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June 10, 2013

Lions try to tackle summer blues

Spending a little time at the Penn State outdoor pool is a staple of summer for many Nittany Lions.

The fun activity does not, however, define a season that in many ways can be more tedious and grueling than the others for a D1 college football player.

While many athletes are committed to only a class or two in each of Penn State's two summer semesters, and for some, a typical morning starts a little later than the usual 5 or 6 o'clock of the fall and spring semesters, the weeks and months between May's finals and August's preseason camp are admittedly extremely important to the team's success.

"It's more focused because it's getting closer and closer to the season," Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes said. "If you want to be good, you have to take extra steps. I want to be good. As a matter of fact, I want to be great, so I take those extra steps. We're motivated as a team and everyone is trying to take those extra steps too. I see everybody working hard."

In the process, a team that has taken on an entirely different personality from the 2012 squad that featured the likes of seniors like Michael Mauti, Mike Zordich, Matt McGloin and a host of other outspoken leaders, has begun to take shape.

Though that type of leadership continues to be an ever-evolving process, many of the Nittany Lions insist that lead-by-example leadership is plentiful this summer as the team bonds in preparation for its first game of the season at MetLife Stadium on August 31.

"They were great, but we have other people," Barnes said. "Some people might not talk that much, but they motivate in a different way. If they're doing something, it's like setting an example of I gotta do the same thing. John Urschel, he's about 300 pounds and he's out there running full speed, so why can't I do the same?"

Echoed All-Big Ten wideout Allen Robinson at last week's Special Olympics event, "We're just putting work in with our teammates and (doing charity work) like this, a lot of camaraderie is definitely building as a team and doing a lot as a team."

The downside, of course, is that while working hard and concentrating on daily improvement are mainstays throughout the year, some of the social aspects that any college kid would want disappear during the summer months as non-football students often head home or complete internships away from State College.

In other words, too much time spent around teammates can, in fact, be a bad thing.

"I'm pretty sure a lot of guys can vouch on this one, it gets kind of restless," Donovan Smith said. "It's just a long summer. You either go from the building to your class then back to your room. It's like that all summer until camp, so sometimes you just sit in your room and you think.

"But, it's all part of the game. I'm pretty sure a lot of teams do it and a lot of guys do it. We deal with it. That's what we signed up for. We just deal with it and move on and prepare for the season. That's how we look at it."

Said tight end Kyle Carter, "It's really all football and school. It's nice to have that social part too, but it's just something we've gotta deal with. Just, stick our head down and just work hard now."

And so they have.

With an incredible emphasis on daily improvement from head coach Bill O'Brien, the rest of the assistant coaching staff, and on down to Craig Fitzgerald and the Penn State strength and conditioning crew, the Nittany Lions say they are taking the summer months one day at a time while simultaneously looking forward to the season ahead.

"You've got to make the most of every day. That's something that Coach O'Brien and Coach Fitz and our other coaches preach," Robinson said. "For example, going into a workout, I'm just attacking it and doing stuff to get better.

"Just with a lot going on in the summer, we're definitely going to be tired but always look for something positive to come out of something. Even if it's just a camp practice where everybody is worn down and tired, we're still going to try to find some positives and something to always try to find ways to get better."

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