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2015 Coaches Caravan Day II - Washington, D.C. & Baltimore

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Photo Gallery - Washington, D.C. | Photo Gallery - Baltimore

Day I Recap - Harrisburg & Lancaster

BALTIMORE - The Coaches Caravan traveled southeast on Wednesday on day two of the first leg, making a pair of stops in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

The Penn State wrapped Fullington Trailways bus rolled into the nation's capital on Wednesday morning for a lunch stop to kick off the day. Take a look through highlights from the second two stops of a six-event week on the Coaches Caravan.

Stop No. 3 - Washington, D.C. (JW Marriott)
Raised in Annapolis, Maryland, Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour kicked off the panel of speakers with a story about how she was introduced to the prideful fan base of the Nittany Lions. The D.C. area is home to approximately 26,000 Penn State alums. Barbour cited that many of the folks sitting in the room played a big role in establishing her feelings about the University.

"You all taught me about Penn State," said Barbour. "Growing up in the area, I learned a lot of my initial feelings and in a lot of ways had my introduction to Penn State from people like you."

Each year on the Caravan, the trips to the DMV are always filled with enthusiastic fans of the Blue and White. And it's a critical area for recruiting.

"This is going to be a very, very important area for us moving forward in recruiting," head coach James Franklin said. "It's always been a big part of Penn State Football, and it will continue to be very important."

Additionally, with the expanded footprint of the Big Ten Conference, the Penn State fans in the DC area will have more opportunities to see the Lions play closer to home.

In addition to games at Maryland across all of the Big Ten's sanctioned sports, the 2017 Big Ten Basketball Tournament will be contested in Washington, D.C., from March 8-12 in the Verizon Center.

Among the attendees in D.C. on Wednesday was captain in the U.S. Navy. Looking at the diehard Penn State fan, hockey head coach Guy Gadowsky singled the man out during his speech about the Nittany Lion supporters. Gadowsky said the Navy captain came up to him prior to the lunch to inform him of a new tradition started during the Michigan hockey series. The captain brought tailgating to the parking lot during the coldest weekend of the year, and Gadowsky loved it.

"How are you not fired up to play in Pegula Ice Arena when you have someone like a Navy captain tailgating outside in the snow before our game?" Gadowsky said.

What gives the Caravan a unique touch are stories and meetings like the one Gadowsky had with the Naval captain. Penn State's fan base is one big family. Each coach on the Caravan uses the experience to learn about the fans and engage with them. It helps the fans understand how important the support is for each program on campus.

"Our philosophy is built on relationships and how we interact with people," head coach James Franklin said.

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VIDEO: Washington, D.C. Press Conference




Stop No. 4 - Baltimore (Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport)
After a quick look at the White House before leaving Washington, the Caravan traveled north to Baltimore for stop No. 4 during the week at the Hilton near BWI Airport. The greater Baltimore area is home to nearly 10,500 Penn State alums, and like Washington, the Caravan crowd is always energetic at stops in the DMV. Wednesday evening's event was no different.

Barbour, and head coaches James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky and Denise St. Pierre received a rousing ovation from the moment they stepped on the stage inside Thurgood Marshall Ballroom.

It's going to be a big year ahead for Penn State and the Baltimore area. The Nittany Lions are slated to meet Maryland on October 24 in M&T Bank Stadium. The game will mark Penn State's first game in Baltimore since Nov. 9, 1991 when the Lions topped Maryland, 47-7, in Memorial Stadium.

The DMV is home to 19 players on the 2015 football roster. That list includes seven returning players who hail from the state of Maryland. For decades, the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area has been pivotal recruiting ground for the football program. That is not going to change in the eyes of Coach Franklin.

caravan15_baltimore_1.jpg Assistant coaches Charles Huff and Sean Spencer were in attendance on Wednesday evening after spending the day recruiting in the area. Additionally, junior offensive lineman Brian Gaia (Pasadena, Maryland) was in attendance. Gaia stood and recited the program's four core values when called upon during Franklin's speech.

Maryland is an area Franklin and Gadowsky are quite familiar with. They both have family members in the state. And Franklin spent several years of his professional career in the local area.

