It's ready, set, go for Penn State football
For Penn State's Matt McGloin, left, and head coach Bill O'Brien, right, Saturday marks the beginning of many firsts.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It has been a long, hard summer. The details of what happened to Penn State are known to anyone with a television or an Internet connection.
After the Freeh Report, the Joe Paterno statue removal and the NCAA sanctions, players, coaches and fans constantly have referenced Sept. 1.
Here's what the start of the football season means from four perspectives in the Penn State community.
This is the first time Matt McGloin has entered a season as the starter. This is the first time he has been designated as "the man."
Never one to act scared, his confidence has grown, and his teammates have noticed. He walks differently,talks more. McGloin said the realization of his role affected his perceived level of responsibility.
"Any time being a starting quarterback at Penn State, you're going to have a lot of pressure on you, a lot of eyes looking at you -- but now, more than ever," McGloin said.
When cornerback Stephon Morris watches from his perch in the secondary, he sees a quarterback making better decisions. He sees McGloin hit fullback Mike Zordich on a short route rather than force the long ball.
"It helps a lot when you're not in the middle of a quarterback controversy, and you can just let it out there and throw," Zordich said.
McGloin said the instruction he has received since O'Brien took over is better than he has ever had. He considers himself "light years" ahead of where he was last season.
He tries not to look ahead. It hasn't worked.
"You can't help but think what it's going to be like running out the tunnel Sept. 1," he said.
Sam Zamrik's living room is a shrine to globalization. The table comes from Egypt, the rug from China. Inside a glass cabinet, he has a silver falcon sculpture from the king of Bahrain.
"I represent Penn State everywhere I go," says Zamrik, professor emeritus of engineering mechanics.
Zamrik came to Penn State because of a chance conversation in Cairo. He was working there for Texaco after completing undergraduate studies at the University of Texas. When he found out Egypt's oil minister got his degree at Penn State, he figured Penn State was good enough for him.
He has bought season tickets every year since 1960, the fall he began graduate studies. This summer, after the NCAA sanctions came out, The Associated Press asked him if he would renew his tickets. His answer, displayed throughout out the country was: of course, why wouldn't he?
Zamrik used to travel to every away game. He and his wife, Myrna, went with Joe Paterno's secretary and her husband. They provided the tickets. Zamrik flew them on his plane.
At home games, he sits in the 57th row on the 35-yard line. He's had the same "neighbors" sitting around him and his wife for years and said he can't wait to see a sellout Saturday.
"These guys that we have, I have my full admiration for," he says. "They're going to be an outstanding team."
Adjacent to his kitchen, Zamrik has a sun room he designed. Through a wall of windows, above a lush tree line, he can see Beaver Stadium towering in the distance.
Once, as a sophomore, Troy Weller slept in a tent outside Beaver Stadium every night except one in a week leading up to game day. Besides class, much of his time in the past three years has been spent camping.
Weller is relatively recognizable these days. He is the president of Nittanyville -- a group of students who camp out to get the best seats at football games.
The group has attracted numerous detractors because its name is no longer Paternoville.
In July, Weller, a senior studying communications, and nine other club officers voted to make the switch after nearly a month of debate. Opposition arose quickly. Weller received emails from students and alumni telling him to transfer.
"I don't think I'd wish my inbox on my worst enemy," he said.
The criticism officially became the past Tuesday night. when Nittanyville held its first meeting of the season. About 100 students attended.
Weller expects to see at least 20 tents for this first game, a standard number for openers, though he wouldn't be surprised if it grew to 30. He'll be in one of them. The only game he hasn't camped for was the first one his freshman year.
He's a little more excited this year, he says, because of everything that has happened this summer. He can't wait for 7 a.m. Saturday, when security forces the campers to move from Gate A and get in line for the game.
"I'm going to be very tired," Weller says, "because I don't think I'm going to get much sleep on Friday night."
The day he was hired, when more than a few vocal alumni bemoaned letting an outsider become the head coach, Bill O'Brien began scouting Ohio University.
At least, that's what he said.
He's probably joking. It would be kind of ridiculous to imagine a coach watching tape for an opponent his team wouldn't play for seven months, especially while continuing to work for the New England Patriots. It also would be the kind of preparation O'Brien desires.
He's sick of waiting.
O'Brien and his staff have met up to three times a day. As of last week, they already had rehearsed game-day routines six times, the coaches wearing headsets and all. He has done everything but coach a game.
That includes crisis management. That includes public relations, from banquets to speeches to caravans. He said he had enjoyed it, met some fantastic people.
They've considered him fantastic right back.
"O'Brien's Lions" T-shirts hang on the racks of downtown apparel stores. College Avenue's Dunkin Donuts paid homage with a window-painting long before this summer became long and miserable.
This seemingly infinite period with no football ends at noon Saturday. He'll stand on the sidelines as head coach for the first time.
And Bill O'Brien knows he will be nervous.
"I'd be crazy," he says, "to tell you otherwise."
First Published August 31, 2012 12:00 am