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April 11, 2014

Column: A welcomed change

To call the past five months in State College miserable might seem like an overstatement.

As a writer with a penchant for dramatic exaggeration, a State College resident, and a human, to that I say flatly - baloney.

Consider the evidence:

Temperatures dropped into low 40s in mid-November and never let go. For seemingly every day since, some type of precipitation has been assaulting the area from the sky like a standard Michael Bay feature.

The snow was bad enough. Day after day of white stuff, the novelty having worn off mere days into the grey, brown and yellow piles of wintry slush building, the relief never came as temperatures dropped into the teens through January and February. When it wasn't snowing, the wind was blowing. When the wind wasn't blowing, there was still a disgusting mix of snow, dirt and earth vomit suffocating the ground.

No amount of caramel-colored, 80-proof liquid was enough to warm the body or soul.

You get the picture.

Though winter has loosened its grip within the past two weeks, offering a cleared landscape with sun long enough to secure a few soggy holes of golf, even 'spring' practice for the Penn State football team hasn't felt much like the season of hope.

Welcoming a new head coach in James Franklin - a man who has extolled the value of developing toughness among his Nittany Lions - the team managed to only conduct exactly one full practice on the outdoor fields wedged between the Lasch Building and Holuba Hall this spring.

Now, subscribers of psychiatry and more specifically, DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) will note the very real effects of a condition like seasonal affective disorder on a region inflicted by such a barrage of misery-inducing weather. Is that to suggest, without direct evidence, that the Penn State football program includes its fair share of sufferers?

Yes, absolutely.

(Statistics dictate as much and, well, you were fairly warned that this would be over-dramatic.)

Saturday, however, changes everything.

The Nittany Lions' annual Blue-White Game is set to kickoff from Beaver Stadium at 1:30 p.m. with sunny blue skies, no precipitation, very little wind, and 63 degrees of hope-inspiring warmth. Even before kickoff, the massive tailgating fields surrounding the stadium will be loaded with tents, sizzling grills and, most important, the thousands of revelers who will make their one annual off-season pilgrimage to Happy Valley.

At last, at least in this pocket of the country, all will seem right again.

Checking in with Penn State's players this week, they seem to know it too, especially after last year's debacle of a spring game prompted a generous estimate of just 28,000 fans in the stands.

"I hear it's supposed to be 64 degrees," fourth-year left tackle Donovan Smith said, asked what he's most looking forward to with the conclusion of spring practice. "We had rain and all four seasons in the past couple of years in the spring game, so definitely just going out there and putting on a show for the fans."

To be fair, the actual product on the field is, has been, and will always be a significant work-in-progress at this point in the year. To expect any of the high-wire offensive acrobatics or hard-nosed defensive highlights would be foolhardy.

In fact, to the new head coach and staff working through the growing pains of a program with plenty of obstacles in its path, any results that are free from injury will be more than welcomed on Saturday.

Beyond that, for the players and coaches, and the community cheering them on, the atmosphere will be more than enough to gleefully usher in a period of the year that only gets better from here.

And that's no overstatement.




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