Joe Paterno doesn't live in a particularly large house. Not that you would have expected the 84 year old coach to live in a mansion. But for a man who is already one of the greatest coaches in the history of sport, his humble abode is quite the juxtaposition to his accomplishments in life.
Even so, early last week, 15 members of the Nittany Lion senior class packed in around the Paterno dinner table to talk about the upcoming season, leadership, and staying focused on the opening weekend. Despite the lack of legroom, senior tackle Chima Okoli said it was a valuable experience.
"It was like walking through a football museum. I saw pictures and memorabilia from players I had heard of but never met," Okoli said during Tuesday afternoon's press conference. "Sue (Paterno) came out with cookies for all of us to eat. We talked about a lot of things. It's something I'd enjoy doing in the middle of the season if we were able."
For the senior players gathered in Paterno's home it was a unique opportunity to talk to Paterno about everything from game plans to (at the time) suspended tailback Stephfon Green.
"Stephfon is a great player... he brings a different dimension that you just can't teach," Safety Nick Sukay said. "He came up at the meeting."
In terms of leadership, where the 2010 squad seemingly lacked that clear leader in the huddle, Okoli says that this season has a special blend of players ready to step up and fill that void. "I remember when I was younger asking guys like A.Q (Shipley) for help, now I'm the one helping out the younger guys. This team has a lot of leaders, it's a lot like 2008."
During the meeting at Paterno's home the players decided that Penn State would not only have captains for the entire season but possibly allow for captains for each individual game. A testament to the leadership and willingness of this years senior class. The vote itself was held Monday afternoon, but the announcement will not be made until sometime Thursday.
For Joe Paterno, normally a smoke-and-mirrors style speaker, he was frank about his anticipation and expectations surrounding the 2011 campaign. "I'm anxious to see us play," Paterno said. The still-hobbled coach says he's 50/50 as to whether or not he'll be on the sidelines this weekend. "These guys have put in a lot of hard work and I want to see what they can do."
If Paterno's level of anticipation is anything that Penn State fans can read into, it certainly seems to be a positive sign. Traditionally, Paterno rarely publicly mentions the skill and excitement he has for a team. The last time he did so in a truly public forum was at Football Eve before the 2009 season.
Certainly, talk is cheap. With a difficult schedule ahead nothing will be take for granted. Even so, it's hard not to get excited when Joe Paterno seems cautiously optimistic about the teams chances.
In four more days we'll know a whole lot more.