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NEW YORK - Leg two of the Coaches Caravan wrapped up on Thursday with a lunch stop in Northern New Jersey and an evening reception in New York City.
New Jersey and New York City are two pivotal areas for Penn State teams when it comes to recruiting. Additionally, the Nittany Lion fan bases in New Jersey and the New York Metro area are among the largest outside of Pennsylvania. Take a look through the final day of week two on the Coaches Caravan, which featured James Franklin, Cael Sanderson and Erica Walsh.
Stop No. 11 - Northern New Jersey (Hanover Marriott)
New Jersey is home to more than 27,000 Penn State alums, which is second only to Pennsylvania. More than 225 loyal supporters visited the Hanover Marriott in Northern New Jersey on Thursday for the Caravan's lunch in the Garden State.
In addition to being home to some of Penn State's most loyal supporters, New Jersey is a critical recruiting area for the vast majority of Penn State teams. Women's soccer head coach Erica Walsh opened her remarks on Thursday with a story about All-American Maya Hayes, who recently graduated from the program as one of its all-time best. Hayes is from West Orange, N.J.
"We've had tremendous success in this area," Walsh said. "I'm thrilled to be back. And I've spent a lot of time recruiting in this area."
The same is true for football program. There are currently 16 student-athletes on the football roster from New Jersey, which is second only to Pennsylvania. Penn State has had a long line of storied success in attracting the top talent from New Jersey, and Coach Franklin wants that tradition to continue.
Franklin informed the media during the pre-event press conference that the time and resources put into recruiting New Jersey make it as if it is part of Pennsylvania. Four members of the 2014 recruiting class are from New Jersey.
As Rutgers transitions into the Big Ten this summer, New Jersey will carry even more importance for Penn State Athletics. The fans and alums in the local area will now have the opportunity to watch Penn State teams compete in the state on an annual basis.
"This place is very special, and it means a lot to our program," Sanderson said.
"We are really excited about the Big Ten expanding east," Walsh said.
A special group of Nittany Lion football lettermen paid a visit to the New Jersey Caravan stop on Thursday. Members of the 1959 Liberty Bowl team had a 55th reunion table. Head coach Rip Engle led the Nittany Lions to victory against Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide, 7-0 on Dec. 19, 1959, marking Penn State's first Liberty Bowl victory.
Stop No. 12 - New York City (Marriott New York Downtown)
The Coaches Caravan paid its annual visit to the Big Apple on Thursday evening to wrap up leg two. The Caravan bus drove through the Holland Tunnel into the southern tip of Manhattan shortly before 3 p.m. Situated just a block from One World Trade Center, head coach James Franklin and members of the Caravan staff took a walk around the new Freedom Tower structure towering over the New York City skyline.
The final event of the week took place before 300 enthusiastic, loud Penn State fans inside the Marriott New York Downtown. The evening marked the end of Walsh's two-week stint on the Caravan. The leader of Penn State Women's Soccer was superb each time she spoke to the crowd. Her visualization story of a recruiting visit touched everyone in the room, and her delivery was superb.
"It's just been a thrill to be a part of this, and I am honored to be here with two of the greatest coaches that you will find," Walsh said.
After receiving another standing ovation on Thursday, a member of the crowd yelled to the stage as she sat down.
"New York loves you, Erica!"
Sanderson also finished his stint on the Caravan bus with another comical speech in New York. While he is a terrific complement to Walsh and Franklin, Sanderson has the capability to send a large group erupting into laughter every time he brings up a new topic. Nonetheless, his respect and appreciation of the fan base and its support speaks volumes about his enthusiasm of being a part of the Penn State family.
"You see that passion these two have, and it is unbelievable," Sanderson said.
"It has been great spending time with these two coaches," Franklin said.
The Q&A portion of the night prompted a discussion with Sanderson about the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships, which will take place in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden. The Nittany Lions and the loyal fan base will have that date circled, and Sanderson is looking forward to the opportunity to wrestle in front of so many Penn State alums.
A large portion of Coach Franklin's Caravan speech stresses the importance of academic success for the football program. He wants to see the team achieve its highest grade point average in history, in addition to its highest graduation rate. Thursday night's location was a living example of what a Penn State degree can do for a student-athlete. Nearly 10 football letterwinners currently work just a few blocks from the Marriott Downtown on Wall Street. As Franklin says, Penn State provides a powerful degree for life beyond football or any sport.
With two weeks down, the Coaches Caravan resumes on Tuesday with a lunch stop in Williamsport on the campus of Penn College of Technology. Additionally the Caravan will pay a visit to Wilkes-Barre for an evening event on Tuesday, lunch in East Stroudsburg and an evening in the Lehigh Valley on Wednesday and an evening event in Erie on Thursday.
Thank you to the fans for making the first two weeks of the Coaches Caravan a resounding success.
Day I - 165 miles
Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles
Day VI - 267 miles
Total - 1,369 miles
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