"Being able to come around to different areas around the region is great, and we love to come out and say thank you," Franklin said. "The fans have been so supportive since we got here last year, and places like this are big reason we have felt so welcome."

An Annapolis native, Barbour spoke on Wednesday evening about having the opportunity to come home when she took the job as Director of Athletics for Penn State in August. Her passion for the Blue and White is evident every time she speaks. Barbour loves every ounce of her job and takes great pride in leading a department that sets the standard for academic and athletic excellence.

"All of the reasons why I came to Penn State have all come true and more," Barbour said.

The first week of the Caravan will conclude on Thursday with stops in Altoona (lunch) and north of Pittsburgh (evening reception).

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VIDEO: Baltimore Press Conference



Coaches Caravan Miles Traveled:
Day I - 129 miles
Day II - 142 miles

Caravan Total - 271 miles

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2015 Coaches Caravan Day I - Harrisburg and Lancaster

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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.

blog_harrisburg15_2.jpg 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.
    

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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.
    

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VIDEO: Lancaster Press Conference




Miles Traveled:
Day 1 - 129 miles


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Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony


Coach Franklin Tosses Strike in Yankee Stadium

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yankeesblog_4.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Compete in everything you do. It's one of the football program's four core values, and it's the mantra head coach James Franklin lives by.

He took that competitive energy onto the mound at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night prior to the Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game and delivered a strike during a ceremonial first pitch as part of a celebration of the team's Pinstripe Bowl championship.

Upon arrival in the Bronx, Franklin and a small group of staff members toured the stadium and some of the organization's most prized artifacts, including holding a 45-ounce bat used by Babe Ruth in 1927. The leader of the Nittany Lions presented Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is a college football fanatic, with a signed Penn State helmet on the field during batting practice.

The group watched the Yankees take batting practice from behind home plate while mingling with members from the Pinstripe Bowl and Yankees organization. From there, Franklin shifted into prep mode for the opening pitch. He used just four practice tosses into the batting cage nets in the Yankees clubhouse before walking onto the mound to a rousing cheer.

"I have tremendous training for this. I played highly competitive Little League baseball about 30 years ago," Franklin joked before the pitch.

As promised, Franklin worked from a wind up and tossed the ceremonial pitch with some heat on the corner of the plate before a "We Are" chant rang through the area behind home plate as the mit popped.

"I had an awesome experience," Franklin said. "They've been great to us since we arrived in town, and really the whole bowl experience carried over. I went out on the mound, let it fly and had some fun...It felt good. I tried not to think about it a lot and just let it fly. It went somewhere near the plate and had a little bit of velocity on it."

Much like the bowl week in New York, the Pinstripe Bowl and Yankees staff members were tremendous hosts and first class for the Nittany Lions on Tuesday. Fans heading to Yankee Stadium will find a mural documenting Penn State's thrilling 31-30 win over Boston College in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl.



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Nittany Lions Wrap Up Spring with Confidence, Eye 2015 Season

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11013837.jpegVIDEO: James Franklin Postgame Interview | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sunny skies and 68,000 fans greeted the Nittany Lions inside Beaver Stadium during the final day of spring practice for the 2015 season.

After a practice period marked by superb progress, the Nittany Lions will head into the final few weeks of the spring academic semester and summer with a great deal of confidence. The Blue topped the White, 17-7, during a productive Saturday for the Lions.

"We got what we wanted to get out of it," said head coach James Franklin. "We stayed healthy, which is the most important thing, especially in our situation. We were able to mix the run and the pass. Obviously, our defensive line still holds an advantage over our offensive line. That's going to be a work in progress and a focus in the offseason. It was great to see some of the running backs like Nick Scott and Akeel Lynch make some plays, but we had great work. We had two real teams. We didn't end up having to run guys from one side to the other, so guys got a bunch of reps."

Penn State practiced 15 times between March 20 and April 17 before the spring season culminated with the four quarters of action inside Beaver Stadium on a sun-splashed day with a terrific crowd.

The fan support Penn State Football receives throughout a year is unique, and Saturday was no exception. From the autograph session to the spring game festivities, the Nittany Lions truly embraced the opportunity to spend a day with so many loyal supporters of the program.

