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PSU players in much better mood for opener this year

August 27, 2013 - Cory Giger
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Penn State's players felt like they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders entering last season's opener, and this year they're joking about things like who's the best-looking offensive lineman.

They're more relaxed, having more fun and are downright more excited to do what they came to Penn State to do, which is just play football.

"Last year was last year," coach Bill O'Brien said, "and this year is this year."

And they couldn't be more different.

The Nittany Lions were so fired up to play Ohio last year in the first game after the NCAA sanctions were announced that they couldn't actually pull off the task of playing well for an entire game. They ran out of gas in the second half, squandered a 14-3 lead and lost to the Bobcats, 24-14.

To a man, the players appear to be much more at ease this season now that they're back in their comfort zone of just talking and thinking about football rather than scandal-related issues.

The issues they're talking about this year include fun things, such as building on last season's success and the excitement of playing the opener in an NFL stadium.

"It's like a dream come true," safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, a Bronx native, said of playing at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets.

Rather than fielding endless questions about which players might transfer and what they could do to keep the team together, the players don't have to be so serious at all times this year. Some fun give and take Tuesday showed that.

Right guard John Urschel, on a conference call, joked that he took exception with left guard Miles Dieffenbach calling himself the best-looking offensive lineman on the ESPN "Training Days" program. Dieffenbach, one of the team jokers who hammed it up for the TV cameras, had a classic response to Urschel's objection later on.

"We're all a great-looking group of guys, but I would have to give myself the [edge] on that one," Dieffenbach said with a big smile. "You can't fight the looks, you know what I mean? I've just got them. It's natural, not much you can do about it."

It was natural for Penn State's players to suffer a letdown in the second half last year at Ohio because they expended so much energy during an emotional first half. The circumstances are much different this year, and O'Brien has taken steps during training camp to make sure the players remain fresh.

"I believe we've done a better job of that this year, I really do," he said. "We've done a number of things to help that," he added without getting into details.

Training details aside, the fact that this is just the first game of the season and not the historic first game after the sanctions should make a big difference for the PSU players.

"I believe it was a productive training camp," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, the proof will be in the pudding how we play early in the season."

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