O'Brien, Lions Turn Attention to Football

After a difficult offseason, Penn State's first-year coach and his team open training camp for the 2012 campaign.

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin walked away from the Lasch Football Building with his right shoulder packed in ice and his left hand clutching a thick playbook. Backup offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro hobbled down the sidewalk with no shoe on his left foot -- plastic wrap held ice on his ankle.

As the Nittany Lions left the first practice of their 2012 training camp Monday morning, most seemed to be nursing some sort of bump or bruise. But to a man, they were all smiling.

After what may go down as the most tumultuous offseason in the history of college sports, they were finally playing football again.

“It was a good practice,” first-year coach Bill O'Brien said. “The guys came out ready to go. … They're a really good group of kids and it was great to get out here on the field and watch them run around.”

O'Brien was hired in January to help lead Penn State out of the horrible aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. His job was made that much more difficult when the NCAA hit the program with significant sanctions late last month.

The penalties include a four-year postseason ban, a reduction in scholarships and the ability of current players to transfer to other FBS schools without penalty.

Surrounded by a crowd of reporters following Monday's practice, O'Brien said while it is time to move on from a football standpoint, the most important issues that arose out of the Sandusky scandal will not be forgotten.

“We have a lot of good things going on here,” O'Brien said. “(But) we have to remember why we're in the position we're in. And we've got to understand our responsibility to the community, to children, to child abuse organizations -- that's number one.”

He also reiterated his pledge to have a more open program than the one the late Joe Paterno led for so many years. The media was allowed to watch the last half hour of Monday's practice and will be invited in for a portion of Thursday's practice, as well.

Such access was rare during Paterno's long tenure.

“It's important for us to open this place up, let (the media) come in and see what these kids are all about,” O'Brien said. “They're hard-working, good kids who go to class and I'm proud to be their head coach.”

Eight scholarship players left the program after the sanctions hit, including projected starters Silas Redd (tailback), Justin Brown (receiver) and Anthony Fera (kicker). Though players can still transfer out of the program, O'Brien believes now that training camp has started things will stabilize.

He added that Jamil Pollard, a defensive lineman from New Jersey who transferred to Rutgers, was the only incoming freshman to leave.

“We've got a bunch of proud kids that are here,” he said. “They have a passion for playing football, they have a passion for going to school here. They really understand the reason we're in the situation we're in. But they still want to go out there and play for themselves and for their university.”

Penn State will hold the NCAA maximum 29 practice sessions leading up to the Sept. 1 season-opener against Ohio at Beaver Stadium. But very few of them will start as early as Monday's.

Players were told to get out of bed at 5:15 a.m. to head over to the Lasch Building. O'Brien said he was in the office by 4:45 a.m.

The former offensive coordinator for the NFL's New England Patriots was that excited to tackle his first training camp as a head coach, especially after spending so much time dealing with non-football issues in recent weeks.

“I couldn't wait,” O'Brien said. “I couldn't sleep last night -- for good reasons.”

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