UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. After months of waiting and planning amid a global pandemic, Penn State’s men’s football will be on the pitch for the first time in 453 days on Friday when they host Maryland at Holuba Hall. This will be the first game in a short 10-game conference schedule just for Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten. The Head Coach Jeff cook and the Nittany Lions are ready to embrace the uniqueness of the season ahead and all the challenges that lie ahead.
“I think there is a very positive aspect to this,” Cook said. “This is a very special conference. In my opinion (the Big Ten) is one of the strongest top-down conferences, if not the strongest in the whole country.”
Penn State will have to adapt quickly to the long layoff. The Nittany Lions are expected to play every four days for the duration of the regular season, with the exception of a seven-day gap between competitions midway through. Cook realizes that the depth of the team will be challenged, but remains adamant that his team is up to the task.
“It’s one of the things that excites me the most about this group – we have options,” Cook said. “The technical level of this team is definitely the highest since I’ve been at Penn State.”
Another important topic as the season approaches is the defense of the Nittany Lions. Senior Captain Redshirt Brandon hackenberg, who returns to help lead the back line after being recently selected by Orlando City SC in the first round of the 2021 SuperDraft MLS, has already expressed his optimism with the rest of the squad around him.
“Since we came back in the spring, everyone has put themselves in good positions,” Hackenberg said. “Personally, I’m very confident in our bottom line no matter who the coaching staff puts out there.”
Throughout the extended offseason, Cook continued to instill a style of play for Penn State based on a defensive structure.
“We are proud of our defensive qualities,” Cook said. “We have to defend as a team, which includes attackers right through to goalkeepers.”
Despite the upcoming season changes for the Nittany Lions, one thing remains constant: championship aspirations. Hackenberg pointed out how an already experienced roster seems to go even further after sending the program to the NCAA tournament a season ago.
“Our goal is to take it all game by game,” Hackenberg said, “and use our experience and talents to make the most of the 10 regular season games we have and the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. “
While the team is excited to return to play, Cook wants to keep players aware that the COVID-19 pandemic is still very real, while also emphasizing his gratitude for Penn State being able to play this spring.
“We feel very lucky,” Cook said. “This Friday game will have tremendous significance because of the connections to our community, our university, our student-athletes, our families, our alumni and so many people who make this possible. We are simply honored and thrilled to put on the jersey again and participate in the competition. “
Senior midfielder and captain Redshirt Pierre Reedy further echoed the sentiments of Hackenberg and Cook. He believes Nittany’s Lions are up to the task and have what it takes to be resilient in the face of adversity in all facets that lie ahead.
“We have to focus on being the best that we can,” Reedy said. “It’s doing the right things both off the pitch and on the pitch. I think the squad we have right now is well set up to compete for this championship.”
Cook admits he’s still not quite sure what to expect when the Nittany Lions return on Friday, but he knows his team and staff will take themselves seriously.
“Once the whistle blows, you can be sure that our coaching staff, our players will do all they can to win this game,” said Cook. “But there is something bigger at stake here: the ability to play and compete in the sport we love again.”
Penn State will host Maryland at 6 p.m. this Friday, before heading to Piscataway, New Jersey for a Tuesday afternoon clash with Rutgers.
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