Lions Ready for Flying Start

Final touches are being put on Penn State's travel plans for the season-opener vs UCF in Dublin. How have the logistics worked out?

The Penn State football program held a conference call Wednesday morning, so reporters could talk to three Nittany Lions staffers about the team's upcoming trip to Ireland.

PSU opens the 2014 season against UCF in Dublin Aug. 30, and the travel party of more than 300 (including 118 players) departs via charter flight from Harrisburg next Tuesday.

The Nittany Lion staff is still scrambling to finalize the logistics of the trip, so much so that two of the three men on Wednesday's conference call had to step away at times to take other calls.

“It's a challenge, there's just a lot of moving parts when you are going overseas,” said director of football operations Michael Hazel, who handled most of the questions Wednesday. “You're required to complete certain documentation where you list every item that you're taking with you.”

That includes everything from football equipment to office supplies.

Jay Takach was officially announced as Penn State's new equipment manager Tuesday, but revealed Wednesday he has been on the job for about two weeks. As you might imagine, his short time in Happy Valley has been a whirlwind, with workdays starting before sunrise and ending after midnight.

Wednesday, he was late to the conference call -- but for good reason. He was on the phone with United Airlines, which is running the team charter, working out final details for moving equipment.

“There's been an enormous amount of challenges,” Takach reported. He did not venture a guess on the weight of the equipment and supplies being transported to Dublin, but said it was enough to fill “a 53-foot tractor trailer top to bottom.”

The equipment will be on the flight with the team going to Dublin. On the way back, it will be on a separate flight, to allow the travel party to leave quickly after the game.

Penn State contacted other programs that have played in Ireland -- specifically Notre Dame and Navy -- for tips on how to handle the trip most efficiently.

The schedule that has been devised starts with the overnight flight from Harrisburg, which will get the team into Dublin Wednesday morning. From there, the players will head directly to the site of the game -- Croke Park -- for a welcome event.

Then the team will head to its practice facility at University College Dublin for a normal Wednesday practice. After that, it is on to the team hotel, the Powerscourt, which is some 30 minutes south of Dublin (and the practice site) and even farther from Croke Park. The players will eat and then go to sleep.

Director of football administration Kevin Threlkel, who also had to slip out of the conference call for a bit to attend to trip-related business, does not see getting around Dublin as an issue.

“This is going to be a work trip. We're not going to have a lot of time to visit the Irish countryside, so to speak.”

“I think we'll be fine,” he said. “We'll have a bunch of buses. We'll leave ample time.”

Thursday, the players will practice and then get to check out the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin later in the day. Friday will include a tour of Dublin and practice.

Saturday, of course, is game day.

“This is going to be a work trip,” Hazel said. “We're not going to have a lot of time to visit the Irish countryside, so to speak.”

Shortly after the conference call, the players and staff had a meeting where the ins and outs of international travel were explained. This included things like using their cell phones, the types of food that will be available and what it will be like going through customs.

Speaking of which, Hazel credited former director of football ops Kirk Diehl for initiating the process of getting passports for all of the players. He estimated that process was 80 percent complete when Diehl left for a position in the Nittany Lion Club earlier this year.

Now that everyone has a passport, there is a different challenge. The staff must gather passport information for all 300-plus people on the trip for the flight manifest. That information, in turn, must be matched to everyone's seat assignment.

“That's the last piece of the puzzle,” Hazel said.

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