As Penn State wrapped up its last bowl practice — therefore its last practice of the season, and of 2015 — on Thursday afternoon, players and coaches volunteered to carry seniors off of the field at Fernandina Beach High School on Amelia Island.
Defensive tackle Austin Johnson put Tarow Barney on his shoulders, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop hoisted up Anthony Zettel, and a quintuplet of linemen somehow heaved 321-pound center Angelo Mangiro onto their shoulders and walked him off the field as players hooted and cat-called on the far sideline.
Interim offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne ambled over through the thick Florida air (his Birkenstock sandals sat on the sideline while he helped coach practice in sneakers), and immediately was swarmed by a pack of reporters in shorts with cameras and microphones, eager to hear about how the young coach was settling into his temporary role.
I think every play-caller has their own personal touch they want to put on the game plan.
Interim offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne
Rahne admitted that the media experience was “about as uncomfortable for (him) as possible,” but said he’s appreciative of the opportunity and said he’s since spent countless hours preparing and tweaking the game plan for Georgia, which head coach James Franklin said was ready by mid-December.
“It’s been a good experience for me, I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “Just organizing the practices, and other things. But in general, it’s been a group effort and all the other guys on staff have really picked their game up to help and support me with that.”
Rahne said Franklin has given a bit of input, as have other coaches and some of his former mentors, and that Penn State’s offensive plan will be fairly similar to what it’s been the whole season — with a bit of his own flair thrown in, of course.
“Yeah, I mean I think it’s a little difficult to make any big changes, anything like that,” he said. “I think every play-caller has their own personal touch they want to put on the game plan.
“So yeah, there will be a couple things, minor tweaks here and there. Really looking forward to getting out there.”
Rahne said the players have adjusted, despite the change at play-caller.
“Players are players,” he said. “They’re going to go out there and they’re going to execute the plays that are called. I think those guys, it’s not as big a deal to them as it is sometimes to us as coaches.”
Wide receiver Chris Godwin echoed that sentiment after practice.
“I’m always down with the game plan the coaches put in for us,” he said. “It’s up to me, it’s up to us as players to make the plays work.”
Godwin said the players had a bit of input themselves about the scheme for the upcoming TaxSlayer Bowl, but most things will stay the same. Rahne wants his players to come out fast and aggressive, and with a little “swagger.”
“He likes to talk to the players and see what we like, or what we aren’t feeling too well,” said Godwin. “He communicates with us a lot about what we want to do.”
“We’re basically running his offense, but with his flair on it,” said Godwin. “We’re excited about it.”
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been silent about whether he’ll leave Penn State for the NFL after this season or stay another year. He has heard back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but the results of their inspection of his chances at the next level remain undisclosed.
Hackenberg has already sat down with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to watch a few hours of film, and said earlier in December that the concept of Moorhead’s spread offense is “exciting,” though he’s never personally run anything like it.
Whether he leaves or not, Rahne said he thinks Penn State’s quarterback for 2016 is already on the roster — as in,the staff isn’t really looking at transfer options.
“I would say that I know our entire staff, including Moorhead, is really excited about all the quarterbacks on our roster, and I think those guys can take us into the future,” he said. “Obviously Christian is still analyzing his decisions, and it’s a big decision between him and his family. He’s done a great job of keeping the focus on our team.”
A peek at Pook
Gregg Garrity Jr., a walk-on receiver, will be starting for Penn State on punt returns on Saturday.
His father, Gregg Garrity, is of course known for making “The Catch” that was the ultimate game-sealing touchdown for Penn State’s Sugar Bowl national championship game against Georgia in 1983.
Garrity Jr., who goes by “Pook,” spoke to media about growing up in a Penn State household and in his father’s legacy.
“I’ve seen the Sports Illustrated covers obviously my whole life, I can’t even remember when I saw the catch for the first time,” he said. “I think ‘SportsCenter’ had it on a top-10 plays thing and I remember thinking, ‘Man, maybe I’ll be there someday.’ ”
Of course, the upcoming TaxSlayer Bowl is no national championship game, but Garrity just wants to make a positive contribution.
“That would be just unbelievable,” he said. “Just trying to make the biggest impact I can on special teams, hopefully it does work out and hopefully we get the win.”
Odds and ends
Penn State players traded jerseys with teammates for Thursday’s practice. Hackenberg wore Adam Breneman’s No. 81 while freshman running back Saquon Barkley sported No. 43, among other switches. ... Senior safety Jordan Lucas was present but not active or dressed out. It does not appear that he’ll play in Saturday’s game. ... Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, who tore his ACL in Penn State’s first game of the season, also traveled and was walking the sidelines with no boot, but with a large bag of ice strapped to his knee. ... Joey Julius took kickoffs while Tyler Davis had placekicking duties.