In just six months on the job at Penn State, Strength and Conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald thought that he had learned a lot about the Nittany Lions fanbase. Early Tuesday morning, however, Nittany Nation took it to another level.
Fitzgerald was wowed by the turnout on Tuesday
An estimated 3,000 fans came out to greet and show support for Penn State's players and coaching staff. Quite simply, Fitzgerald and his staff were blown away.
"I've never experienced anything like this in my life," said Fitzgerald. "I didn't really have any expectations going into it other than I thought that we'd have good support because I've been here for a few months and when you get around here a little bit you realize that the fans really care about the program. I thought that it was need when we came out, thought it was an awesome experience."
The event sprouted from an idea on local radio last week, and organizers didn't realize how many fans would turn out early on a weekday morning.
"This was a unique thing. Lift for Life was a few weeks ago and that was awesome, that was an organized event for months on end and that was great. This was neat in its own right. It was a last-minute thing done by the Goon Show, they said come on out and we'll figure it out when we get there," said Fitzgerald. "It was all about the players and the fans. It was pretty neat, because they really came together today.
"I think the players know that, at a good time, that this place is unlike any other. They're not going to get this support and this appreciation and love like this anywhere else."
Fitzgerald has challenged his players to stick around and honor their commitment to the Nittany Lions.
"I have a 5-, 3-, and 1-year old, I have three sons, and if they're in this opportunity I'm telling them to stay," said Fitzgerald. "I think you get more growth out of something like this. This, it's a challenge for all the kids in that locker room. They're fighting to stay together, they're fighting to be a great program this year. They don't just want to survive. This is a great growth experience. It's unique that it's the situation we're in, and it's Penn State. I'm glad that our kids that are here are here, it's going to be good in the long run. They're going to be closer than any other team that's ever played anywhere."
With most of the roster pledging to return for the 2012 season, Fitzgerald said that it was a reflection on the new leadership of head coach Bill O'Brien.
"The guys will follow him and he's going to lead them on the right path," said Fitzgerald. "He's up for the challenge and I'm in it with him. So are the players. When we start camp on August 6, we'll have our group. We'll see who's in that crowd in the squad meeting. When we've got that crowd together, whoever that is, they're lucky to have the leader they have."