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Dec. 19, 2012
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Lasch Football Building has been a hub of activity since the 24-21 overtime victory over Wisconsin on Nov. 24.
In the weeks since the Senior Day triumph in Beaver Stadium, head coach Bill O'Brien and the coaching staff hit the recruiting trail, the returning Nittany Lion players ramped up offseason conditioning, O'Brien held extensive coaching staff meetings to iron out personnel plans and spring practice and conducted one-on-one exit interviews with every returning player.
Coach O'Brien said the meetings with more than 80 players were positive as the Nittany Lions look ahead to the 2013 season. While his eyes are on recruiting, spring practice and next season, O'Brien took some time to reflect on his first campaign at the helm of Penn State Football.
"It was a very good start to a new era of Penn State football," O'Brien said. "Just like any season, you wish you had a few plays back, but it just feels like it was a successful season."
Following an 0-2 start, the Nittany Lions caught fire in the latter stages of September. Penn State rattled off five-straight victories en route to winning eight of its final 10 games, including six in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions finished second in the Big Ten Leaders Division.
Relentless effort on the practice field throughout the season and an emphasis on complementary football played a paramount role in Penn State's 8-4 season.
"I think we did a really good job of playing together," O'Brien said. "Our players did a great job buying into how offense, defense and special teams work together. We showed that to the players on film that here's how it works when it goes well and here's how it works when it doesn't go well. The mantra is One Team."
O'Brien, who was named the Maxwell Football Club's Collegiate Coach of the Year on Wednesday, set the tone for 2012 during his introductory press conference on Jan. 7. From there, he then met with the team and formed an instantaneous bond with the senior class.
Without the 31-member senior class' leadership, it is hard to imagine how the 2012 season would have gone. Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich spearheaded the effort to keep the team intact when the NCAA announcement came out on July 23. The seniors set the standard for how the team was going to approach every day with a workmanlike attitude.
It was only fitting for the senior class to finish their Penn State careers with a dramatic victory on their final Saturday in Blue and White. O'Brien said the victory over eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin and the locker room scene after the game was the highlight of his first season in Happy Valley.
"To win that game against a tough Wisconsin team that was going to the Big Ten Championship Game," O'Brien said. "I felt great for these players. These kids are 19, 20 and 21 years old, and they had to deal with a lot of stuff you or I didn't have to deal with at that age. I felt really good for those 31 seniors. To finish on a high note like that, it was a great locker room scene."
The Nittany Lions return a corps of talented athletes on both sides of the ball, headlined by Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson, first team All-Big Ten guard John Urschel, first team All-Big Ten tight end Kyle Carter and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes. Additionally, 1,000-yard running back Zach Zwinak returns to the offense. Glenn Carson, who finished with 85 tackles, will anchor the linebacker corps, while Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong all return as starters in the secondary.
O'Brien and the Nittany Lions laid the groundwork for the future of Penn State Football with a hard-working, gritty style during a superb 2012 season. Now, it is up to the 2013 squad to establish its identity during offseason workouts.
Penn State will wrap up final exams this week before heading home for the holiday break. Offseason conditioning and recruiting will pick back up in January.
The 2013 season begins in 255 days when the Lions take on Syracuse in MetLife Stadium on Aug. 31.