"The guys worked really hard this spring, and to be able to come out today and play in front of such a great crowd was huge for us," Hackenberg said. "It was great to meet so many fans today because they are such a big part of what we do. It was a great day."

"It's a pretty cool experience to be out there in front of 68,000 fans for a spring practice," said running back Akeel Lynch. "

In his first spring as a the featured back, Lynch excelled for the Nittany Lion offense. He finished with nine carries for 50 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run for the Blue team. Lynch and the Penn State offense took full advantage of this being year two in the offensive scheme. The unit's increased comfort level led to a greater degree of execution.

"I think we did a lot of great things as a unit," Hackenberg said. "I think as a unit we also have a lot of things we need to work on for next season. I try to execute everything I am asked to do to the best of my abilities."

A big piece of the offense's growth is the line's progression since the season ended at the Pinstripe Bowl. The growth process will continue through the summer, but the Nittany Lions have taken a big step forward along the offensive line.

"I think we are way ahead of where we were at this point last year," said Franklin. "As a group, we still have a situation now where we still have guys trying to learn left tackle, which I think showed up at times today. But as a group, four out of the five in totality of it, we still have a lot of work to do. I am confident that between now and the start of camp, we can take another step and then continue to grow during camp and be ready to go."

Defensively, the Nittany Lion front four headlined a strong set of practices for coordinator Bob Shoop's unit. Sure, the defense entered the spring without starters Mike Hull, Adrian Amos, Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, but the Lions didn't skip a beat.

"We're a deeper unit. Garrett Sickels and [Carl] Nassib have had an excellent spring," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "They played very, very well. You saw Evan Schwan wreak havoc and was pretty dominant today at times. Curtis Cothran's a good player and Torrence Brown's a very good player. So I feel like we have a really, really, really good situation at those positions right there. Those guys are playing exceptionally well."

Penn State will look to finish the semester strong in the classroom before the summer conditioning program begins. With a spring marked by positive growth, the Nittany Lions have a great deal to look forward to when fall camp begins in early August.

Saturday's spring game was the final time the fans will see the team before action commences in Lincoln Financial Field against Temple on Sept. 5. The window of opportunity for growth between now and the opener is a big one for the Nittany Lions, but with the foundation laid this spring, the Lions are well on their way to a strong start for 2015.

"We made great strides on offense and on defense, and it was great for the fans to come out in such big numbers to see us," said Trevor Williams. "Now, we need to take the next step and get even better."


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Postgame Interview - 2015 Blue-White

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following the 2015 Blue-White Game Presented by AAA. The Blue squad topped the White team, 17-7, before 68,000 fans inside Beaver Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday.

VIDEO: 2015 Blue-White Postgame Player Interviews

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Blue team topped the White squad, 17-7, before 68,000 fans inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Hear from several Nittany Lions following the culmination of spring drills for 2015.

2015 Blue-White Gameday Snapshots

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to Blue-White Saturday in Beaver Stadium. Take a look through some gameday snapshots on a sun-splashed afternoon.

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2015 Blue-White Gameday Preview

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blue-white-header-15.jpgBlue-White Gameday Central | Beaver Stadium Bag Policy | Parking Map | Print Parking Pass

Spring Practice Content Central | Blue Roster | White Roster


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions will wrap up spring drills on Saturday afternoon at the annual Blue-White Game Presented by AAA inside Beaver Stadium, marking the culmination of a productive spring practice season. The game will kick at 4 p.m. with live television coverage from BTN. Both parking and admission are free.

10976412.jpegPenn State made significant progress on both sides of the ball and on special teams during the allotted practice period for spring drills. Saturday's game marks the final opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the team before the start of training camp in early August.

"We've had a great spring. The fact that we returned our entire staff was really valuable," head coach James Franklin said. "I think we are the only staff in the Big Ten that did that. I think that has been helpful in building on the foundation we laid last year."

In year two under Franklin and the coaching staff, the Nittany Lions have been productive every time they have stepped on the field since practice began on March 20. With increased knowledge of the schemes, practice routine and more depth, the Lions have been able to approach this spring differently than they did one year ago.

