He walked on at Penn State after no major football program offered him a scholarship. He spent each of the previous two seasons as a major character in the Nittany Lions' never-ending quarterback drama.

Now, on Saturday, in his fifth season with the team, Matt McGloin will take the initial snap of Penn State's new football season for the first time.

"It's a great feeling," McGloin said Wednesday. "It shows you that your hard work in the spring and the summer has paid off. This is what you play for, for 12 Saturdays out of the year."

McGloin is confident and relaxed going into Saturday's season opener against Ohio, and first-year coach Bill O'Brien is a big reason. After conducting a three-quarterback competition in spring practice, O'Brien named McGloin as the No. 1 quarterback in May.

Secure in his position, the Scranton native went through the entire summer focused on learning a new playbook, honing his passing skills, and working on his physique. He lost 3 percent of his body fat while adding 10 pounds to his current weight of 210. He threw constantly to whatever wide receivers he could find from day to day.

When preseason camp began, McGloin showed O'Brien an excellent understanding of the new offense. More important, he seemed to have an improved handle on the quarterback position with better decision-making and fewer ill-advised throws.

"Matt's progressed in a lot of ways," O'Brien said. "He's really grasped the offense. He's really begun to understand what it really means to be a quarterback, to make good decisions for the football team, and to be a good leader, a positive leader. He's worked extremely hard. So I'm really proud of this guy."

For McGloin, being No. 1 meant he didn't have keep looking over his shoulder.

"You don't have to worry about forcing anything," he said. "You don't have to worry about, 'If I don't complete this pass, I'm not going to play on Saturday. I'm not going to get any more reps. They're going to take me out and put somebody else in.' So I'm going to play more freely, more relaxed and play the game the way I know how to play it."

Center Matt Stankiewitch, McGloin's roommate, has seen the quarterback's leadership skills also increase with the starting berth and in bringing the Lions together after a horrendous offseason that had the NCAA almost suspend the football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

"With the starting role under him, Matt is more into a leadership role where he's more vocal, more confident," Stankiewitch said. "We get to see him more in the huddle. It's not a quarterback rotation with guys coming in and out. We're getting comfortable with him. He's our quarterback. We like his attitude."

Even though he started 10 games over the last two seasons as compared to 16 by Rob Bolden, McGloin received the majority of the playing time. He has completed 54 percent of his passes in his career for 3,119 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with 14 interceptions.

McGloin's 2011 season ended prematurely when he hit his head on the floor during a Dec. 17 locker-room altercation with Curtis Drake and suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the TicketCity Bowl. Drake is no longer with the team.

McGloin will be under some pressure with O'Brien's new offense given that the Nittany Lions ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten last season in several categories. But he's feeling comfortable and confident.

He is thrilled that O'Brien "puts a lot of faith and a lot of trust in the quarterback" to get Penn State into the right plays. He said O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher have worked hard with him and the other quarterbacks.

"My confidence is definitely at an all-time high," McGloin said.

The emotions will be running high on Saturday when the Nittany Lions take to the field before kickoff. While no one ever has accused McGloin of being serene, he said his experience will keep him from getting too excited.

"I'm a fifth-year guy. I know what to expect running out of the tunnel," he said. "But it'll be tough for the younger guys that haven't experienced any of this. So as seniors and older guys, it's our job to just try to help those guys out and help them stay focused on the game plan."