Nittany Lions have a lot on their plate

PENN STATE

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Life in State College during Penn State's Thanksgiving break parallels "The Road." The world still exists, but everything within it is tinged with emptiness and gray.

Walks through campus bring with them a desolate fear: You worry someone, or something, will shatter the silence.

It got worse Tuesday. Snow came falling and stuck, and on its white surface a layer of ice materialized.

Senior offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach noticed the isolation on his way through campus to a film session.

"We're up here all summer so we get to see campus empty a good amount of times, but it's extra empty at this point, especially with this snowfall," he said.

"It's like we're walking through the frozen tundra and [are] the only people out here."

This week is the final week of Penn State football for the 2013 season.

For seniors like Dieffenbach, it is the final week of college football for the rest of their lives.

Without school, they get to relax, but without school and without many family and friends around for the holiday they have little to keep them interested -- aside from Wisconsin, a final game in a season that hasn't quite gone the way any of them hoped.

They have football this week and each other.

Monday, they had a walkthrough practice. Monday night, the team went to see "Thor: The Dark World," or, as Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said, "some movie called 'Thor' or something like that."

Tuesday, they were scheduled for a more intense practice, same Wednesday. Throughout the week, they're going to watch film, more than usual because of all the free time.

Today, they planned to eat Thanksgiving dinner in Pollock Dining Commons. Jim Hopey, Penn State's assistant director of food services, and his staff will cook the meal.

It will be just the team and a few family members who live close by or are visiting.

They have to be used to this kind of scenario. As much as the fans have supported Penn State football the past two years, only the players chose to stay here and experience football without the trimmings. Nobody else has been forced to wander along the same circuitous path that always leads back to the damaged start.

"It is what it is at this point," linebacker Mike Hull said. "It's been an up and down year."

Wisconsin is a final game at the end of a long week of an even longer season, promising no payoff -- but is that any different than how it's been for the team the last year and a half?

O'Brien always has talked about resiliency and unity. He can't go more than a few publicized words without bringing up the toughness of his kids.

This week more than ever will test their desire and motivation. O'Brien believes they've always had it and still do.

"I'm thankful for this football team, these players," he said. "I really am. I can't tell you enough how much I enjoy coaching these guys. I wish that some of these games had gone our way, but they didn't.

"It is what it is. I'm very thankful to come in here every day and coach these guys. I really am. I'm thankful for that."

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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