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VIDEO: 2016 Spring Practice Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday with the first of 15 spring practices. Leading up to the start spring drills, GoPSUsports.com talked with head coach James Franklin to preview what is ahead between now and the Blue-White Game on April 16 (2 p.m.).





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

Nittany Lions Looking Ahead to Spring Practice

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Spring Practice Transcript | VIDEO: Spring Practice Press Conference | Photo Gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday afternoon when the Nittany Lions take the field for their first of 15 spring practices in 2016.

Head coach James Franklin previewed spring ball on Tuesday afternoon inside the Beaver Stadium media room, as the Nittany Lions gear up for the Blue-White Game (April 16, 2 p.m.).

Following a very productive winter conditioning period, the Lions are primed to take step forward during spring practice. Optimism is high for head coach James Franklin and the staff.

"Obviously this is a time of year that we all get excited about," said head coach James Franklin. "I know it's a great opportunity for you guys, as well, to kind of get to know the future Penn State football and what it's going to hold this year. Our guys have done a great job."

Franklin detailed a number of areas during Tuesday's spring practice press conference. Take a look below at a few highlights as the Nittany Lions get set to kick off spring practice.


Position Changes
There will be three Nittany Lions getting adjusted to new positions when the team takes the field on Friday. Headlining the list is redshirt sophomore Nick Scott. After two seasons in the offensive backfield, Scott approached Coach Franklin about moving to the secondary to best serve the team.

Scott was recruited by several teams out of high school as a defensive back, but opted to remain a running back when he decided to attend Penn State. But with the depth at running back, Scott is headed to the cornerback position.

"He's excited. He's taken a lot of initiative," said Franklin. "I see him getting together with John Reid and Jordan Smith and (Grant) Haley and those guys, and spending time with them and kind of working on the fundamentals and techniques. The corner position was something I thought was important, to start him there. We feel like safety is probably the position that we have a pretty good amount of depth right now. We have six or so guys that we feel really good about. And at corner, we want to continue to create the depth."

In addition to Scott, redshirt junior Curtis Cothran and redshirt freshman Kevin Givens will both be moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. Franklin cited the need for added depth in the interior of the defensive line as the primary reason for the moves.

Strength and Conditioning Gains
The improvements to the team's overall speed and strength were put on display during the annual winter testing week at the beginning of March. We highlighted some of the top performances from the testing (Testing Week Feature), but Coach Franklin went a step further on Monday and talked about the difference in body masses for a number of players on the team.

Among the highlights from the muscle gains during the winter were: Saquon Barkley, who lost five pounds of fat and gained 12 pounds of muscle; Irvin Charles, who lost two pounds of fat and gained 16 pounds of muscle; DaeSean Hamilton gained 20 pounds of muscle; Shareef Miller lost 14 pounds of fat and gained 20 pounds of muscle; Bendan Mahon lost 12 pounds of fat and gained 20 pounds of muscle.

Installing a New Offense
It will be a spring practice period of learning for the Nittany Lion offensive players. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will be going through the paces of installing a new offense during the 15 allotted practices this spring. The Lions are looking forward to the challenge and excited about what is ahead.

"I think one of the things that helps is even last year, the last two years, we taught concepts, and Joe teaches concepts," said Coach Franklin. "So although everybody is focused on this being a new offense, and it is, it's not like Joe's coming in here and running plays that have never been run before in college football or the NFL."

Under NCAA rules, coaches and student-athletes are permitted to spend more time together in the meeting room during the offseason than in previous years. That time has been invaluable for the group this spring as the Lions learn the intricacies of a new offense.

"I think the important part is how you package things, how you complement things and how you're able to take things that may seem complex and make them seem easy to other people," said Franklin. "And Joe's got a really good way of installing things and making it look like you're doing a lot of things when you're really not. Tempo helps with that. Formations help with that. Not a big motion team, but I think Joe's got a really good feel of his system and how one thing complements the next."

Saquon Barkley 2.0
Coming off a 1,000-yard true freshman season, sophomore Saquon Barkley dazzled during the winter conditioning period with the team's fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.38) and pro agility (4.00), a power clean of 390 pounds and a squat of 600 pounds. Now, Barkley is looking to turn the physical gains into progress on the field.