"It's night and day (between this year and last year)," said Franklin. "...We have more depth. We have more bodies. Just across the board, the players understand the expectation. I think we are in a situation now where we have everybody on the same page. It's not even close. Our practices have been able to be more a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more physical because of the depth that we have. Just across the board, from top to bottom, it's like watching a different team.

While Saturday's game will be a fun way for the team to put on a show for the fans, it's a chance for the players and staff to work through typical game-like conditions.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us to get out in front of a crowd," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. "It's a great weekend for the fans because there is so much going on. It's a little bit of a show, but at the same time it's work. A lot of these guys have never really had reps in front of fans at this level. It's a great opportunity to go out, have fun and immerse yourself in what a gameday feel is."

The work to prepare for 2015 is just beginning for the Nittany Lions, but the spring period set the tone for the rest of the academic semester and summer conditioning program. Franklin is very optimistic about the direction the team is headed in, and he is looking forward to getting in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd.

"Spring has gone really well in all three phases," said Franklin. "We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of progress that we are going to need to make between now and the start of the season against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. We are excited. We are excited about playing the spring game. We are hoping to have a good crowd. The weather is supposed to be great."

Take a look through some Blue-White items to watch as the Nittany Lions wrap up spring practice for 2015.

Autograph Session Returns
11004998.jpegThe popular pre-game autograph session returns for the second-straight year. Parking lots around Beaver Stadium will open at 8 a.m. The team will arrive at the South Tunnel at approximately 12:30 p.m. Gates A and B will open at 1 p.m. before the autograph session on the field from 1:15-2 p.m.

Fans are asked to enter the field through the South Tunnel. The offensive players will be signing on the West side of the field (please enter through gate B) and the defensive squad will be on the East side (please enter through gate A). Fans will go through the single-file line and get autographs from either the offense or defense before exiting the field through the North Tunnel. Those seeking additional autographs will need to return to the South Tunnel the re-enter the line.

The players will be permitted to sign one item per person to give as many fans as possible an opportunity to meet the squad. The players will not be available for photographs during the autograph session.


Game Format
The Blue-White Game will feature regular scoring. The squad has been split into a Blue team and a White team. Quarterbacks will wear the opposite jersey color of their team (Blue team QBs will wear White jerseys; White team QBs will wear Blue jerseys). The game will have four quarters, each 15 minutes in length. The first quarter will have normal game timing. Quarters two, three and four will feature a running clock. There will be 22-minute halftime intermission. Prior to the 4:06 p.m. kickoff, a placekicking competition will be held on the field. Prior to the start of the second half, a punting competition will be held on the field.

Blue-White Game Rosters
Take a look through the breakdown of the roster for Saturday's game. Note that the coaching staff has been split into two groups.

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Uplifting Athletes Jerseys
For the second-straight year, the Nittany Lions will wear special one-game only jerseys at the Blue-White Game to help raise funds for Uplifting Athletes. The Blue and White jerseys will feature an Uplifting Athletes patch. Following the game, 20 of the game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off with the proceeds benefitting the Kidney Cancer Association. Last July, the 12th Annual Penn State Uplifting Athletes Lift For Life raised a record $140,000. Last year's fundraising efforts brought the cumulative total of funds raised to more than $1 million to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association. The 13th Annual Lift For Life is slated for July 11. Details on the game-word auction will be announced soon.

Also announced this week, AAA Southern Pennsylvania will donate to the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes for each photo posted from Saturday's Blue-White activities on Twitter using the hashtag #AAABlueWhite.

McGloin Back in Beaver Stadium
11005040.jpegThe last time Matt McGloin stepped into Beaver Stadium with a working role on a gameday, he helped lead Penn State to a thrilling 24-21 victory over Wisconsin on Senior Day in 2012. The West Scranton native and current Oakland Raider will be back on Saturday, serving as an analyst for the Big Ten Network during the live broadcast of the Blue-White Game.

McGloin broke nine school records and tied another during his stellar senior season, which culminated in winning the 2012 Burlsworth Trophy for the nation's outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on. McGloin still holds the Penn State record for: passing yards in a season (3,266; 2012), completions in a season (270; 2012), touchdowns in a season (24; 2012), career touchdowns (43) and completions in a game (35; vs. Northwestern, 2012).

