Continuing to connect alumni to the football program

Penn State opens the 2021 season at Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 4. The game is scheduled for a noon (ET) kickoff. Photo credit: John Patishnock

It’s August in Happy Valley. Finally. It’s that time of year.

The significance of the upcoming football season has created even more excitement than usual, with fans returning to Beaver Stadium and the promise of another potential run at the Big Ten title for the Nittany Lions. Of course, that’s for fans to discuss. James Franklin and his team are focused on getting 1 percent better every day, and when you look at the results during Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley, that approach has worked. Part philosophical, part logistical, with an emphasis on laser focus on the task at hand.

For the team, that next task is the start of fall practice for the 2021 season, happening today. Then tomorrow, Franklin and the team’s three coordinators will each address the state of the program and answer questions during the team’s annual media day at Beaver Stadium.

Everything’s set to start around lunchtime, with on-field interviews afterward with nearly everyone in the program available for Q&As. The on-field interviews are one of my favorite times of the year. Players are certainly focused, though there’s also an inherently relaxed feel. Have an off-beat question for a player, such as “What’s your favorite restaurant in town,” or “Who’s the best dancer on the team?” Media day is the time to ask. Those really aren’t the types of questions you ask players when the team is preparing to play Ohio State or Michigan.

Still, there’s plenty of chances to gain real insight, often in 1-on-1 or small-group settings with the players and coaches. It’s also an opportunity to introduce yourself and see how much the players enjoy spending time with another. There’s joking, usually lots of smiles, and you also need to keep an eye out if you’re handling a camera. Sometimes players will try to playfully distract a teammate during an interview by squeezing a water bottle nearby. Seriously, it’s happened more than once.

We’ve got plenty planned for you this fall with The Football Letter. John Black ’62 will share his invaluable insight each week in the member-benefit Monday email, and world-class photographer Steve Manuel ’82, ’92g is behind the lens again this fall, capturing images that bring John’s words to life. We’re also continuing the game day email sent each Saturday to members and nonmembers, and that’ll include a game preview, that week’s episode of The Football Letter Live — which will be hosted by myself and our CEO Paul Clifford ’20g — and other exclusive features from the blog.

Also worth noting: We’re adding significant video coverage this year, starting at media day and continuing throughout the season. We’ll take you onto the field and show you what it feels like to be at Beaver Stadium on game day, share interview clips, and highlight why Penn State football is so special, for many reasons both on and off the field. My colleague and former Daily Collegian sportswriter Vince Lungaro ’18 will be onsite at media day, along with myself, John and Steve, so keep an eye on our channels this weekend and in the coming weeks for all the sights and sounds.

Speaking of The Football Letter Live, you can now register for the entire season’s worth of shows, for free. Sign up today on our website, and you can click the Guest Lineup tab to see the schedule. Some of Penn State’s all-time great players will be on, along with inspiring volunteer leaders. We’re introducing a new virtual platform, which allows us to have a running ticker and on-screen banners, and there are a lot of fun times in store on all of The Football Letter channels this fall.

The opportunities extend beyond Happy Valley, as we’re hosting a free pregame event at each of the team’s five away games. Registration is free and also required, and you can learn more and sign up today. Whether it’s virtual or on the road, or if you’re replying to or sharing one of our social media posts, we hope to see and hear from our alumni this football season. Penn State football unites our Nittany Lion global community, so everything is all the more special if you’re along for the ride.

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