, followed by the entire football team, crested the hill from the BJC toward Beaver Stadium, and they presented quite a sight. O'Brien, with his 100 charges behind him, was dressed in traditional Scots-Irish battle dress, circa 1200 A.D. They approached the assembled beat reporters on a quick jog, before unleashing a blood curdling battle cry and making a dead sprint towards us, claymores and battle axes raised for butchery. Thankfully they stopped short and O'Brien cracked a grin - but not before Frosted Tips had soiled his khakis.
"Last presser of the season, guys. Wanted to make an impression," said O'Brien. But most of the reporters were non-plused. Someone from the York Dispatch started to ask about Big Ten expansion, but O'Brien cut him off with a bellowing voice:
"Aye, play and you may lose. Run away, and you'll live. But many years from now, lying on your death bed, would you trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance - just one chance - to play football? What would you do without football? Will you play? Will you play football with me!!!!!"
"Coach, are you looking forward to having Maryland and Rutgers in conference? A couple teams a little closer?"
"Hey, come on, guys. You think it's easy to wear a kilt and run up here from the BJC? I'm trying to really give you something in these press conferences."
"And we appreciate it, Coach. It's just - after appearing as Yoda, Joseph Conrad, Clint Eastwood, Rocky Balboa, the 5th Son of the Lama, the Cobra Kai sensei, an Islamic terrorist, and Ice Cube from Boyz N The Hood, you know.....Mel Gibson from Braveheart is too easy. The effect has kinda worn off, to be honest."
"SLAVES are made in such ways--"
"No, Bill. We're not buying it this week. You needed something more, at this stage."
"You go back to England, and you tell your Commissioner, that no Penn Stater will be ruled while I'm -"
"Coach - it's over."
Bill O'Brien scowled for a second, and then screamed "ZORDICH!!!" Fullback Mike Zordich stepped forward from the ranks of the players, took a crow hop like he was throwing a ball in from deep left center field, and hurled a broadsword a good 45 yards. It landed square in Frosted Tips' chest as he was exiting the men's room from cleaning himself off. The 32 lb. sword went through Tips' 140 lb frame like 1980's Motley Crue going through an 8-ball of coke, and stuck in the ground. Frosted Tips was still 10 inches off terra firma, feet in the air, mouth agape, pants re-soiled. We all clapped and cheered the spectacle, and Coach Braveheart gave us a simple nod of his head, like men do.
And Then The Presser Started
Q. You've praised your seniors almost from day one and throughout the year. What do you think their mark will be on Penn State and what do you think what mark do you hope they will leave at Penn State?
COACH O'BRIEN: You really it's hard to put into words, in my opinion, what this senior class means to this football program, to this athletic department and to this University.
These are young guys; these are young guys that have been through a lot. They have been through a lot off the field. They have been through the death of their former head coach, a legendary coach. They have been through the things that went on off the field that don't need to be repeated, we just all know. They have hung tough, dealing with the NCAA and the sanctions that came out in the summertime. They've been through the fact that they had to lead this football team and keep these guys together.
At the age of 21, 22, some of them 23 years old; that's pretty heavy stuff and you can't say enough about them. I think people have to understand within those walls over there at the football building these guys will always mean a lot to this football program; mean a lot. The other thing I would say is the first year of a new football program, a football program that is steeped in tradition and history and millions of wins and all those things, but we did things a little differently; it's new, a lot of things are new and they had to learn new things and lead it.
So, you just can't say enough about what this senior class has done and what they mean to everybody involved with Penn State. Not to give you a long winded answer but one of the things I want to make sure everybody knows is at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, we need everybody here. We need everybody here because we're going to honor this senior class and their families. That's a big deal. And I know that we have honored the seniors in the past, but I don't think we have included their families.
We're going to honor that's the least we can do for this senior class, this particular one this year, is honor them. So we need everybody in their seats at 3:00 on Saturday.
