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Bulked-up Lions embrace competition

Penn State's 10th annual Lift For Life was, as always, about raising money for a worthy cause. It was about players having some fun while some football-starved fans got to see them without pads and helmets on.

Craig Fitzgerald has helped players like Donovan Smith (left) and Garry Gilliam put themselves in top condition this summer.

This year, it was also about seeing the results of some serious work by the Nittany Lions and their new strength coach.

Penn State's players were noticeably bigger and moved pretty well, too, during the team's annual weightlifting fundraiser at the school's outdoor lacrosse field last Friday. They credited Craig Fitzgerald -- and the competitive atmosphere he has helped create -- with the results.

"Fitz is a great S&C coach," offensive lineman John Urschel said. "I think he's done a great job with the program, especially with us offensive linemen. We're a little bit more focused on powerlifting type things. It's really shown and just our bulk, how big we are and how strong we are. I think it'll make a difference in the fall."

Urschel and his offensive linemates helped carry the offense to an impressive 40-point victory over the defense. But although the most drastic changes in body type might be along the offensive line, Urschel has seen changes throughout the entire roster.

"It's not just the line. It's the whole team, coming in with a different mentality where we're used to competing every single day when we come to work out and train this summer," Urschel said. "Monday through Friday, every workout we do we're in competition somehow. It's just a good mentality to have, and it's a good way to think about yourself every single day when you're training, you're working, so that when it comes to the fall, the competition is just natural."

Fitzgerald broke the Nittany Lions into seven-man squads earlier this summer, allowing the team's veterans to do the drafting. Fridays are set aside as "competition" days, when those squads will compete against each other in various drills, but the mindset has taken hold during the rest of the week, say the players.

"I think the competitive side is really coming out in everybody," linebacker Glenn Carson said. "And if you're not competitive, these workouts really aren't for you. You can kind of see those people who aren't very competitive kind of starting to catch up with the group, starting to become competitive and get that work ethic that we're looking for, and it's helping us form a team."

The start of preseason camp is three weeks away, but the players are using the summer to push themselves and their teammates into better physical condition. And to develop the mental tenacity they'll need in August and beyond.

"When you're doing stuff like this you bring out that football mentality without the pads," tight end Garry Gilliam said. "We're all competing against each other. We all want to win. It increases not only your own drive but the drive of the other person, because you want to beat them, they want to beat you. It increases everyone's benefit for working out."

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