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June 7, 2013Penn State true freshman tight end Adam Breneman was up early Friday, taking part in a 6 a.m. workout alongside some of his teammates.
The rites of summer - early workouts, film study at the Lasch Building, class, and homework - didn't stop Breneman and more than 30 other Nittany Lions from lending a hand Thursday night to help kickoff the 2013 Special Olympics Summer Games on Penn State's campus, though.
Far from an inconvenience, Breneman explained a mentality of giving back that permeates the Penn State locker room.
"I think if you were to be inside the program, you would see right away how important community service is to this football program," he said. "We have meetings all the time where we bring up different things we can do, brainstorming different ideas of events we could have or events we could attend. We decided to come out here because this is important to us."
While Happy Valley was shrouded in light rain, the proceedings carried on anyway as Penn State players joined other athletes and volunteers in forming a human tunnel to welcome the Special Olympics athletes in their annual parade down Curtin Road.
Fellow tight end Kyle Carter, having already helped out earlier in the day at the intramural Building for a basketball event, explained the small role he hoped to play for the athletes as they began their competitions this weekend.
"The main thing is just seeing the looks in their eyes," he said. "They really look up to us, and that's just something that you've gotta be able to embrace and just help motivate them and help make them feel like they're doing something big."
Meanwhile, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes, said that he actually uses the athletes themselves as his own personal inspiration and motivation.
Like any athlete, Barnes acknowledged that he can often get caught up in the grind of the summer's day-to-day workouts and tedium. Seeing the Special Olympics athletes' passion to compete, however, motivates him even more, he said.
"They've been waiting for this all year. They really don't get that many chances to compete in athletics," he said. "It's just the things that people take for granted. You have to realize that not everybody can compete in athletics. It motivates me, so what am I complaining about?
"I complain about the grind all the time - waking up and stuff like that, running and stuff like that - but, some people would die to do what I do."
Dressed in their jerseys, offensive tackle Donovan Smith explained that Thursday night's event offered yet another opportunity for players to be able to interact with their fans without the impersonal helmets and pads that shield them during a game.
"I've said plenty of times, we're behind a helmet, it's not like basketball or anything, and all they know you by is a number instead of a face, so it's always good to get out here and show your face to people," he said.
For a Penn State program that has endured its fair share of hardship during the past two years, it's a face the Nittany Lions' players hope to wear well.
Said wideout Allen Robinson, "I think it says a lot about the university, always trying to give back to others and always trying to do things for other people.
"It's a great opportunity, just able to give back whenever possible. Doing stuff like this, I think it's definitely a reflection on us on how blessed we are, so whatever we can do to try to help others out and brighten their day, I think it's real satisfying for me as a person to be able to do stuff outside of football to bring people happiness."
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