"I think (the next step is) the knowledge (of the game)," said Franklin. "Physically, you look at his size and strength and speed numbers, they are good. They are as good as anywhere in the country, college or I would even say the NFL. His numbers are really good. He has the experience now. He's played some football. He's had some success. He's met some challenges. So that's the next step."

Barkley's game experience as a true freshman will pay big dividends for his future, but learning more about each aspect of being an elite running back will allow him to process things quicker and play at a much quicker pace on the field.

"How can we get the game to slow down for him so he can play aggressive and be decisive in his pass protection and things like that, anticipate when things are going to come," said Franklin. "And that's really when you become more aggressive. That's when you become more physical and that's when you actually play faster."

New Quarterbacks Ready to Compete
Redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens have lined up alongside one another throughout winter conditioning ready to compete for the starting quarterback job. Both fiercely competitive, Franklin said the duo would head into spring eager to take command of the offense. Add in early enrollee Jake Zembiec, and the Nittany Lions are primed for a competitive race for the starting quarterback spot.

While no timeline has been set for naming a new starter, Franklin is eager to see what type of progress the group makes on and off the field this spring.

"We want to make sure we're making the right decision, No. 1," Franklin said. "And if that becomes obvious very early on, great. If it needs to go to summer camp, we're willing to go to summer camp and if it needs to be the first game, you guys are waiting for us to announce the starter, that could be the case, as well.

 

"I think it wouldn't surprise if me that goes to camp, just as competitive as those two guys have been with each other. And you never know what's going to happen with a guy like Jake Zembiec, you just never know. It's hard to keep him part of the equation right now because we haven't seen him but you never know. It wouldn't surprise me if that goes to camp."

Position Battles to Watch
Coach Franklin highlighted a few positions he's excited to watch this spring as the Lions look to add depth and experience across the roster. Keep an eye at battles on the offensive line, at wide receiver, at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker.

While Nyeem Wartman-White will be limited this spring, the "Mike" linebacker spot will be a fun competition to track as Jason Cabinda and Wartman-White compete for the starting role.

"Cabinda has gotten a lot of work at Mike linebacker right now and he doesn't want to give that up," said Franklin. "So I think the battle between him and Nyeem is going to be really interesting whether it's part of this spring or whether it's fall camp. They both want to be the Mike linebacker and neither one of them want to give it up, which is great. Our 'Mike' and our 'Will' linebacker are two box backers. They are interchangeable in a lot of ways, so I think that's going to be interesting and going to be fun."

Experience Back on Special Teams
Franklin said it is no secret that the Nittany Lions need to improve in all phases of special teams heading into the 2016 season. The group returns a host of experience from the last two years, and the leader of the Nittany Lions is expecting the collective unit to make a jump forward with added depth this fall.

"We know that that's an area that we have to improve," said Franklin. "We need that to be an area that we are winning games, not an area that has had a major factor in us losing games," said Franklin. "I think we're going to have a more competitive two-deep this year, which I think is going to help there probably as much as anywhere. I think our kicking, the consistency in our kicking, is going to be really important. The height of our kicks, the hang time of our kicks, the kick location, the depth."


Penn State will practice on Friday and Saturday this week before picking up action in full pads on Monday. Stay tuned for extensive spring practice coverage on GoPSUsports.com.



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


VIDEO: Andy Frank 1-on-1 Interview

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One month has passed since the Nittany Lions inked their third-straight recruiting class ranked in the nation's top 25.

Countless hours of work goes on behind the scenes to maintain an elite level of recruiting in the process of getting top student-athletes to Penn State. Director of Player Personnel Andy Frank is the figure behind the scenes who organizes the logistics and operations during the months leading up to signing a top class.

GoPSUsports.com spent time Frank to gain some insight on the process of recruiting in a one-on-one interview. Take a look.




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

Nittany Lions Powering Through Winter Testing

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Photo Gallery - Max Out Session

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Nittany Lions are only 16 days from returning to the practice field for the start of spring football, the team is not thinking about putting helmets and pats back on just yet.