Q. I'm asking about Stephon (Morris). You talked about his improvement last week, how far he's come, he's always been a candid guy with us in the interviews, and I was just wondering, can you talk about what it's been like to coach him specifically and what you will remember about Stephon?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's a guy that I got to know basically right when I came here because he is a sociable guy and he is passionate about the game of football. And he wanted to do really well this year and he wanted to go out there and help this team win. I know just like all of us, I'm sure he wishes that we had won more games, but it wasn't because of Stephon. Stephon went out there every single day and got better, did a great job of working on his technique, played within the scheme that was called.
John Butler did a heck of a job coaching him. He and John have a close relationship; they have spent a lot of time on and off the field, as John does with all of those guys from the secondary. You can't say enough about Stephon, playing some and not playing some, and now coming in there this year and he's done a nice job, and that's not an easy position to play in our defense because there is a lot of man coverage called out there on your own and you have to come up with big plays, and he's done that.
Q. You talked about what this senior class means to the program and the University. Can you describe what these seniors have meant to you personally during this past year with everything you have had to deal with?
COACH O'BRIEN: They mean a lot to me personally; they mean a lot to our coaching staff. We came in here, we were hired in January, and I didn't show up until after the Super Bowl, so I have not even known these guys a full year, but I remember when we first came here, they bought right in and our coaching staff had a lot to do with that.
Whether it was our assistant coaches or Fitz (Craig Fitzgerald) in the weight room or Timmy Bream in the training room, everybody was different. These guys, they said, "Hey, look, this is the way we're doing it now," and they brought the younger guys along, so personally I will always remember these guys and hopefully be able to have relationships with them for the rest of my life.
Q. One more on the seniors. In January, did you engender a relationship with these guys as a priority because of their experience and the program and the fact that they could lead it down through the younger players?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure. I made it a priority to have a relationship with every guy on the team and to make sure that I spoke to every guy on the football team, especially after spring practice. I think when I first came here, the first few months was a whirlwind trying to get everything organized and get us going in the right direction and after spring practice I met with everybody. But I did make it a priority within the team to make sure that the seniors were put into leadership roles, whether it was each guy has been a captain this year for a game or leading the stretch lines or breaking it down at the end of practice or a workout on a senior. So I tried to make that a priority throughout the year.
Q. With bringing in a new offense for these guys to learn, you had goals and expectations of what you wanted to see with your offense, but can you talk maybe about one or two points where these guys have exceeded some expectations with the new offense, done better, surprised you in anything?
COACH O'BRIEN: I do have to say that they have exceeded my expectations on what we could do offensively, and we can still do a lot better, but I just I wasn't sure. I knew it was a difficult offense to learn. It's difficult for an NFL rookie or an NFL veteran that comes into this system to learn, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy to learn.
These guys worked at it. The last couple of weeks, we've said this quite a bit in practice when we're watching the post practice film as a staff, these guys have come a long way since spring practice. We can remember the early days of spring practice, and it was a struggle. These guys put the time in, they're smart, they're instinctive, they work at it and that's what it's all about. It takes hard work, and they put the time in. So they have definitely done well to accomplish the things that they have accomplished.
Q. My question is about Bill Belton, he has had one carry in the last three games. Is he still competing in practice the way you'd want him to, or does this lack of playing time come from something else, like an issue with his work habits or attitude?
COACH O'BRIEN: No, he's Billy and I have had a lot of conversations over the last month and he's really improved his practice habits quite a bit. I would tell you that basically you've got a guy there in (Zach) Zwinak that's gained 100 yards in four straight games, over 100. Here's a guy it's hard to go against the grain and say, "Okay, Zach we're going to take you out just to play another guy." Here is a guy that's on a bit of a roll. That's what happens. Billy came in early in the season, got injured, missed a bunch of time. Derek Day came in against Virginia, was injured, then Zwinak stepped up, (Michael) Zordich stepped up, (Curtis) Dukes played a little bit. I think it was Temple he got injured, and that's what happens at that position.
