UNIVERSITY PARK — Life is full of ups and downs.
That's no different for college athletes — especially on the Penn State football team.
At Penn State football's media day Monday, the feeling in the room and on the field was upbeat, with the 2014 season set to kick off in Ireland for the Croke Park Classic against Central Florida in just under a month.
Four York-area Nittany Lions have tasted their share of downs over the years, but have their eyes set on the ups, especially with the promise of a new season looming.
Kline: Perhaps no player on Penn State's roster knows more about the downs than redshirt junior linebacker Ben Kline.
The Dallastown High School graduate missed significant time last season because of a shoulder injury. However, the ever-resilient Kline battled back and earned his first career start against Illinois in early November. Kline recorded a career-high eight tackles in the 24-17 overtime victory. As one of the most experienced linebackers on the team, Kline was expected to receive an ample amount of playing time in the upcoming season, but the injury bug struck again earlier this summer.
Kline is expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2014 season because of a reported torn Achilles tendon. The coaching staff will not confirm any timetable for the redshirt junior's return. Kline was not made available to the media on Monday.
"I can't answer for certain. He's got a tough injury," linebackers coach Brent Pry said Monday at media day. "But Ben's very resilient. He's battled injuries before and he has come back very well."
Pry called Kline an "inspiration" to the entire team and said even if he is not able to put in any time on the field this season, he expects the linebacking leader to contribute in other ways.
The coach said Kline has a natural desire to help his teammates in any way possible. He described Kline as a leader of both the football team and the university.
The man usually playing alongside Kline is Mike Hull, a senior linebacker who has taken over the leadership role of the defense. Hull echoed his coach's sentiments.
"He's a very positive guy, he's always upbeat," Hull said. "He does a really good job with the younger guys in the film room. He's a really smart guy, so he's always down to help anybody at anytime I just really admire how he works."
Salomone, Geiger: Head coach James Franklin praised the work that Hull and the rest of the starters on offense and defense had put in so far this offseason.
But there is another group of guys a little further down the depth chart who are working just as hard, if not harder, in order to impress the new coaching staff.
Dominic Salomone and Adam Geiger, both of Dillsburg, walked on to the Penn State team under Bill O'Brien. The two are hoping to earn not only playing time under the new regime, but also a scholarship.
Franklin recognizes the importance of walk-on players, especially in Happy Valley, where his team is still facing scholarship limitations as a result of the sanctions levied by the NCAA following the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
"There's walk-ons all over this country that have had huge impacts at universities and have gone on and played in the NFL," Franklin said. "So we're excited about the impact those guys are going to have on our program."
The entire coaching staff contends that, at the end of the day, the best players are going to play when the Lions suit up every Saturday. Salomone, a Northern York graduate, is listed as a fullback, and while there is not a need for his position every snap on offense, he sees opportunities elsewhere.
"I love playing fullback but I really think I can be an asset on special teams," Salomone said. "I think that's somewhere I can really impact the team and really help out and prove my worth."
Ultimately, Salomone said he would love to have the chance to earn a scholarship, but he knows he has to do the work to see the reward. However, with Franklin at the helm, the redshirt sophomore said he thinks he's got as good a shot as any.
"Sometimes you can't tell who's a scholarship player and who's a walk-on," Salomone said. "Everybody gets the same opportunities to show what you have. It's nice to have that even playing field and at least to get an opportunity, because that's all you can ask for is an opportunity."
For Geiger, seizing that opportunity may be a little tougher.
Penn State's official roster lists 11 running backs, with Bill Belton, Zack Zwinak and Akeel Lynch expected to split time at the top. Running backs coach Charles Huff said while it will be tough to crack the starting lineup for Geiger, it's not impossible.
"You know, he's got a chance," Huff said. "A lot of people have already penciled in Belton, Zwinak and Akeel, and rightfully so. But everybody's going to get an opportunity. The thing about life is, life gives everybody an opportunity, it's just about who's ready for it when it comes that makes a difference."
Geiger, a Trinity High graduate, is a only sophomore, but managed to see some action during his freshman season. He played on special teams in three games during the 2013 campaign, including the thrilling 43-40 four-overtime win against Michigan.
Huff said an opportunity for Geiger will come along, but it's up to him to take advantage of it. He said the encouraging thing about Geiger is that he shows improvement every single day, both on the field and in the classroom — and that's all he's really worried about.
"As a coach, that's all you ask for," Huff said. "You never know if a guy is going to be an All-American or a first-round draft pick or the CEO of a company, but you want to see on a daily basis him progressively getting better."
Breneman: One player who exhibited that quality last season was Cedar Cliff graduate Adam Breneman.
The sophomore tight end from Mechanicsburg arrived on campus as a highly-touted recruit, but he quickly learned he would have to put in the work in order to see the field.
Breneman joined an established group of tight ends led by Kyle Carter and Jesse James in the 2013 and struggled to keep up at times. Eventually, toward the end of the season, Breneman settled in and became a valuable weapon for quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
While the sophomore does not have any specific goals for this season, he did offer some advice for those players trying to earn playing time or even a scholarship.
Breneman pointed to the ups and downs that he, Hackenberg, Kline and the rest Penn State team have faced in the past.
"You're going to have bad practices, good practices, but I think it's just about sticking to it and staying the course," Breneman said. "It's about understanding that things happen and things change that you can't control.
"At the end of the day, if you stay the course, continue to work hard and go out there everyday and practice your butt off, I think good things will happen."
— Reach Garrett Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.