The game is also airing on more than 30 Penn State Sports Network radio stations across the state and in metropolitan New York City, with Steve Jones and Jack Ham calling the action. ESPN Radio (1450 AM) and WBUS (93.7 FM) are the State College outlets. The game also is available on GoPSUsports.com.


Jeff Gordon Penn State Car on Display
It was announced this week that NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon will race a special Penn State themed No. 24 car during the June 7 Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. A show car featuring the special paint scheme will be on display beginning Saturday morning along Curtin Road near the All-Sports Museum. The car will also make a brief appearance inside Beaver Stadium during halftime of the game.



Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Hackenberg, Offense Growing in Year Two

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11003004.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You often learn the most about a competitor in the face of adversity.

When things are going well, it's easy to be a leader and set an example.

But when you never waver under fire, that's when an individual shows mettle and earns the utmost respect from his peers.

Regardless of the score, team record or how many times he gets knocked to the mat, the approach and undying will to win never changes for Penn State's signal-caller.

That's what makes him unique.

No one wants to win more than Christian Hackenberg. And no one believes the team can win every time it steps on the field more than Hackenberg. His competitiveness permeates through the locker room because of the way he works to be the best.

And he doesn't settle for anything less.

Rather than dwell on any shortcomings in 2014, Hackenberg viewed the winter and spring practice periods as opportunities to understand why things transpired the way they did and turn any negatives into positives and turn all of the positives into bigger positives.

"This spring has been a lot about focusing on us and what we need to do as an entire offensive unit, and I think we've done a great job with that," said Hackenberg. "It's gone really well for us, and I think we've gotten better every day."

Buoyed by a record-breaking performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Hackenberg and the Penn State offense have taken the strong finish to 2014 and run with it. To a man, the game reps from 2014 have led to more comfort and more comfort has led to greater confidence. That starts with the man in the center of the huddle.

"For me, it's being as genuine as I can with everything and working as hard as I can," Hackenberg said. "I think that's the biggest asset of any good leader, it's earning the respect of everyone else with how you work. I feel a little more comfortable this year. And it's about showing people that you hold yourself to the same standard that you hold everyone else to."

A starter in his first 25 games on campus, Hackenberg has played superb football this spring, and his growth in the offensive system is apparent every time he steps on the field. The unit's collective growth is certainly a byproduct of this being year two in the scheme, but Pinstripe Bowl MVP is a big piece to that puzzle.

"I think this spring it has been my confidence in the entire scheme and getting the ball to guys and letting them go make plays instead of trying to go make the plays myself," said Hackenberg. "I think that's the biggest part about being a good quarterback, being able to distribute the ball, executing the offense, managing the game and making sure that we stay on track. Making that a focus has been big. I've really tried to understand when to make the smart play and when to make the spectacular play and when you need to do those things and when you don't."

At this time last year, he was the voice in the huddle and the man orchestrating the show on the field when things were new to everyone. And thus, Hackenberg had a big burden on his shoulders to make sure each individual unit within the offense understood how to execute. It was a steep learning curve for a true sophomore, and in a lot of ways, Hackenberg's team-first attitude of ensuring that the offensive units grew hindered some of the things he wanted to work on individually.

But this spring has taken on a much different tone. The offense's growth has aided Hackenberg in his growth, and it has been a win-win for the Virginia native and the offense as a whole.

"With everyone coming along so well this spring, it has given me the opportunity to focus on things in my game that need improvement. There are always things I need to work on," said Hackenberg. "I know these guys are going to hold me to a high standard because I'm doing the same for them. And that's something that has been awesome for me to do this spring."

His development as a player is evident watching the Virginia native take command of the offense and throw the ball, but it's the subtle differences in leadership that have elevated the rising junior to another level as a complete player.

It's a regular occurrence on the practice field that you see Hackenberg pulling a young player aside to teach an aspect of the offense or offer insight as to what he might be seeing.

"I just think the fact that everybody is on the same page allows Christian to be the type of leader that he wants to be and we know he can be," head coach James Franklin said. "Leadership is so important at the quarterback position, and I think the other thing that is really important as a leader is when the leader is reinforcing the overall message...And that fact that we are now all aligned, year two has allowed that to happen."

