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O'Brien starting own traditions

He didn't know the exact street names -- "I'm probably going to get in trouble for that," he said -- but Bill O'Brien outlined the exact route the blue buses will take from Toftrees to Beaver Stadium. Then he stopped, as if he felt silly describing what, to some, might seem trivial details and to others, might seem of great interest.

"I'm not trying to say that's not a big deal," he said. "What is a big deal is how we play when the ball is kicked off."

O'Brien is four days away from his long-awaited first game as Penn State's head coach. Since he took the job, he's tried to strike a balance between maintaining the program's long-standing traditions and helping people "move forward" from the most tumultuous year in the program's history. As the season-opener against Ohio draws closer, O'Brien has found himself explaining some of his choices more frequently.

Putting players' names on the backs of the jerseys was one of the biggest breaks from that tradition. Tuesday, at his first game week news conference, O'Brien explained what went into that decision.

"I have respect for all the traditions that have gone on before I came here," O'Brien said. "What I decided to do was not put my own stamp on the program but put our philosophy into place. … We play as one team. We play off of each other. It has nothing to do with individuals. It's more about people on the outside just knowing what these kids are all about."

Later, during the Big Ten coaches call, O'Brien was asked if he would lead the team out of the tunnel, as Joe Paterno did for so many years, or walk behind them. He told reporters they would find out on Saturday.

The players have praised O'Brien's decision to put names on the jerseys and have found it as easy to follow him as they did to follow Paterno.

"No coach is the same. You can't compare a coach to another coach," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "Coach O'Brien's a different coach. And everything's going to be done the way he wants it done."

Many of the questions O'Brien (and, earlier, his players) took Tuesday involved the anticipated emotions of the day. The players and the coach said they're simply excited to be able to put their focus on football. Still, as he has all summer, O'Brien looked to strike a balance.

"We're just a football program that's trying to be a part of going out and playing well but also trying to help the community as much as we possibly can," he said.

The Nittany Lions' goal is to have a terrific season, even if they know it will not end in a bowl game or with a Big Ten championship. They believe, as O'Brien does, that they are playing for more than themselves.

"I feel like it'll do wonders for the community," safety Malcolm Willis said. "Our 'One Team' motto is not just for the team. It's for the community. Everybody that's involved with Penn State football is part of that."

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