Here are my personal top 10 experiences, in no particular order, from Penn State Fantasy Football Camp.
All-American Coaches: There is nothing like having former All-Americans Kenny Jackson and Blair Thomas ride your rear about how to call out schemes and position your defense. Didn't you guys play offense? Coach Jackson kept saying "cover 2 baby all day long." He knew what he was talking about, too since our first-team defense didn't surrender any points in the fantasy game.
What's That Flushing Sound?: During our second day of practice during the last Drill 6 (7-on-7 set), who steps up at quarterback for the White team? Derrick Williams. So, I switch up the defense to Sky Liz, which has the weak side 'backer (me) blitzing Williams. With the snap, the center shifts right, so I sneak right past him. Williams sees the blitz and rolls wide, getting flushed from the pocket. I get a hand on his shoulder, but he dumps it for the incompletion. His response? "Some nice wheels there." What an experience and thanks to Derrick for running in slow-mo to make it look realistic.
Penn State's Own "Rudy": The very first day of camp I started meeting players and coaches in the hospitality suite. There I met Tim Bronish — Tim is Penn State's version of "Rudy." A former center for the team (he looks more like a linebacker or fullback today), Tim walked on to the team not once, but twice. Tim dressed for every game during the 1985 season and elected to forgo his senior season after his father passed away the day of the 1986 Orange Bowl. One of the most passionate and genuine men I have had the honor of meeting. With a heart full of PSU passion and his '86 Orange Bowl cleats on, Tim is one of those guys you can listen to tell stories for hours. Thanks Coach Bronish.
No Rust: During the pre-game dinner the night before the game, Coach Bill Kenney addressed the players. Coach Kenney recently lost his dad and said being part of the camp was therapeutic to him — particularly seeing guys "so passionate to take a risk and put their all into something they love so much." Coach Kenney game the players their game-day battle cry when he talked about his dad saying how when we all leave this world it's with "no rust." We all proudly wore "No Rust" on our wrist tape in Beaver Stadium. After the game I took a moment with him to talk about his dad and learned what kind of man the elder Kenney was — you could tell he was great based on how his son talked about him and due to his deep love for the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots. Thanks Coach Kenney.
Father Figure: If you have ever wondered why Coach Larry Johnson is such a great recruiter and a great coach, spend five minutes with him. The man is as intense and genuine as they come. If you caught FOS' first camp photo gallery you'll see my pal Mark Brennan makes a point to point out my "infatuation" with Larry Johnson. I don't know how you can't love this man, though — he does everything with pride and passion — he brims with it and it's infectious. He also genuinely loved the camp and players. Coach Johnson and I talked often during the camp about our kids, life, Penn State, aspirations and, yes, football. His kids, his players and Penn State are blessed to have him.
Blanket Coverage: During the second practice session on Thursday we worked offensive sets. In the latter goings the fantasy unit was subbed out for the varsity unit — Phillip Taylor, Ollie Ogbu, Maurice Evans, Kevin Cousins, Daryll Clark and A.J. Wallace. Playing split-wing wideout, I matched up man-to-man with Wallace. This was a goal-line set scheme. I ran an end zone inside post route. Wallace effortlessly covered me off the line and jammed me on the post — which was very cool despite getting some tender ribs out of the move. The players were awesome though, and had some fun with some trash talking. There's nothing like getting covered by a corner like Wallace.
Tunnel of Love: There was nothing like putting on the Penn State uniform and walking out of the locker room to that "click, clack" echo out to the tunnel. The intensity grew standing in the tunnel and watching that Gladiator montage video. I came out of the tunnel 26 times previously with the Blue Band and none of them were like this experience. I can't explain it; you just have to do it to understand it.
Catching On: During the game I just wanted to catch one ball to be able to say I did that in Beaver Stadium. Well, I caught a few first down passes (with a long of 17 yards), made a half dozen or so tackles, punted (what may be a PSU record for hangtime and shortest net yardage) and, true to the PSU experience, had a touchdown called down at the one yard line — it's cool that they arranged for Big Ten refs to make the experience true to life. Perhaps the biggest thrill for me when it comes to playing was playing linebacker and calling the scheme and player positions. That was an absolute blast and honor, plus I got to have Coach Kenny Jackson chewing my hide out during the game. "Harrington, get your corners back!"
Numbers Game: One of the coolest experiences involved my jersey number — No. 3. Deon Butler, PSU's current No. 3 (and a damn good one), actually attended the game and watched from the sideline with Lydell Sargeant. After my would-be touchdown was mis-spotted I was standing on the sideline. Butler, clearly feeling charitable, said, "Man, that was a great catch — you looked like me out there. Next time you gotta dive; dive right in there!" That was a treat to hear, although the heat was clearly impairing his judgment.
Huddle Up: One of my most cherished memories will be being part of a team again. It is simply amazing that a group of strangers can pull together and become a team in two days. It's a tribute to the coaches (particularly Jay Paterno, Larry Johnson, Brian Norwood and Bill Kenney), players and Penn State as a whole. So to all the guys like Doug Stewart, Fred Kim, John Story, John Powell, Bruce and Randy Weirman, Chris Ladd, Col. Jake Graham, Mike Deitz, Bob Bates — unfortunately I can't name everyone — but I want to thank each and every player and coach for reminding me of how great it is to be part of a team.
If you have ever dreamed of playing for Penn State, here's your chance. Check out the Official Site of Penn State's Fantasy Football Camp and register for next year. It's the experience of a lifetime.