When Penn State safety Drew Astorino thinks about last season, the first word out of his mouth is this:

"Horrible."

Then, he gets specific.

"We have to definitely step it up in our rush defense," he said. "We were bad last year. We had bad tackling all-around."

Then, he gets brutally personal:

"I was embarrassed last year," he said. "I think the whole, entire team was."

With the first day of summer drills only a month away, Astorino spoke passionately Friday at the players' Lift For Life fundraiser, pointing a finger at some bad work habits that might have led to a 7-6 finish -- Penn State's worst since 2004.

"It seems like guys have a better attitude every single day, not just once in a while," he said. "Almost every single person is there (for summer workouts). I feel like last year you went there when you could or whatever."

The Nittany Lions may improve only marginally this season -- thanks to a tough schedule that includes Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- but a large core of seniors appears poised to take control of the team.

"It's strength in numbers," said Astorino, one of 12 seniors in line to make significant impacts this season. "It's not one or two guys people are looking for."

"We have a lot more experience," said senior wide receiver Derek Moye, who is entering his third season as a starter. "A lot of guys last year were first-year starters and weren't really used to the level of football that is played in the Big Ten. Now, they know how to prepare for it each and every day."

"We're older, we're more experienced, more intelligent and we have a little more swagger," senior linebacker Nate Stupar said.

Stupar said even 84-year-old coach Joe Paterno used the word swag the other day when addressing his team's attitude.

"He's a little hip," Stupar said.

"We need a little swag," Astorino said.

Perhaps no series better characterized Penn State's 2010 season than Ohio State's first drive of the second half in Columbus. Despite holding a 14-3 lead and an edge in field position, the Nittany Lions let the Buckeyes gain the upper hand with a 96-yard, 11-play drive -- nine of which came on the ground -- that led to a momentum-changing touchdown. The result was a 38-14 defeat, setting off a string of three losses in the final four games.

Overall, Penn State finished 74th in the nation in run defense -- behind teams such as Troy, Akron and Louisiana-Lafayette -- and seventh in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 165.6 yards per game.

"You never want to have a year like that," Astorino said, "but you think about it every time you are working out."

Astorino, who started three games as a freshman and all but two as a sophomore and junior, said sometimes players don't want to end their workouts this summer in a prescribed time.

"We say, 'Let's not leave. Let's run another series.' If you see one guy slacking, everybody is telling that guy to pick it up," he said.

"We have something to prove," Stupar said, "and we can't wait to prove it."

Note: After additional donations were counted over the weekend, the football team's Lift for Life raised $94,410.09 for kidney cancer research. It marked the second-highest total since the inaugural event was held in 2003.