Using a successful end to the 2006 season as a springboard, the Penn State football team will begin its on-field preparations for the 2007 campaign today when spring practice commences.
Since classes resumed in mid-January, the Lasch Football Building and Holuba Hall have been hubs of activity, with the Nittany Lions hard at work with off-season weight training and conditioning. Penn State will culminate its allotted 15 spring practices with the highly-anticipated Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 21. Kickoff is at 2:00 p.m. and admission and parking are free as in previous years.
A little more than four months after the Blue-White game, Penn State opens its 121st campaign, hosting non-conference opponents Florida International (Sept. 1), Notre Dame (Sept. 8) and Buffalo (Sept. 15) before visiting Michigan in the Sept. 22 Big Ten opener. The Nittany Lions will be playing their 15th conference season this fall.
Penn State has won 22 of its last 27 games overall, dating to the final two games of the 2004 season. The Nittany Lions are 20-5 the past two seasons and one of 13 teams with at least 20 wins in 2005 and ’06.
In his 42nd season as head coach, Joe Paterno welcomes back 33 letterwinners and 15 starters from last year’s 9-4 team that defeated No. 17 Tennessee, 20-10, in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Penn State was ranked in the final Top 25 polls for the 32nd time under Paterno (No. 24 AP; No. 25 USA Today Coaches).
Penn State returns 16 letterwinners on offense (eight starters), 16 on defense (six starters) and placekicker Kevin Kelly. The Nittany Lions have lost the services of 23 lettermen -- 8 on offense, 12 on defense and 3 specialists.
Among the returning starters are three players who earned All-America or All-Big Ten recognition in 2006: senior linebacker Dan Connor (Wallingford), a first team All-American; junior cornerback Justin King Pittsburgh), a second team All-Big Ten selection and junior safety Anthony Scirrotto (West Deptford, N.J.), who earned first team All-Big Ten accolades and was named to ESPN.com’s All-Bowl Team.
Senior quarterback Anthony Morelli (Pittsburgh) returns to lead the offense. Last year, in his first season as the starter, the talented and strong-armed signal caller broke school season records for pass completions (208) and attempts (386), while his 2,424 yards were third-highest. He also posted the program’s sixth-lowest season interception percentage (8 int. in 386 attempts).
The Nittany Lions should have one of the nation’s premier wide receiver units, a group which returns intact. In 2006, for the first time in program history, three different receivers caught 40 or more passes in a season. Rising juniors Deon Butler (48-Woodbridge, Va.), Jordan Norwood (45-State College) and Derrick Williams (40-Greenbelt, Md) are joined by senior Terrell Golden (Norfolk, Va.). Butler made 48 receptions for 637 yards last season, tied for sixth-highest in school season receptions.
One of the focal points during spring drills will be tailback, as Tony Hunt concluded his brilliant career with 3,320 yards, second-highest in Penn State annals, earning Outback Bowl MVP honors in his final game. Seniors Austin Scott (Allentown), Matt Hahn (Dix Hills, N.Y.) and Rodney Kinlaw (Goose Creek, S.C.) are the Lions’ most experienced returning running backs. Freshmen Brent Carter (Pottstown) and Evan Royster (Fairfax, Va.) redshirted last season and also should be among the candidates.
Three starters return on the offensive line, which must replace two-time All-America tackle Levi Brown. Senior tackle John Shaw (Spring Grove), junior center A.Q. Shipley (Coraopolis) and junior guard Rich Ohrnberger (East Meadow, N.Y.) return to form the nucleus for the O-Line.
Six starters return from a defensive unit that was ranked in the Top 15 nationally in rushing (87.5 ypg, 7th), scoring (14.4 ppg, 9th), total defense (284.5 ypg, 15th) and pass efficiency defense (105.9 rating, 14th) and sacks (40, T-sixth). The Nittany Lions were one of only four teams nationally ranked in the Top15 in all five categories.
Junior end Josh Gaines (Fort Wayne, Ind.) is the lone returning starter from the defensive line, with sophomores Maurice Evans (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Jared Odrick (Lebanon) and Phillip Taylor (Clinton, Md.) among the players expected to challenge for significant playing time.
Paul Posluszny, the two-time All-American and Bednarik Award winner, graduated in December, leaving as the Nittany Lions’ career tackle leader with 372. Connor and junior Sean Lee (Pittsburgh) are returning starters for a linebacker unit that should again be among the nation’s best. Connor earned first team All-America accolades by The Sporting News and was one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award. He was second on the squad with 113 tackles, including five sacks and three forced fumbles, and will enter the season with 274 career stops. Lee was third on the team last year with 90 tackles and had 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Three starters return in the secondary, a unit that improved throughout last season and was very productive. Scirrotto led the Big Ten with six interceptions, was fourth on the team with 58 tackles and had eight pass break-ups. King emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top cover corners and made 30 tackles, with an interception against Ohio State. Junior cornerback Tony Davis (Warren, Ohio) made 42 tackles and was second in the Big Ten with 13 pass break-ups. Davis also returned two fumbles for touchdowns, including a game-winning 88-yard return in the Outback Bowl.
Junior placekicker Kevin Kelly (Langhorne) returns for his third season. His 22 field goals last year tied Matt Bahr’s school single season record and he was tied for the Big Ten scoring lead with 96 points.
Penn State will bring a three-game winning streak into the 2007 season.
“Penn State Blue-White Weekend Presented by PHEAA” will take place April 20-21. The Blue-White Game is one of the nation’s most popular spring football contests. More than 40,000 loyal and enthusiastic Penn State fans have attended the contest in eight of the past 11 years, with rainy conditions during the other three contests.
Numerous events will be held during Blue-White Weekend to celebrate Penn State Football, including the popular pre-game autograph session with the players at approximately 12:30 p.m. A carnival, children’s games, food vendors, game worn football apparel booth and the student entertainment stage will be open Friday evening and Saturday. During the game, the spring football award winners and recipients of the PNC Bank "Player of the Game" from the 2006 season will be announced.