim and son-in-law Jeremy Moore, of State College, when Jeremy Moore hit the disk off the black “kan” that put them a point ahead and just enough to win the game.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but we’ll take the win,” Moore said as he continued to high-five his wife and heckle his in-laws jokingly. “That last toss was like the last few-second field goal in football for the win.”
The McElroys and the Moores were just a few of the thousands of fans tailgating around Beaver Stadium Saturday morning. The family has decades of years of Nittany Lion pride in their blood.
A few rows away, a dozen 2009 and 2010 Penn State graduates were leading a row of fans sitting near their vehicles in the Penn State fight song.
“There’ll always be the student in all of us,” said Paul Cecconi, who now lives in the Washington D.C. area, but makes it back for a couple home games a year.
Cecconi said they didn’t sit in the student section this year, but stood the whole game to continue the tradition.
And for those students living off campus, but around the university, the tailgating began the night before.
By 8 a.m. Saturday morning, with only two hours of sleep, Adam DeSantos said he strapped a five-gallon bucket to his chest with a pair of drumsticks and marched with another group of Penn State football fans from South Pugh Street to Beaver Stadium to meet other friends who were camping out at Nittanyville.
“This game means a lot,” DeSantos said.
“I think for a long time, the team will have a lot to prove because of all the Sandusky and Paterno stuff that went on the last couple years,” added fellow Nittany Lion fan Jason Bezio. “I think that can light a fire under them and give us a good game and good season.”
Penn State faces the University of Central Florida 6 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium.