Bill O’Brien has used different methods to hammer home the team mentality he’s been preaching since he arrived on Penn State’s campus.
That includes team activities like bowling, trips to the movies and recently paintball. He’s also brought in guest speakers to address the team and help stress the importance of this upcoming season.
So far, none have stuck out more than former Penn State football player and Navy SEAL, Rick Slater.
Slater addressed the team a little over a week ago, according to guard John Urschel, and his message was clear — there’s quite a bit riding on this season for the Nittany Lions.
“I was thoroughly impressed by the guy,” Urschel said during a teleconference Thursday, “his dedication to his country and how much Penn State really meant to him.”
Slater left his mark on more than just Urschel.
Fullback Michael Zordich said Slater helped put into perspective what this season means for Penn State.
“It was inspirational,” Zordich said. “It was motivating. He just said that we have the future of the program riding on it. Everything is riding on this season and its very important for us to go out and win.”
For Zordich, whose father played for Penn State and mother was a Penn State cheerleader, turning the program in the right direction carries a little more weight.
With the season opener just over a week away, the common theme during Thursday’s call was an eagerness to get the season started and begin the healing process.
“It’s gonna be an emotional day,” Zordich said. “It’s gonna mean a whole lot for me personally and my family to be a part of this new era.”
Big bad O’Brien
Zordich joked during the call that part of the reason O’Brien has been so successful to this point is because the players are afraid of their new coach.
During practice O’Brien has been known to elevate his voice to get a point across, but that’s no different than any other football coach. What Zordich meant was that when O’Brien speaks, players listen.
“He’s got a very strong demeanor,” Zordich said. “People listen when he talks.”
It’s more of a respect factor than fear that comes into play when O’Brien speaks.
The first-year coach gained that respect when he told the team he was sticking through the mess created from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. By professing his allegiance to the university, he was hoping his players, especially the underclassmen, would do the same.
And for the most part it’s worked.
“You can see that he trusts them and they trust his word,” Zordich said. “He gave his word that he was gonna be here and they trusted that, and they should. I definitely think they should, and we’re very happy they made that decision.”
O-line benefitting from battles
There’s nothing like a little friendly competition, and Urschel is happy the Penn State offensive line has a bit of a position battle going on at tackle.
Donovan Smith, Adam Gress and Mike Farrell are all fighting for the starting tackle spots, as Urschel, Miles Dieffenbach and center Matt Stankiewitch have a hold on the interior line.
“I feel like competition in football is always good,” Urschel said. “I think it’s great we’ve been able to have a little bit of a competition both in the spring and in training camp and I think it makes us better as a unit.”
Urschel noted that redshirt freshman Angelo Mangiro and redshirt juniors Eric Shrive and Frank Figueroa have helped solidify the depth at the interior spots as well.
For a unit that returns just one starter in Stankiewitch, the healthy competition could help mask some of that inexperience.
“Although we’re slightly unproven, I think that we can be an extremely offensive line this year.”