Led by Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt and the strength and condition staff, the football squad wrapped up its annual winter physical testing period to measure the progress the group has made since winter conditioning began in January and to set a baseline leading into the summer workout season.

The Nittany Lions kicked off the testing week on Monday by running the 40-yard dash, broad jump and triple jump inside Holuba Hall and maxing out on the bench press in the weight room. Tuesday's testing featured the vertical jump and the power clean max out in the weight room.  The testing culminated on Wednesday with the shuttle run in Holuba Hall and a squatting max out session in the weight room.

When Galt addressed the media on this particular week during his first two seasons at Penn State, he talked about how pleased he had been with the team's effort. This year, Galt said the eight-week training reached new heights for the Nittany Lions.

"Eight weeks in the bank. It was a great eight weeks," Galt said. "Guys worked their butts off. It was the best winter we've ever had. We've just got to keep on rolling. We have two more days this week to finish up before (spring) break, and then back into football for five weeks."


With eight weeks down in the winter conditioning program, Galt is confident in where the team is at during the final week of strength and conditioning before the student-athletes are off for spring break next week.  The team has lifted three days a week and conditioned during the early-morning hours the other two days during the winter.

Leadership and maturity are two areas that have stuck out to Galt this winter. The young talent on the team has done its part to prosper into veterans, and the upperclassmen have set the tone for the rest of the players in the program.

"The youth is growing up, and the older guys have done a great job," said Galt. "The older guys have really done a great job keeping everyone together and teaching the younger guys the Penn State way. They have been awesome."

Running back Saquon Barkley shined during testing week for the Nittany Lions. Galt labeled Barkley as the type of talent you see in the weight room once every 10 years. A 1,000-yard rusher in his true freshman season, Barkley ran 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and benched 390 pounds on Monday, power cleaned a program-best 390 pounds on Tuesday and squatted 495 pounds seven times on Wednesday.

"This kid is for real," said Galt. "He is a tremendous athlete. But even better than that, he's a great leader, a great worker. He really epitomizes what we are all about. He really did a nice job this week."

Galt also referenced the gains offensive tackles Sterling Jenkins and Paris Palmer have made in the weight room during the past 12 months. On the defensive side of the ball, he highlighted safety Marcus Allen and cornerbacks Grant Haley and John Reid.

Collectively, Galt and the staff have a "tier" system of athletes in the weight room. He labeled "tier three" as a group of elite athletes based on their testing results and physical abilities in the weight room. The team currently has nine "tier three" athletes, and it's a number Galt wants to see grow to approximately 16 by this time next year.

With the media in attendance at Thursday's workout, freshman defensive lineman Kevin Givens put on a show in the final squat of the team's first lifting group of the day. Givens squatted 500 pounds nine times with his fellow teammates cheering him on. Fellow defensive lineman Antoine White turned in a 10-rep effort at 465 pounds.

Now, the Nittany Lions are counting down the days before the start of spring practice. Spring drills begin on March 18, with the period culminating in Beaver Stadium at the annual Blue-White Game on April 16.


Testing Week Top Marks - Winter 2016
40-Yard Dash
Saquon Barkley - 4.38
Saeed Blacknall - 4.39
Troy Apke - 4.41
Koa Farmer - 4.43
Brandon Polk - 4.43

Agility
Saquon Barkley - 4.00
Mark Allen - 4.03
Saeed Blacknall - 4.04
Ayron Monroe - 4.07
Garrett Taylor - 4.10

Vertical
Gregg Garrity - 37
Mike Gesicki - 36.5
Ayron Monroe - 36.5
Christian Campbell - 36
DeAndre Thompkins - 36

Broad Jump
Mike Gesicki - 10-10
Nick Scott - 10-7
Ayron Monroe - 10-7
Evan Schwan - 10-6
Troy Apke - 10-6

Bench Press
Colin Castagna - 465
Derek Dowrey - 440
Brian Gaia - 430
Kevin Givens - 410
Sterling Jenkins - 400
Tyler Yazujian - 400
Ryan Monk - 400
Tom Devenney - 400

Power Clean
Saquon Barkley - 390
Colin Castagna - 365
Mike Gesicki - 365
Robert Windsor - 360
Nick Bowers - 355

Squat
Kevin Givens - 635
Antoine White - 600
Saquon Barkley - 600
Kamonte Carter - 590
Nick Bowers - 565

***One-rep max for squat figures***




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

Nittany Lions at the 2016 NFL Combine

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Indianapolis will be a hub of activity throughout the weekend as Lucas Oil Stadium hosts the 2016 NFL Combine.