One guy comes in and takes advantage of his opportunity, and it's hard to get 'em off the field. Billy is a competitive guy; he's doing better off the field, in the classroom, I believe, and we still see a very bright future for Billy.
Q. Stephon Morris said earlier that his feeling is nobody is going to of like next year's class, nobody is going to leave. Do you have a sense that these guys that the guys that are returning are solid and going to be here? Maybe not every single one of them but certainly the vast majority?
COACH O'BRIEN: I'm not a mind reader. I just know what I see. I see a bunch of guys that enjoy playing football for Penn State and come out to practice every day and play hard.
Obviously, I believe that everybody will be back that's eligible to be back next year, but, again, I'm not like I said, I don't have a crystal ball and I'm not a genie, but I think they know that they can achieve a lot of their goals here. Can they win a national championship or a Big Ten championship in the next three years? No. We know that. So why tip-toe around it? But can they give themselves an opportunity to get a fantastic degree, can they give themselves the opportunity if they produce on the field to play pro football, they can play, in my opinion, a fun system on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. A defensive system that blitzes and plays man coverage, plays zone coverage, an offensive system that throws it around a little bit and runs the ball, and we have fun in practice. They have that all here.
They have great facilities, an excellent coaching staff, and they have a strength staff led by Craig Fitzgerald that's one of the best in the country and a weight room that's incredible. What else? You've got a fan base, 100,000 fans at every game.
Last week, I thought that was a testament to our fans to have over 90,000 people at our game, and our student body, I thought that was pretty cool. Didn't have to be here; it's Thanksgiving (break for students). I think there is a lot to play for at Penn State and I think our guys realize that.
COACH O'BRIEN: I respect the question, I really do, but I don't want to get into the details of Mike's knee injury. He won't play against Wisconsin and that's a tough deal for us and a tougher deal for him, but as time goes on I'm sure you will hear about the details of his injury, but I'm not I can't comment on that right now.
Mike Hull, here is a guy that's been our fourth linebacker all year; he's made big plays for us on defense and special teams. He's an instinctive guy, he's a Pittsburgh guy, he's a football guy. He was in my office last night and we were talking football. This guy is a rock solid football dude so he's going to go in there and play as hard as he can and it's going to be fun to watch him play.
Q. You talked about the adversity that these seniors have overcome. Did that surprise with you, their ability to deal with that at such a young age? I think sometimes we forget these are 21, 22 year old guys.
COACH O'BRIEN: I don't like the word "surprise," but I do understand your question. In football, you have to expect the unexpected and things like that, but you're right, to think back when I was 19, 20, 21, 22 years old and to think if all the things that they went through had happened to me personally or the teams that I was on, I don't know. I don't know how we would have dealt with those things. These guys it's pretty neat. It's pretty neat to watch these guys handle things, pick themselves up and charge forward and do it the right way.
We're not a pretty bunch, we're 7 4; we wish we could have some games back where we thought we could have played better, but we do play hard and a lot of that has to do with the senior class and buying into a new way of doing things. Just like I said earlier, we will remember them... forever.
Q. As somebody that worked at Maryland, what is your reaction to Maryland and Rutgers joining the league and what kind of an impact is that going to have on Penn State football in your mind?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think it's fantastic; it's not the Big Ten anymore, it's the Big 14? Something like that? I think it's cool. You have the east coast market now and for many years Penn State was the east coast team, and now, to me, we're starting to get that whole Atlantic corridor there, and those are two great schools with good football traditions. I worked at Maryland.
