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Pre-dawn drills harden PSU

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Tribune-Review
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review Penn State head coach Bill O' Brien leads his team through a practice session on the fields next to Holuba Hall following Media Day festivities on August 09, 2012.

UNIVERSITY PARK — At 5:30 a.m., Bill O'Brien shut the music off, and everyone stopped what they were doing.

The drills were the only thing keeping the Penn State football team warm at Friday's early-morning practice on the fields behind Lasch Building. In the 30-degree temperature, some stumbled over equipment as assistant coaches shouted them forward. Others fell flat on their faces.

So when O'Brien halted practice to address his players, their idleness may have been the worst part of his brief reprimand.

“I don't see the same intensity,” he said. “I want it to pick up right now!”

His point was clear. For the next 30 minutes, O'Brien barely said a word. He strolled through the central area of the field, overseeing different conditioning stations at the perimeter. There wasn't a single football in sight.

The players wore no pads — just enough loose-fitting practice gear to keep them from freezing. Strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, in his trademark T-shirt and shorts, stood unaffected by the temperature. He set a frenetic tempo for the remainder of morning.

As 6 a.m. neared, the sky still gave no sign that the sun would rise. Fitzgerald convened the team toward the near end of the field around a blue, circular piece of equipment. It would serve in lieu of a rope in Fitzgerald's one-on-one tug-of-war drill — offense vs. defense.

Running back Zach Zwinak, linebacker Glenn Carson, tight end Jesse James, defensive end CJ Olaniyan and offensive lineman Eric Shrive were among those who gave it a go. The team wrapped around each matchup in a frenzy as their teammates fought for the victory.

After a couple of bouts, Fitzgerald blew his whistle and yelled: “Right to the weight room!”

Inside Lasch, each player received an individualized workout that would complement a few team-wide ones. The bigger players lifted further to the back, while the smaller guys did their reps up front. Mostly everyone did some sets of inclined bench press. A few players set off to do pushups with weights on their backs.

The weight room showed a different side of Fitzgerald, in addition to his wild, competitive edge. He seemed to be at every apparatus at once, helping players with their fundamentals.

O'Brien watched mostly from the cardio balcony, but he did come down to give the session one walk-through.

After about 50 minutes, Fitzgerald called the team together to give one last message before he ended the workout.

“It's time to work for 2013,” he said.

Notes: Rising sophomore linebacker Ben Kline was limited Friday with a sling on his right arm. Kline did do some weight exercises with his free left arm. ... Early enrollee Adam Breneman was in full swing at practice, seemingly unhindered by a large brace in his right knee ... Rising redshirt senior Garry Gilliam, who recently changed positions to offensive tackle from tight end, has gained weight. The team tweeted that Gilliam is now flirting with 300 pounds.

Dan Norton is a freelance writer.

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