With one practice left before Saturday's Blue-White Game Presented by AAA (4 p.m. on BTN), consistency is the name of the game for Hackenberg and the offense. Sure Saturday is an opportunity for the team to showcase its progress since the bowl game, but Hackenberg wants to see the unit execute and use the game as springboard towards the summer workout period and the start of training camp.

"Last year, a lot of guys were forced to play for the first time," Hackenberg said. "That's tough, especially up front with the amount of focus teams are putting on defensive fronts and schemes up front. That was difficult last year because no one had seen a lot of that stuff until we were in a game. But they started to get it towards the end of the year, and this offseason they have done a great job getting in better physical shape and you can definitely see the difference in everybody this spring."

Always humble, Hackenberg sees a difference in the play in those around him. The same is true for the player wearing No. 14.



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Spring Football: Offensive Line Playing With Confidence

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions entered the 2014 spring practice period with just two players on the offensive line with starting experience.

And when senior Miles Dieffenbach suffered a knee injury during spring ball, the Lions were left with just one returning starter - Donovan Smith.

What a difference a year has made for the Penn State O-Line with senior center Angelo Mangiro headlining a group that now features a host of returning players with significant game and starting experience.

With experience comes confidence, and the Nittany Lions have taken a step forward in the trenches since the end of the 2014 season.

"We've done some really nice things this spring, and certainly we have some things to work on, but comparing this year to last year, it's really not close with how far we have come," said senior Angelo Mangiro. "We have more guys who are veterans now. They are more confident making their calls and doing the technical things we need to do."

You can't really put a value on what the game reps meant to the unit's collective growth. It was trial by fire with four of the five starters during the vast majority of last season seeing things for the first time during plays in games. Now, things have slowed down.

"One of the biggest things for offensive line play is getting those on-field reps," tackle Andrew Nelson said. "Getting on the field in games and playing in every rep was huge, not only for me, but a lot of guys. Those reps were huge to get a feel for the speed of the game, making calls, so that experience helped all of us grow tremendously."

No unit worked harder during the winter conditioning period than the offensive line. To a man, each player in the group made strides in strength, flexibility, speed and quickness. Coupling the physical growth with the game experience, Penn State's offense has executed at a higher level this spring because of the unit that makes up more than 45 percent of the entire offense.

"They just have to take kind of a lunch-pail mentality and come to work every single day and grind through it. But overall, I'm really pleased," said head coach James Franklin. "And I told them, they may not see it and even the individual coaches may not see it but I do. Looking at it from 50,000 feet and watching all the drills and all the competition, I'm just so impressed."

In all, six players return to the unit with starting experience, including Derek Dowrey (guard/center), Brian Gaia (guard/center), Wendy Laurent (center/guard), Brendan Mahon (guard/center), Mangiro (center/guard) and Nelson (tackle). Additionally, tackle Albert Hall saw action in 12 games last season, and the Nittany Lions add a host of redshirt freshman to the rotation and newcomers Paris Palmer and Sterling Jenkins.

The experience on the field and growth this spring has the group optimistic with the direction things are headed.

"When we are playing confident and doing the things we need to do, the offense moves," said Mangiro. "We understand that. We are willing to put that on our shoulders.

The offensive line's growth has not gone unnoticed by the players around the unit. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has taken note of the command the line is playing with when it approaches the line of scrimmage during pre-snap reads. Running back Akeel Lynch has also been a direct beneficiary of an improved group up front.

"I think with the offensive line, the big thing is communication," running back Akeel Lynch said. "They are more confident in what they are doing. When it comes to pass protection, they are communicating with me and I'm communicating with them. When you are playing for the first time and learning the offense, it's hard to pick things up as quickly. Obviously, with this being the second year, they are able to communicate a lot faster, which helps with the running game be more productive and helps with pass protection."

With the experience alone, the offensive line is not the same unit it was in 2014. After a slew of underclassmen players received invaluable game reps, and with only one senior (Mangiro) in the group, the Nittany Lions have a lot to build on and look forward to as the offensive line continues to evolve.


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