Penn State will five representatives participating in the combine activities, beginning on Thursday when the school's all-time leading passer, Christian Hackenberg, kicks off the process in Indy. Hackenberg, Austin Johnson, Jordan Lucas, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel are all set to participate at this year's NFL Combine.

Approximately 332 players are going to be in attendance at one of the most important steps in the NFL Draft preparation process. The NFL Combine entails measurements, medical examinations, and testing, in addition to on-field timing and skill work. The measurable drills include: 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill and shuttle run.

Penn State at the NFL Combine Schedule
Thursday, Feb. 25
Media interviews for quarterbacks - Christian Hackenberg

Friday, Feb. 26
Media interviews for defensive linemen - Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel

Saturday, Feb. 27
Media interviews for defensive backs - Jordan Lucas
On-field workouts for quarterbacks - Christian Hackenberg

Sunday, Feb. 28
On-field workouts for defensive linemen -
Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel

Monday, Feb. 29
On-field workouts for defensive backs - Jordan Lucas



The NFL Network will have wall-to-wall coverage on TV. Additionally, there will be a live stream beginning on Friday at 9 a.m.

NFL Combine Live Stream



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

VIDEO: Tim Banks 1-on-1 Interview

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With 20 years of collegiate coaching experience and nine seasons as a defensive coordinator, Tim Banks became Penn State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach on Jan. 18.

Banks spent the last four seasons at Illinois working as the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. In the midst of the final push leading up to signing day on Feb. 3, Banks spent the vast majority of his first two weeks on the job recruiting across the region with the rest of the coaching staff to help secure Penn State's third consecutive group of signees ranked in the top 25.

A Detroit native, Banks is thrilled to continue his coaching career in the Big Ten as he gets set for his first spring on the field with the Nittany Lions. GoPSUsports.com spent time with the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in a one-on-one introductory interview. Take a look.





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Penn State Athletics THON 2016 Coverage

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IMG_9032.JPGUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics was heavily involved with the 44th IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) held at the Bryce Jordan Center over the weekend.

THON's 708 dancers began standing at 6 p.m. on Friday and did not sit down or sleep until Sunday at 4 p.m. to raise awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Since 1977, THON has partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital with one goal in mind: conquering childhood cancer. To date, more than $136 million has been raised by THON. THON revealed a fundraising total of more than $9.7 million for 2016 with 96 percent of THON's all-time funds being donated directly to Four Diamonds. 

Each year, more than 15,000 Penn State student volunteers dedicate their time to THON, making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) were active participants in THON, and led run several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family and a lip sync competition. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON children, Isabella Messina and Colton Buckley, and their families throughout the year.


Four Penn State student-athletes are represented SAAB as dancers in THON 2016: Liisi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Angela Widlacki (Naperville, Ill.) of women's soccer, Emily Rivers (Washington, D.C.) from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) from football.

"This means the world to us. As athletes you are given a platform that a normal student might not have," said Zanellato. "It's one of those things that when you come in as a freshman, you know that you will have that platform for a few years. I wanted to make the most of it. I realized that THON was something special to me when I came to Penn State. I wanted to use my platform as best I could."

Additionally, Angela Connors and Jessica Spellman from the Lionettes squad and from Penn State cheerleading Kenny Fuhrman, Paige Gentry, Jordan Hinkle, Kylie Tobasco and Mike White danced in THON.

Within Penn State Athletics, strategic communications student assistants Emily Hesidence and Kate Brandell were also among the dancers at THON, as well.


Check out the GoPSUsports.com extensive coverage from THON 2016 weekend.


