"It's a family," senior defensive end Josh Gaines said. "[The D-line], we're crazy. We're always going hard every play and hitting heads, and then the linebackers are doing their own thing, but when you add them in, it's like a family."
Gaines is one of five captains for the Nittany Lions this season. Joining him is safety Anthony Scirrotto, wide receiver Derrick Williams, center A.Q. Shipley and All-American linebacker Sean Lee, who, despite a season-ending ACL injury suffered during the off-season, will assume the role of captain this fall.
The Lions are coming off of back-to-back 9-4 seasons, and hope to take advantage of a Big Ten conference which some experts believe is suspect. And despite being only two years removed from a BCS bowl appearance — the 2005 Orange Bowl, a game in which all of this season's captains were underclassmen — the leaders feel it's time to get back to the program's winning ways.
"[The 2005 season] was really the first taste of winning anything big," Shipley said. "[For me], there really wasn't one single moment personally that set me as a captain, just a collection of leading on the field."
Each player had only praise for his teammates when fielding questions, remarking that they are "excited to see how everything pans out." However, for a team that has had to deal with a dark cloud of off-the-field issues over the past 12 months, each captain stressed the importance of taking charge outside of the locker room, and that building team unity was priority No. 1.
"Our goal was to develop more chemistry," Williams said. "A lot of guys know what it takes. They've seen the great captains that we've had, and that experience on the field will help."
With five captains for Penn State, this season's group of leaders is the program's largest since 1994. Last year the Lions were led with three captains, similar to 2005. Having five captains on one team did bring into question the role each will play, but each admitted he knows what he can bring to the table as an individual and what he can add to the group.
"I think me, Anthony and A.Q. are more of the on-the-field guys, whereas Josh and Derrick are the more vocal guys on the team," Lee said. "I tried to step up vocally, and I'm just trying to make an influence on the guys."
That influence can resonate most strongly with the play of those on the field. And though Lee won't be suiting up this season, it will be up to the other four captains to lead the Lions during the games.
"Everybody goes into the year expecting to win a national championship," Gaines said, "but you are only as strong as your weakest player, and [the captains] are just trying to lead by example."
Check out the video coverage of the event we have so far. And be sure to check back for more videos over the next few days
Part 1 of our one-on-one with Sean Lee:
Part 2 of our one-on-one with Sean Lee: