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Bill O’Brien, Gerald Hodges, and Jordan Hill Ready to Lead

“I will certainly have butterflies before this game.”

Bill O’Brien’s words tell the media that the first year head coach is nervous heading into Saturday’s opener against the Ohio Bobcats. His demeanor sure isn’t showing it. To be fair, he isn’t really showing anything.

His mentor from New England, Bill Belichick, taught him well when it comes to speaking at a press conference. Be well-spoken without slipping up and saying anything stupid. Show how much you care but don’t dare show your hand.

It’s why — when asked if he has an ideal run-pass ratio in his head for Saturday — O’Brien confidently said “No.”

The first year coach who will call his own plays later expanded on that by saying “If we have to throw it sixty times, we’ll throw it sixty times. If we have to run it sixty times, we’ll run it sixty times.” It’s also why, despite the release of Monday’s depth chart, O’Brien still will not say who his kick or punt returners will be, only offering the line “You’ll find out on Saturday.”

Ultimately, it’s why no one really knows what to expect in a few days and at the same time, that’s exactly the reason why everyone is excited and maybe–like the man in charge– a bit anxious. O’Brien’s focus on Saturday will be football, not sanctions, not transfers, not anything else, but he did emphasize community involvement for his players and believes everything that has transpired this offseason has brought them together. “No matter what happens on the field, these guys have developed an unbreakable bond,” said O’Brien.

“These guys” are just excited to be playing football again in three days. O’Brien coached into February with the Patriots, but his players have been waiting to get back on the field since January 2nd. If you ask them about it, they’ll tell you that they like the uniform changes as they get to wear their family’s name and the Penn State name on the same jersey. Other than that, they really don’t care about the bus schedule or stadium music. They just want to strap on the pads and go.

One of those players is senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who has been keeping in touch with Devon Still, his former teammate and 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Hill could have left school early and gone with him to the NFL. He didn’t, and after playing behind and alongside successful lineman like Still, Jared Odrick, and Ollie Ogbu, it’s now Hill’s defensive line, and he’s ready to anchor it. “I’m a competitor. Every game there’s a winner and a loser. I don’t want to be the loser,” said Hill.

Senior linebacker Gerald Hodges was in a similar situation. He could have declared for the draft after a fantastic junior year. He decided not to but had the opportunity to leave for another program after the NCAA sanctions. Hodges never even considered it, citing O’Brien’s NFL experience and his position coach, Ron Vanderlinden, as some of the reasons it was an easy choice to stay at Penn State. “It was bigger than just National Championships and Big Ten titles. We’re playing for pride and respect.”

Saturday morning, the Nittany Lions will arrive at Beaver Stadium on the blue buses at 9:15 a.m. They will put uniforms on that feature individual names. At no point during the game will they hear the Blue Band and fans perform “Sweet Caroline.” None of that surrounding stuff matters. Shortly after the clock strikes noon, they will be playing football.

O’Brien says he will be a little nervous. That’s understandable. His players are excited. That”s even more understandable.

“We’re just ready to go play football. It feels like forever since we’ve played a game,”  said Hill. Forever is about to end.

Other Notes and Observations: 

  • Despite the two being even on the depth chart, Paul Jones is still the immediate backup to Matt McGloin, not Steven Bench.
  • Defensive end Pete Massaro and safety Jake Fagnano should both play Saturday. Massaro has been on the mend from a torn ACL suffered in the spring of 2011 while Fagnano has dealt with hamstring issues this summer.
  • O’Brien had high praise for true freshman wide receiver Trevor Williams who is listed as a co-starter with Shawney Kersey opposite Allen Robinson.
  • Our own Greg Pickel had some interesting news from a morning conference call with Michael Mauti where the linebacker described the defense as a “no-huddle defense.” Everyone will get the signal from the sidelines rather than one person receiving it and relaying it to everyone else

Quotes of the Day: 

  • O’Brien joking about the bus route to the stadium: “I don’t even know all the street names. I’ll probably get in trouble for that.”
  • While talking about talented Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton, junior safety Malcolm Willis said he has been studying a lot of film and added that the defense will have to “Buckle Up” to contain him.

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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