Roots of a Lion
Coming from Londonderry (N.H.) High, a powerhouse football program by Granite State standards, I followed the sport closely. I attended every game during my high school career since I was the captain of the school's drumline. But I wouldn't have called myself a student of the game or even a real fan.
That quickly started to change when I arrived at University Park as a freshman. Keep in mind that I was not a PSU football fan when I was looking at schools. I actually looked at 13 schools (from Cornell to Duke) and only knew that I wanted a school people "knew," that had a strong business school and had a lot school spirit.
During the summer after my junior year in high school, we went and visited all 13 schools I was considering. Penn State was last on the list and almost got crossed off because I was exhausted after trekking to the previous stops. Well, it would have been the mistake of my life. Although I am sure the Lion Ambassador tour I was on became memorable for the hosts (I asked, "Who this Joe Paterno guy you keep mentioning?") the visit shot PSU to the top of my list.
Birth of a Lion
My first week on campus I managed to survive Blue Band tryouts and in the week or so leading up to the season kickoff we practiced at the intramural fields in the shadow of Beaver Stadium. Each day brought more anticipation of what being on the field in front of 93,000 fans would be like.
I still remember my first time stepping onto the field for pre-game. I had never been inside of Beaver Stadium, so when the drumline walked out to line up for the performance I got my first glimpse of the spectacle — I was like one of those 4-year-old kids who sees Cinderella's Castle when they visit Disney World for the first time. One of the other drummers came over, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "you ready?" I remember saying, "Yeah, sorry I have just never seen my entire town — times 20 — all in one place."
From that moment on I assimilated into Penn State football. And that only got stronger as I worked on various marketing projects with PSU athletics — the most renowned of which was probably the "Second to None" Pepsi can tributing the 1994 team. I had the opportunity to meet the coaches and players and I started to become a student of the game, hungry to learn whatever I could about the team and positions. After all, if I was going to every game for free I might as well immerse myself in the experience.
Despite all of this I still didn't quite fathom how big PSU football was outside of the confines of University Park.
After graduation, I set off to pursue a career in marketing. However, PSU football continued to play a strong role in my life. Living in the Boston region, I drove (eight hours both ways) for every home game to see my girlfriend-turned-wife (and the game), who was a year behind me and also in the Blue Band. Driving 16 hours for a 35 hour visit is a true test of one's loyalty (to a girl and a team).
Sharing My Passion
Upon graduation in 1996 my passion for PSU continued and took an unsuspected turn. Nirav, a college friend of mine, and I started a game preview. Friends and family would write us asking about the coming game, so we just would post our thoughts in an email and send it out to 10 or so people. That was the birth of what became PSU Playbook and eventually grew into Fight On State, thanks to our partnership with Mark and Stacey Brennan. It was never started with the intent to become what it has today — but as they say, deep passions can unexpectedly flourish.
Being part of FOS has afforded me some amazing opportunities to meet, interact with and interview legends like John Cappelletti, Ted Kwalick, Michael Zordich, Wally Richardson, Ki-Jana Carter, Anthony Adams and Paul Posluszny, among many others. I have also had the great opportunity to be part of events like Lift For Life and Penn's Civilians when they were just an idea — so it's incredible to see both grow and flourish.
So, based on all of this, suiting up in Blue and White and participating in PSU's fantasy camp was a no-brainer for me. For those who have never met me, I am 32 years old, 6-foot, 185 pounds. I run about 7.45 forty (assuming it's downhill with a 40-plus mph tailwind).
When the fantasy camp asked me which positions I was interested in, two immediately came to mind; wide receiver — after all my build is right between Deon Butler and Chris Bell (clearly I ignored the need for speed and hands with this selection); and linebacker — I mean, the place is called Linebacker U. Of course I now figure that the other 40 guys in the camp also went through the same thought process, so we'll likely be playing a 0-11-0 base set on defense. I'll be a great experiment for Tom Bradley to test.
If you are not familiar with the camp it's coached by assistants like Brian Norwood, Jay Paterno, Larry Johnson, Bill Kenney and Galen Hall, and former players like Todd Blackledge, Dennis Onkotz, John Greene, Eddie Johnson, Rich Rosa, Wally Richardson and Rick Sales. You watch film, drill and learn about your positions from guys who coach and played the roles. The coaches review game preparation, scheming, personnel management, recruiting, etc. They basically attempt to immerse participants into the experience of being a PSU player with presentations, practices, position drills, lectures, etc.
I will keep you posted on my preparations for the event which takes place June 6-10. I will also be posting a blog during the camp to give you an idea of what the experience is like first-hand.