With his players fanned out all over the country, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry usually feels some degree of trepidation when he sits down at his laptop for a Zoom video meeting and mentally takes roll, hoping there’s 100% attendance.
“You wonder about guys between meetings and what’s going on in their lives,” Pry said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “So when you first jump back on that Zoom, my thought is always, ‘Is everybody joining in?’
“I’m waiting for that last guy to hook up and see his face. You just don’t want to see anybody kind of slipping away or giving in to this thing, and we’ve been really good. Everybody’s meeting with their guys across the board and the guys are positive.”
With spring practice canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and many players at home, Pry, who is entering his fifth season as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator, wants to make sure everyone is fine in all aspects — football, online classes, and life.
“I start out and ask them about their families and their personal situation,” he said. “How has this virus touched them? Is there somebody they know [who has the virus]? Is their family affected with job losses? Do they have somebody in the medical field? It’s just getting kind of personal with them.
“This isn’t about just business, it never is. It’s never just about football. It’s so much more, even though football is such a big part of these guys’ lives.”
Pry stresses getting his players into a routine. Even without spring football, he and his defensive coaches are meeting with them several times a week and going through those sessions as if they were all together in the Lasch Football Building.
“The players and myself are getting more and more comfortable with being able to do that and getting the most out of those meetings,” Pry said. “We’re able to share screens and go through diagrams and watch video together. I think it’s healthy, first of all, that we’re connecting that way.
“The meetings generally start with each cutting up one another like normal. Then we get into some questions about what’s going on with everybody’s families. Is this hitting home with anybody? At the same time we dive into the football piece and workouts and gauge where these guys are.”
Of course, the question every team faces involves when players will be able to get back together on campus and prepare for a season that begins, for the Nittany Lions, on Sept. 5. And whenever they return, will there be enough time to get ready for that first kickoff?
Pry said the issue has been discussed by the coaching staff and the thought is to trust the experts, led by Penn State’s assistant athletic director for performance enhancement, Dwight Galt.
“Ultimately, that’s going to be up to the health-care professionals and the sports-performance department and the strength and conditioning” staff, he said. “The important piece is: How long do they need, do we need, to get these guys ready to go into a camp and feel like we can be healthy and go about our business in a productive way?
“We’re talking through it. The experts in that field, I’m going to trust those guys and see where this thing goes and be prepared.”
The Nittany Lions went 11-2 last year, closing with a Cotton Bowl win over Memphis. They lost six starters on defense, and Pry is looking for the next group of leaders, especially from three seniors — end Shaka Toney (Imhotep Charter), safety Lamont Wade, and tackle Antonio Shelton. He also wants to see the younger group move up.
“I love our [young] candidates. Obviously, that’s part of our job to develop and cultivate these guys to be great leaders, because that’s going to be very important for us,” he said.
Deion Barnes, the former Northeast High star who was a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention defensive end for Penn State from 2012 through 2014, has been hired as a graduate assistant.