David Gray Serves as Honorary Coach for Blue-White Game
David Gray, senior vice president for Finance & Business, was invited by Coach James Franklin to serve as an honorary coach for the annual Blue-White Game on April 16. Following are his reflections on his experiences leading up to and including game day.
My coaching stint began with an invitation to participate in the walkthrough with the team at Beaver Stadium on Friday afternoon. In addition to the team and coaches, a number of football lettermen were on hand, including NFL All-Pro linebacker Navorro Bowman and All-American and former NFL running back Blair Thomas. It was fun eavesdropping on Blair providing some tips and advice to Saquon Barkley, who listened very attentively to the voice of experience.
On the day of the game, I was invited to join the team at their training table breakfast in Pollock Dining Commons. I got to meet many members of the team and coaching staff individually. It was noteworthy that Coach Franklin invites the players to go through the food stations in order of their grade point average. That struck me as great reinforcement of the basic reason why these student-athletes are here: the opportunity to earn a degree from a world-class university that will serve as their foundation for the rest of their lives.
From breakfast, we boarded the famous blue school buses and headed to Beaver Stadium. On a beautiful, cloudless day, we passed by cheering throngs of tailgaters. At the corner of Curtin and Porter Roads, we got off the buses and made our way through the cheering masses--including Special Olympics athletes--on our way to the south entrance tunnel to the stadium and locker room area.
I had the opportunity to meet recruits and their families, telling them that the weather we were enjoying on game day is what we have 365 days a year. I hope that wasn't a recruiting violation! I also observed some of the player autograph sessions. It was evident that the fans of all ages enjoyed this opportunity to visit briefly with the players and get their jerseys, posters, or footballs signed.
After watching the pre-game warmups on the field, I retreated with everyone else to the locker room to make final preparations for the game. Everyone listened in rapt attention to Coach Franklin's pre-game speech. While certainly not the same as a regular season game, it was obvious that the team was really excited to get out on the field and play.
Having picked the Blue team after hearing that the deck had been stacked in their favor, I patrolled the sidelines. I was in the same attire as the other coaches and tried to blend in and be as inconspicuous as possible. During the course of the game, lots of the players came over to chat with me, including a few finance majors.
Two things stand out as memories I will treasure for a long time. The first was running out onto the field at the beginning of the game and the incredible excitement that builds to a crescendo when the Nittany Lions take the field. I've always enjoyed that as a fan and it was really fun to be part of it. The other memorable moment occurred when Coach Franklin asked if I'd like to make post-game remarks to the team. I never decline a speech-making opportunity! I don't recall everything that I said, though I did exhort them to finish the academic year in the classroom strong. I concluded by leading the team in the ever-popular "WE ARE!" cheer. They responded enthusiastically and brought my time as honorary coach to an exhilarating conclusion. They are a great bunch of young men who are led by dedicated coaches and staff. I wish them only the best as they get ready for next football season and continue their journey as Penn State students.