DUBLIN – Blue bookbags, with duffle bags to match, hung on the backs and shoulders of 118 football players. All were emblazoned with a white Penn State logo.
The overseas business trip that’s opening Penn State’s season started Wednesday morning when a traveling party of more than 300 touched down at Dublin Airport.
The Nittany Lions play Central Florida Saturday at venerable Croke Park.
Penn State head coach James Franklin said most players slept on the plane – which is what the program wanted – but a few did not.
“Everything’s good,” Franklin said. “We have to buy some time to get our luggage and everything going. We’re just trying to keep them busy and up all day to try to get adjusted to the sleep pattern as quickly as we can.”
The Lions arrived in Ireland shortly after 11 a.m. local time to prepare for the program’s first international game. When the Croke Park Classic kicks off Saturday at 1:30 p.m. local time, it also will mark Franklin’s first game on Penn State’s sideline. It’s not the first time Croke Park will host a college game, though. The historic venue also hosted the Shamrock Classic in 1996 between Notre Dame and Navy. After the airport, Penn State headed to Croke Park for practice.
“Today will be a walk-through tempo with the exact same practice plan,” Franklin said. “Tomorrow we’ll try to get some speed work to get our timing down.”
After Wednesday, things go back to normal. Franklin said the Nittany Lions will return to their typical Thursday and Friday schedule. The head coach has not been shy about addressing the challenges an opener across the Atlantic Ocean presents, especially considering he and his staff will coach their first game at Penn State, as well. He said this being the first game can work in the Lions’ favor.
“What we try to do for players and staff really is we try to keep the routine as consistent as possible,” he said. “Flying to a different country makes it difficult to do that. I think it’s also probably helpful that this is our first game. They don’t necessarily know what the routine is like yet, so there’s some benefits to that.”
Greg Pickel is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.