I coached there for Ralph Friedgen, who, in my opinion, did a fantastic job there and I can remember when I was there at Maryland we had some great players, Vernon Davis, Shawne Merriman, D'Qwell Jackson, Josh Allen; we had good many players. We beat Florida State there one year, we were 10 3 one year, beat West Virginia twice in one year, once in the Gator Bowl, so it's going to be fun to have them in the league. And Rutgers is official here, too. I don't know, but sounds like they're coming in, and I think that's great, too. It's going to be fun to play against them, great coaching staffs there with Randy (Edsall) and also down at Rutgers, so it will be fun to recruit against them and play against them.
Q. Has there been much discussion about a potential sixth year for Michael Mauti or is it too early to talk about that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Fair question, but just way too early for that right now.
Q. Without a bowl game, obviously the last game of the year, how important is it to take a good feeling into off-season, the opportunity that you guys have?
COACH O'BRIEN: It's very important. You always want to win your last game and it's going to be difficult to do that. This is a very I've always even when I was in pro football and I met Bret Bielema a number of years ago when I was at Maryland, and we were recruiting against each other in Florida, and he was a really good recruiter and you knew he was a really good coach, so I've known him a little bit, not real well but met him a couple of times.
I just admired what he did with the Wisconsin team, he does what he believes in, plays tough, hard nosed football so it's going to be a difficult game for us on Saturday, and I think we're going to have to do a great job of controlling our emotions, because it's going to be an emotional beginning to that game, cannot deny that. So we have to do a great job there and have to be ready to go for the physical challenge of playing Wisconsin.
Q. Matt McGloin was just in here and he said seeking a pro career is something he is going to do at all costs until somebody tells him he can't do it and hang it up?
COACH O'BRIEN: Is that a shock or what? (Laughter)
Q. What would be your advice for him at this point as he looks for that later in life?
COACH O'BRIEN: My advice is to play football as long as they let you play football. You mean go get a real job? No! Play as long as you can. Personally I'll do whatever I can to help him. I think he's a great kid, I think he's a competitive kid, I love coaching him, I love watching him play; love watching him play!
I hope he gets that opportunity. It's not easy, it's not easy in that league and that's the hardest position to play in that league, and it's very competitive. It's a very competitive position in that league, and I know he will compete and if given the opportunity he will go in there and do the best he can. I hope he tries to play forever.
Q. Michael Mauti won't be able to play but is he playing a similar role otherwise in terms of getting the guys ready, preparing, getting linebackers ready for center?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's a neat kid. He came and saw me on Sunday and comes from a great family, his mom and dad, brothers are great, great people. I met with him and his parents on Sunday, especially him, and it's tough, it's tough for him. When you're that engrossed you know, he's just a football guy. He loves Penn State and he loves his teammates is so it's a difficult thing for him personally, and I've been around that. I've seen Tom Brady have that knee injury, Wes Welker have for guys that live and breathe the game, it's a difficult thing to deal with.
So, obviously, he's been around us all week, he's in the meetings and he will be at practice today, he will be around. I think that's good, and in a lot of ways for him, mentally, he's going to help (Mike) Hull, he can say, "Hey, look!" Here is a guy that's instinctive as a player, and his tips can help Mike Hull, so he will be around all week.
Q. Your offense allows the quarterback to make decisions on his own. With Matt's personality the way it is, how much do you think it helped him to be do you think it helped him grow knowing that he had to make those independent decisions since he's a bowled guy in that sense anyway?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I can see yeah, I understand the question. I think that's just the system that we run. It requires a quarterback that has a brain, that can think fast. You have to process that stuff very quickly, pre-snap and post-snap, and he's worked at it. I think guys that are good in that system, they love it because it's a challenge, every day is a challenge, every game plan is a challenge and they enjoy it's not monotonous, every week, and every week is different, and I think he's embraced it and gotten better and better with it all week, and we really need him to do well with the system on Saturday.
Q. Going back to the first day conditioning, and 5:30 a.m. workout on February in the cold, what's your recollections of that day, that morning?
