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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., March 24, 2006 - It might feel like the 2006 FedEx Orange Bowl ended just a couple of weeks ago, but the reality is the thrilling Penn State triple overtime victory over Florida State was 2 1/2 months ago and the start of preparations for the 2006 Nittany Lion football season began shortly thereafter.
Since classes resumed in mid-January, the Lasch Football Building and Holuba Hall have been hubs of activity, with returning team members hard at work with off-season weight training and conditioning.
On Saturday, on-field preparations for the upcoming season get underway with the start of spring practice. The Nittany Lions will culminate their allotted 15 spring practices with the highly-anticipated Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 22. Kickoff is at 2:00 p.m. and admission and parking are free.
A little more than four months after the Blue-White game, Penn State opens its 120th campaign, hosting Akron, the 2005 Mid-American Conference champion, on Sept. 2 in the first of seven contests against bowl teams from this past season. The Nittany Lions' challenging schedule has them playing against three bowl squads in the initial four games, as contests at Notre Dame (Sept. 9) and Ohio State (Sept. 23) sandwich a home game with Youngstown State (Sept. 16) during the season's first month. In his 41st season as head coach, Joe Paterno welcomes back 35 letterwinners and 11 starters from last year's Big Ten and Orange Bowl Championship squad. Penn State was 11-1 and finished No. 3 in the polls, the 13th time with at least 11 wins and for a Top 5 finish under the legendary coach.
Penn State returns 13 letterwinners on offense (five starters), 20 on defense (four starters) and two specialists (both starters). In addition to the 11 returning starters, there are nine returnees who have previous starting experience in 2004 or '05. The Nittany Lions have lost the services of 25 lettermen -- 13 on offense and 12 on defense.
Among the returning starters are four players who earned All-America or All-Big Ten recognition in 2005: senior linebacker Paul Posluszny (Aliquippa), a consensus All-American and winner of the Butkus and Bednarik Awards; senior tackle Levi Brown (Norfolk, Va.), a second team All-American; senior defensive tackle Jay Alford (Orange, N.J.) and senior tailback Tony Hunt (Alexandria, Va., both of whom were second team all-conference selections.
Junior Anthony Morelli (Pittsburgh) is the top candidate to replace Michael Robinson at quarterback. Morelli will have a talented, but young corps of wideouts to throw to, including junior Terrell Golden (Norfolk, Va.) and sophomores Deon Butler (Woodbridge, Va.), Jordan Norwood (State College), Lydell Sargeant (Lompoc, Calif.) and Derrick Williams (Greenbelt, Md.), who missed the last five games of 2005 with a broken arm. Sophomore Justin King (Pittsburgh) strictly played wide receiver the second half of last season, but could see time at cornerback and on offense during the spring.
Hunt demonstrated that he was one of the Big Ten's most productive, versatile and hardest running tailbacks last season, becoming the 10th player in program history to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. He enters the 2006 season with 1,934 career yards, good for 16th place on the PSU list, needing just 66 yards for 2,000 in his career. During the 2005 season, Hunt gained 1,047 yards on 174 carries, for a superb 6.0 average, and six touchdowns. His per carry average was second-best among the seven Big Ten running backs that surpassed 1,000 yards. Hunt led the Lions with 1,253 all-purpose yards.
A linebacker unit that should rank among the nation's best will anchor the defense. Posluszny is joined by returning starters in senior MLB Tim Shaw (Livonia, Mich.) and junior OLB Dan Connor (Wallingford). Posluszny is the 12th linebacker to earn first team All-America honors at "Linebacker U" under Joe Paterno. He recorded a team-high 116 tackles last season. The first team Academic All-America selection is only the fourth Nittany Lion to record 100 or more hits in consecutive seasons. He has 256 career tackles, tied with Trey Bauer for eighth place, and needs 88 tackles to pass Greg Buttle (343) and become school career leader in hits.
Posluszny, Shaw and Connor combined to record 268 tackles, with 23.0 tackles for losses, 9.0 sacks and 13 pass break-ups last season, ranking No. 1 and tied for No. 4 on the team in tackles. Posluszny sustained a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the FedEx Orange Bowl that did not require surgery and he is on schedule to be 100 percent well prior to pre-season camp.
Penn State will bring a five-game winning streak into the 2006 season, tied for fifth-best in the nation. Texas (20), TCU (10), Ohio State and West Virginia (7) are ahead of the Nittany Lions, who are tied with Louisiana-Lafayette and Nevada with five wins. The Lions have won 13 of their last 14 games overall, dating to a dramatic last minute goal line stand to preserve a 22-18 win at Indiana on Nov. 13, 2004. The only loss during the stretch came at Michigan on Oct. 15, 2005 on a touchdown on the last play of the game for a 27-25 setback.
"Penn State Blue-White Weekend Presented by PHEAA" will take place April 21-22. The Blue-White Game is one of the nation's most popular spring football contests. More than 40,000 loyal and enthusiastic Penn State fans have attended the contest in eight of the past 10 years, with rainy conditions during the other two contests.
Numerous events will be held in conjunction with the Blue-White Game to celebrate Penn State Football, including the popular pre-game autograph session with the players, the announcement of the spring football award winners as well as the recipients of the Student Book Store's "Player of the Game" from last season.
Other events for Penn State fans all of ages held in conjunction with the Blue-White Game will be announced in early April.
Season tickets and Club seats are available for the 2006 season, which will feature seven home games. For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, interested parties can call 1-800-648-8269 (1-800-NITTANY). For additional information on club seats, call 863-3143 in the Centre Region and ask for Bob White.
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