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Photo Gallery: Stop #1 - Harrisburg | Photo Gallery: Stop #2 - Lancaster
LANCASTER, Pa. - The 2015 Penn State Coaches Caravan hit the road on Tuesday with a pair of events in the heart of Nittany Lion country at Harrisburg and Lancaster.
The Penn State themed Fullington Trailways bus pulled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot at 7:04 a.m. en route to Harrisburg. Take a look through highlights from the first two stops of a six-event week on the Coaches Caravan.
Stop No. 1 - Harrisburg (Best Western Premier)
Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour and head coaches James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky and Denise St. Pierre headlined the first day of the road tour on Tuesday. The trip began with a visit to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. Members of the travel party toured the ornate structure, which was built in 1906 at a cost of $15 million.
Just after 10 a.m., Barbour, the head coaches and Penn State Alumni Association Executive Director Roger Williams participated in the opening of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives session for May 5. Representative Frank Farry introduced Franklin before the head coach of the Nittany Lions addressed the room of state representatives. Farry, who hails from Bucks County, and Franklin both graduated from Neshaminy High School.
"I can't tell you how honored we are to be here and address the House of Representatives," said Franklin.
VIDEO - Courtesy of Representative Farry
From the Capitol Building, the bus traveled to the Best Western Premier for the opening stop of the two-week tour through the region. Barbour spoke to the crowd first, highlighting the department's "why" and her vision for Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. Everything within the department begins with the "why", and the student-athletes are at the forefront.
"We want to create a world class environment for our student-athletes to help them prepare for life after earning their degrees," Barbour said.
While it is mentioned regularly, the support Penn State fans provide for the athletic department and its 800 student-athletes is something that should never be taken for granted. And Barbour, along with the coaches, would like to use the Coaches Caravan as an opportunity to simply say thank you for the fans' unrivaled commitment.
"The fact that so many people are here with us (today) is tremendous," said St. Pierre. "The fact that all of you stuck with us makes us feel so fortunate."
"One of the best things about this for me is getting to learn from these other coaches," Gadowsky said. "The second thing that I love about this is getting to be around people who share the same amount of passion as you."
Gadowsky's remarks were a transition into a comical story about a fan's commitment to the hockey program. One of the approximately 250 fans in attendance on Tuesday for lunch had been struck while attempting to catch a puck during a Penn State men's hockey game this winter. He met Gadowsky before the program began and showed him some of his battle scars. As the crowd roared with approval, the man pulled the puck from his pocket and waved to the fans while Gadowsky applauded him for sticking with the game and not leaving despite black eyes and a bloody face.
"This is the type of guy I want at our hockey games. He didn't leave!" Gadowsky said.
Franklin promptly asked the fan if he had any eligibility left because he wants that type of commitment within the football program. The second-year leader of the Nittany Lions then highlighted the program's stellar academic success in 2014-'15. Fifty-seven players achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher during the fall semester. Additionally, 21 true freshman earned a 3.0 GPA or better in the fall. Graduation and success in the classroom will always be at the top of Franklin's list of accomplishments for the growth of the football program.
Emphasizing the program's four core values is a staple for Franklin moving forward. He told the crowd that the players and staff members did a good job of memorizing the values - positive attitude, unrivaled work ethic, compete in everything you do and sacrifice - but now he wants to see the program live them.
With five more days on the caravan ahead, the theme of each discussion will focus on what makes Penn State so special - the people.
"I love to take this time to say thank you," Franklin said. Having the opportunity to come out and thank you personally means a lot to me."
VIDEO: Harrisburg Press Conference
Stop No. 2 - Lancaster (Marriott at Penn Square)
More than 360 boisterous Penn State fans greeted the Coaches Caravan in Lancaster on Tuesday night. The crowd was enthusiastic from the moment Roger Williams, Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association, welcomed the group with a rousing "We Are" chant in the Commonwealth Ballroom of the Marriott at Penn Square.
Barbour, Franklin, Gadowsky and St. Pierre were joined during the pre-event reception by assistant football coaches John Donovan and Brent Pry, who were in the area recruiting on Tuesday. Donovan and Pry, along with the rest of the assistant coaches have been on the recruiting trail since spring practice wrapped up with the Blue-White Game.
Like the first stop in Harrisburg, Barbour opened the evening with a speech updating the fans and alums in the room about the current state of Penn State Athletics. With 500 of the 800 student-athletes receiving a 3.0 GPA or higher, the department's academic excellence speaks for itself.
Additionally, on the field, it has been a stellar campaign for Penn State teams, as well. Currently sitting in second spot in the Learfield Directors' Cup following the winter season, Penn State had 15 of its 17 teams (through the winter seasons) NCAA postseason competition. That list includes four teams that won conference titles, a record seventh NCAA title for women's volleyball and three individual NCAA championships.
It's no surprise to see the academic and athletic accolades when you hear the coaches speak to the public. Franklin, Gadowsky and St. Pierre are just three examples of what is a tremendous lineup of coaches on the University Park campus right now.
"I continue to listen to the gratitude and passion from our coaches towards their student-athletes, and it's just so impressive," Barbour said.
The success of Penn State's teams on the field and in the classroom would not be possible without superb mentors, and it would not be possible without the support of individuals like those in the room on Tuesday night in Lancaster.
"No one in the nation does passion like we do, and it's not even close," Gadowsky said. "Not only is it fun to be a part of a family reunion (home game), it's very motivating for us."
The sense of pride in Penn State Blue and White is truly unique.
"There is no place like us," Franklin said.
The Caravan will extend outside of Pennsylvania on Wednesday when it rolls south to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
VIDEO: Lancaster Press Conference
Day 1 - 129 miles
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