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BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The 2014 Coaches Caravan rolled through East Stroudsburg and the Lehigh Valley on the penultimate day of the 17-stop tour through the region.
Wednesday's lunch stop was a special one for head football coach James Franklin, who returned to his alma mater, East Stroudsburg University. Head coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey) and Mark Pavlik (men's volleyball) joined Franklin in East Stroudsburg. Nittany Lion basketball coach Patrick Chambers paid a visit to the Lehigh Valley event on Wednesday evening. Take a look through highlights of the eighth day on the road.
Stop No. 15 - East Stroudsburg (East Stroudsburg University)
Coach Franklin returned to his old stomping grounds for the first stop on Wednesday. When the Fullington tour bus exited Interstate 80 it moved past the Budget Motel, which is owned by Barth Rubin. Rubin is the man who provided the financial backing for Franklin's scholarship to play football at East Stroudsburg.
Franklin recognized Rubin as the man who provided the opportunity to kick-start his playing and coaching careers. A 1995 graduate from ESU (psychology), Franklin was a four-year letterman at quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection at East Stroudsburg. He set seven school records as a senior to earn team MVP honors and was a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Among the records he set were for total offense (3,128 yards), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19).
"It's awesome to be home. Since we got the job, it's been great to be able to get back here on a couple of occasions," Franklin said. "I just felt like this made a lot of sense for the Coaches Caravan to visit. And I thought it would be great for one of our state institutions and a place I am really proud of. I'm glad that we were able to be here."
Franklin played under legendary head coach Denny Douds, who spent some time with Franklin on Wednesday during the Caravan stop. Douds has been at ESU for 37 years.
"Denny has been a father figure to me for a very long time," Franklin said. "Denny has been a mentor as a father and a mentor professionally."
"The thing that makes James special is his passion for what he does," Douds said. "He cares so much about everything he does."
In the shadows of Eiler-Martin Stadium, more than 100 Penn State and East Stroudsburg alums filled Mattioli Recreation Center to hear from Franklin and the other Penn State head coaches on Wednesday.
"To think 20 years ago that I would be sitting here in this position right now, I would have had no idea," Franklin said. "I think what we did do is wake up every single morning and try to be the best we could possibly be, learn and ask a lot of questions. I've always been a passionate, driven, motivated guy."
Cooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik each took time during their speeches to honor Franklin during his visit to his alma mater.
"It's really cool to see the imprint Coach Franklin is going to leave on Pennsylvania football," Cooper said.
At the conclusion of the event, East Stroudsburg president Marcia Welsh presented Coach Franklin with a resolution of recognition for his career accomplishments. The recognition was voted on by the board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The Coaches Caravan bus paid a visit to Rudy's Tavern in East Stroudsburg before the group left town. Franklin treated the group to the infamous pork roll and cheese sandwiches at Rudy's, one of his college favorites.
Stop No. 16 - Bethlehem (Sands Bethlehem Event Center)
Nearly 600 fans were treated to a show inside the Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Wednesday night. For the first time in the Caravan's three-year history, five head coaches were on stage for the festivities at stop No. 16. After the introductions, Coach Chambers was the leadoff man to get the crowd fired up.
"I'm saying this right now. This is going to be the best night of the Caravan," Chambers yelled.
As the crowd rose to its feet, the tunes of Pharrell Williams's "Happy" began playing. From there, Chambers moved away from the podium and began dancing to the beat across the stage. The other coaches on stage and the fans in the crowd erupted.
Chambers is made for the Coaches Caravan setting. He loves interacting with the crowd, and he has a knack for filling the room with energy every time he steps to the microphone. The leader of Nittany Lion basketball spoke about the progress the program made during the 2013-'14 season, including a sweep of Ohio State for the first time since 1998.
Additionally, Chambers said that he lived in Allentown 20 years ago when he started in the workforce. He was a medical salesman with his home region being in the Lehigh Valley. Chambers also hinted at a possible Penn State hoops game in December at the PPL Center in Allentown, which is slated to open in the fall.
The first speech closed with Chambers urging the crowd to show unrivaled support for Coach Franklin and the Nittany Lions inside Beaver Stadium.
"Let's make sure Beaver Stadium is packed every single time his team takes the field in the fall," Chambers said.
With the sports season rapidly coming to a close, the 2014-'15 campaign is just around the corner. Fan support in Beaver Stadium provides an atmosphere unlike anything else on campus. The same is true for each venue in Happy Valley. Success on the field of play is a byproduct of a number of factors, and the fan atmosphere is a big piece.
"You guys create more passion and more pride than any other University in the world," Gadowsky said.
In true hockey player form, Gadowsky closed out the speech at his final stop in the Caravan by ripping out his front tooth and screaming into the microphone.
"Get to Beaver Stadium and rock that joint!" Gadowsky said.
Coach Franklin walked to the podium to a standing ovation.
"Now that is a hockey coach!" Franklin said.
It's rare to get the head coaches of football, men's basketball, men's hockey, baseball and men's volleyball in the same room. The fans inside Sands enjoyed an evening of entertaining speeches. The coaches feed off of a great crowd, and the Lehigh Valley fans were superb.
"The pride and passion within the Penn State fan base in unbelievable," Franklin said. "All the success we are having is a credit to you."
The 17th and final stop of the 2014 Coaches Caravan will take place on Thursday evening at Penn State Behrend in Erie.
Day I - 165 miles
Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles
Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles
Total - 1,760 miles
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