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August 20, 2013To most of the team, it came as a complete surprise.
As Penn State finished Monday's practice schedule, Bill O'Brien announced there would be an amendment to the evening's itinerary. Would it be an extra walk-through? A night-time team run?
No, it was a twilight tour of Beaver Stadium.
With O'Brien as tour guide, he and the team walked through almost the entirety of the 108,000-seat stadium. As they passed murals of former Nittany Lion players and coaches, like someone who had been a lifelong fan of Penn State, O'Brien rattled off short biographies of nearly everyone -- Hugo Bezdek, Bob Higgins, Rip Engle, Joe Paterno. The list goes on.
O'Brien taught them about Wally Triplett, the great Penn State running back who became the first African American drafted into the NFL and play for a team. And he certainly didn't leave out the origination of the famous "We Are" chant, and Tripplett's, Dennie Hoggard's and Steve Suhey's role in creating it.
He read a speech that was written by Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. He showed them one of Engle's old playbooks, and they discussed the evolution of the game. He told them about former linebacker Buddy Tesner and how he founded the Lettermen's Club. He praised recent Penn State greats like Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick, and even Michael Mauti and Matt McGloin.
Though he's only been affiliated with university for one season, going on two, O'Brien is well-versed in Penn State history. And the players recognized it.
"I was pretty impressed," said linebacker Glenn Carson. "He would do pretty well in a Penn State trivia game."
In fact, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones had to make sure that O'Brien wasn't using a cheat sheet.
"I was looking to see if he was holding a piece of paper," Jones laughed. "He had a couple little notes, but they really weren't too detailed."
Not only were the veterans impressed with O'Brien's knowledge of Penn State history, but they also felt that it was important to openly discuss it among the team.
"It was really great," Carson added. "It was something that I think we should've done in years past because a lot of people know about the tradition, but just to walk around [the stadium], you can feel the tradition and the history of Penn State and how important putting on that jersey is."
Tight end Matt Lehman transferred to Penn State before the 2011 season. Though he was already familiar with many aspects of Penn State's tradition, he doesn't mind going back and reliving some of the program's finest moments.
"I'm kind of a history buff myself," he said. "When I started out at Shippensburg University, I was actually a history major so I thought it was really cool to go up there and learn about the history of Penn State. When you put the jersey on, think about all the guys who wore the number before us, the history behind it and what it means to be a Penn Stater."
The tour began in the All-Sports Museum, moved to the locker room and then to the letterman's lounge. They went downstairs where they passed the murals, where O'Brien talked about earning a degree from Brown, just like Paterno.
Next they walked out of the tunnel and onto the field in a dark cavernous, empty Beaver Stadium. Then against the dark backdrop, the big screen lit up the field with a highlight video that featured clips of the greatest players and moments in Penn State history.
Defensive back and holder Ryan Keiser called it the highlight of preseason camp.
"Just being together as a team and jelling," he said. "We're coming together, I think. We're really starting to get going."
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