UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The prevailing message about motivation and emotion for Penn State players interviewed Tuesday can be summed up as this:
We're ready to play Illinois because it's the first Big Ten game of the season and not because of the summer.
The summer, though, kept coming up as a topic of conversation. As Penn State scrambled to keep its team together after the NCAA sanctions initiated open season on its roster, Illinois sent assistant coaches to State College to speak to a player who Illinois coach Tim Beckman claims contacted him first.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill notes "it wasn't like they were the only people trying to contact us," but the Illini's pursuit of Penn State players never sat well with the team in the summer, and for some players, Hill said, it still doesn't.
"As a football player, you use any type of motivation to get you going," he said.
Hill said he won't extract extra inspiration for Saturday's game because of Illinois' summer recruiting excursion and the transfer of reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki to the school. He didn't see any Illinois coaches, and none of them contacted him.
Illinois staffers came to State College in late July, two days after the NCAA sanctions were announced. At Big Ten media days, Beckman said he had eight assistant coaches in State College stationed at a coffee shop and a restaurant.
He said they did not go on campus. He said they were there because a player had contacted them first. Beckman reiterated these claims during a news conference Monday.
"We were contacted previously, prior to any of this stuff happening, by a young man," he said. "We pursued it; we did not go and chase him."
Beckman then switched from the singular to plural when discussing the team's recruiting targets.
"We told them that we would be off-campus and if they'd like to, they could, and if they didn't like to, then we wouldn't pursue them any further," he said.
If Beckman is speaking truthfully, then Penn State's grievances toward Illinois should be extended to other Big Ten programs. Though Illinois is the lone Big Ten team to snag a Penn State transfer, the majority of Big Ten coaches said they would have considered pursuing a player if first contacted by him, as Beckman claimed.
Only Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Wisconsin's Brett Bielema said they had a problem with the NCAA's ruling and would not pursue Penn State players under any circumstance. Purdue's Danny Hope, Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Indiana's Kevin Wilson said they would look into accepting a transfer if contacted by a player. Dantonio said he had been contacted and had opened up communication with Penn State players.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn't provide a real answer to the question about transfers. He called the situation complex and advocated for everyone to stay compliant. In the weeks that followed, several Iowa media outlets reported that Penn State running back Akeel Lynch was considering a transfer to Iowa.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he was going to "keep our business our business." The Wolverines did not add any current Nittany Lions players, but 2013 recruit Ross Douglas switched his commitment from Penn State to Michigan.
Monday, Beckman said he and O'Brien had met at the Big Ten media days, and he hoped the issue had been resolved then. O'Brien said Tuesday he might have met with him and did not elaborate. On a third consecutive question about the Illinois transfer situation at his news conference, O'Brien insisted he directed no anger at Beckman or Illinois.
"It takes a lot to bother me," he said.
The way any topic would resonate with 100 different people, it appears that -- as Hill and fullback Mike Zordich said -- some people couldn't care less about Illinois while others on the team have targeted this game. Hill said that after the Temple victory other players were already discussing their eagerness to take on Illinois for its actions this summer.
"That's the first instinct, but it's all fun and games," he said. "Nobody is out there being like, 'I hate these guys.' There's nothing like that."