Friday - 6 p.m. - THON 2016 Begins
The 46-hour dance marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening when the 708 dancers stood. They will remain on their feet until Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.

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Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, GoPSUsports.com spent some time with student-athletes and THON dancers Liisi Vink-Lainas  and Angela Widlacki of women's soccer, Emily Rivers, from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato from football. Representing Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), the group is thrilled to carry the Penn State Athletics banner as dancers in the 2016 THON. Take a look at some of their remarks from the floor at the BJC.



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Saturday - 2 p.m. - Football Hosts THON Explorers Event
Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.

Football THON Explorers Event



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Saturday - 6 p.m. - Student-Athletes Participate in Athlete Hour
Athletes from several teams on campus spent times with the THON Four Diamonds children inside the IM during athlete hour on Saturday.  Here are a few snapshots and video highlights from the event.

Athlete Hour Photo Gallery



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Saturday - 11 p.m. - Football Wins Pep Rally Dance Competition
One of the THON highlights every year comes on Saturday night when the teams of Penn State Athletics hop on stage and compete in a dancing competition during the annual pep rally. In all, 12 different teams competed in the 2016 version of the dance-off.

The pep rally included a speech from former Nittany Lion football great Devon Still and his daughter Leah.

As for the dance competition, the football team claimed top honors in the men's side of the action, while the reigning national champion women's soccer team took top honors on the women's side. The two teams then battled in a dance off, with the football team earning the bragging rights as the 2016 THON Pep Rally dancing champion.

We have highlights of every team dancing on Saturday night at THON. 

THON 2016 Pep Rally Photo Gallery



9185732.jpegTHON 2016 Pep Rally Full Dances
Football (Men's & Overall Champion) 
Women's Soccer (Women's Champion)
Men's Fencing
Men's Golf
Men's Gymnastics
Men's Hockey
Men's Rugby
Men's Soccer
Men's Tennis
Men's Volleyball
Field Hockey
Women's Golf
Women's Gymnastics
Women's Hockey
Women's Rugby
Women's Volleyball

Sunday - 11:30 a.m. - VIDEO: Coach Franklin Addresses THON 2016
Head coach James Franklin took the stage of THON 2016 on Sunday morning to urge the dancers on in the final hours of the 46-hour dance marathon.  Franklin's message epitomized what THON's mission has been since it started in 1977.

"This is special. What you guys do is what Penn State is ultimately all about," said Coach Franklin.

Take a look at his full remarks.

James Franklin at THON 2016 Photo Gallery



4:14 p.m. - THON 2016 Raises $9.7 Million
For the second-straight year, THON's fundraising efforts raised more than $9.7 million. The grand total for THON in 2016 was  $9,770,332.32 for fight against pediatric cancer.  Congratulations to everyone involved in THON 2016.  Here is a look at the reveal from Rec Hall prior to Penn State wrestling's bout against Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lion faithful in Rec Hall let out a big cheer as the total was unveiled.

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GoPSUTony

VIDEO: THON 2016 Pep Rally - Football

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Before a packed house in the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday night, the Nittany Lion football team claimed top honors in the annual THON dance competition featuring Penn State teams. The Lions earned a victory in the men's side of the action before ousting the women's soccer squad in a dance-off. Take a look at the team's winning dance.

VIDEO: Nittany Lions Host 2016 THON Explorers Event

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Football THON Explorers Event

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.


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VIDEO: Matt Limegrover 1-on-1 Interview

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With more than 25 years of collegiate coaching experience, Matt Limegrover became Penn State's offensive line coach on Jan. 13.

Limegrover spent the last five seasons at Minnesota working as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and was the assistant head coach during the past two seasons. In the midst of the final push leading up to signing day, Limegrover hit the ground running and spent the first two and half weeks on the job recruiting with the rest of the coaching staff to help secure Penn State's third consecutive group of signees ranked in the nation's top 25.

A Pittsburgh native, Limegrover is thrilled to be closer to home as he gets set for his first spring on the field with the Nittany Lions. GoPSUsports.com spent time with the offensive line coach in a one-on-one introductory interview. Take a look.





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