COACH O'BRIEN: I knew first of all I was thrilled that everybody showed up on time, the whole team was there, it was 100 percent attendance and it was that whole winter, that was amazing. I knew we had a team that was hungry to work and get things done and I didn't know what the future held, obviously, what was going to come down in the summertime, but I knew we had a bunch of kids that cared about football and cared about learning a new way of doing things and that's what they did.
Again, I will say this: That's a testament to the previous coaching staff to be honest with you, Coach Paterno, and in many ways the type of kid he recruited here. Those kids came in and worked extremely hard in the wintertime and I think it paid dividends for our season.
Q. With Rutgers and Maryland joining the league does that make recruiting harder or easier? Harder maybe because they have the Big Ten to sell but easier because you can recruit guys close to home?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think recruiting is about a "fit" so I think that and it's about relationships. I think that they have a great staff at both schools, I have tremendous respect for Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall, those are two excellent coaches. I coached with Randy at Georgia Tech, and I know him well, and it's going to be competitive, but that's what college football is about, and I think you have to talk about your own program and the way you see that individual fitting into your program, and hopefully it's the right fit and to me that's what recruiting is all about.
Q. Talk about what you see on tape from Wisconsin.
COACH O'BRIEN: Starting on offense I see a physical, big, tough football team that is going to run personally a football team that I really admire. They're not an east-west team they're a north-south team and they've got obviously a great running back in (Montee) Ball, great tight ends, it's going to be a challenge for our defense on Saturday.
Offensively, when I look at their defense, I think they're stout, physical, they lead the Big Ten in rushing defense; they only give up 300 total yards a game on defense, so big challenge. Are we going to be able to run the football? Is that something we're going to be able to do?
We have to be able to do that. We can't go in there and throw it 60 times, that's not our identity, that's not what we do. We try to be balanced. So it's a big challenge for our team, and I'm encouraged because these guys again, we had a really good practice yesterday and, you know, it's a cool week. It's Thanksgiving, and you're practicing and this is what football is all about: Wisconsin versus Penn State. I heard maybe it's going to snow, which would be great; wouldn't that be great? This is like football to me, this is football.
Q. What have you enjoyed during your time here? You talk about the seniors and relationships, but Penn State in general, the community and the region, what have you enjoyed this year?
COACH O'BRIEN: I do enjoy the community; I live over there in Boalsburg, and I'll start with there. It's a great community, I live in a great neighborhood. I enjoy the people, my neighbors, I enjoy the people that I work with. I think it's a pretty to me I always say, what a great place to go to college, whoa! You could have a lot of fun going to college here, that's for sure. And on top of that, what a great place to play college football? I remember running out in that first game against Ohio, that's a pretty overwhelming experience and I think that's pretty neat.
Then I remember memories I have during the year -- the Northwestern game, the fourth quarter comeback, the fans and the student body, and that's another thing that I enjoy about this place! I love the students; they're a great bunch of kids that love their football team. When they started chanting (Michael) Mauti's name last week, that was powerful stuff, and those are the things I like. I like a couple of restaurants, too, but I'll get in trouble if I name them.
Q. Matt (McGloin) was saying earlier today that when you guys have been trying to get Steven Bench more reps in practice, work him into things. How would you evaluate things for him, especially since you won't have the bowl practices?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we have tried to get him more reps and he's done okay. It's not easy as a freshman to come in here and learn this offense. You're talking about Matt learning it; he had playing experience, he's a fifth-year guy. He knew how to learn an offense. He's somewhat older. As an 18 year old, that's a whole other deal. I think he's improved, and I think he would be the first to tell you he's got a long way to go, but when Matt graduates, going into spring practice, as we sit here right now, Steven is the only quarterback in the program, so he's going to get a lot of reps in the spring, if not all the reps.
Obviously we're involved in recruiting and things like that, but he's made progress. He's a coach's son, I have faith in him, I really enjoy coaching him, he loves football, he's smart. I think he's got a chance to be a good quarterback here.
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