KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - Penn State officially opened its fifth Coaches Caravan, kicking off the four-day tour with a pair of visits to York and King of Prussia. After a year off, the 2017 Penn State Coaches Caravan is back and set to crisscross only the state of Pennsylvania, with a total of seven stops planned this week.
Nittany Lion football head coach James Franklin headlined each stop on day one, alongside Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, men's gymnastics coach Randy Jepson and women's golf coach Denise St. Pierre.
Stop 1: York (Penn State York)
The Coaches Caravan bus departed the Bryce Jordan Center at approximately 8:30 a.m., headed out of Happy Valley to another one of Penn State's 23 other campuses located throughout the Commonwealth.
Returning to York for the first time since the 2014 Coaches Caravan, a sold out crowd packed the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center on the Penn State York campus, welcoming the group for the official opening of the 2017 Penn State Coaches Caravan.
"I love being out on our Commonwealth campuses," Barbour said. "I think this is a way to pull together as an entire campus, as Penn State University, and I love being out and talking about our 800 student-athletes and the successes that they have had and the challenges and the things that we've got ahead of us."
As Barbour detailed 2016-17 highlights related to both athletics and academics, diving into the newly released facilities master plan, her message consistently drew back to what makes Penn State such a great place - the people.
Evident in Jepson's message, it's Penn State people like legendary gymnast and coaching legend Gene Wettstone, a record-holder for the NCAA men's team championships by a single coach in the sport, whose legacy is still inspiring future Nittany Lions long after his time in the Blue and White.
"You look at the banners on the wall, it's not about that, it's about the empty space that remains and it's your job to fill that," Jepson said. "You have to do everything you can every day to make that happen for the alumni, for yourself, for your families and for the future of our program."
Less than 100 miles away, Penn State packed up and hit the road, traveling along Route 30, before pulling into the Valley Forge Casino for the first of four evening programs this week.
Located in the Philadelphia area, where more than 100,000 Nittany Lion living alumni reside, the ever-popular stop has been a Coaches Caravan staple since its debut in 2012, with yet another brimming crowd out in full force.
With such a passionate fan base in the area, it's not hard to find someone from the hometown crowd with a unique connection to Penn State. As St. Pierre kicked off her segment of the program, she invited those in attendance to share once piece of Penn State women's golf trivia they might have picked up for a chance to take home a small prize.
On the first attempt, one fan seated in the crowd recalled playing against St. Pierre in a golf scramble where she Pierre shot 15-under-par.
"You asked if we minded playing with a woman and we ended up playing with a champ," said the member of the audience, who quickly drew joyful laughs from the crowd.
For Franklin, who grew up in nearby Langhorne, the opportunity to return close to home is one he consistently holds close. He closed out the final stop of the first day with an emotional message to those in attendance.
"I am so proud to be the head football coach at Penn State," Franklin said. "You think about a young kid who grew up 20 minutes down the road, played football at Neshaminy high school, who had an opportunity to go to the Penn State of the Poconos - East Stroudsburg, then to go all over the country for 23 years working in every major conference as well as the NFL, to have the opportunity to come back home to represent you, to represent the great state of Pennsylvania and to continue our journey with our legacy of the program, is unbelievable to me."
- Sandy Barbour
University Park to York - 114.4 miles
York to King of Prussia - 83.9 miles
Day 1 Total: 198.3