---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT -- Coming off a successful debut season that followed a year of turmoil surrounding his program, Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien's optimism continues to grow.
"We tell our kids that 2012 is over and that 2013 has a lot of unknowns," he said Tuesday, during the latest stop of the Penn State Coaches Caravan. "We want the kids to believe in the idea of being on a winning team and that should be the number one thing on their mind. The team has bought into that."
Following six stops last week, the caravan rolled into Williamsport with O'Brien, the 2012 Bear Bryant and Maxwell Football Club national Coach of the Year, joined by the Nittany Lions field hockey coach Char Morett and men's volleyball coach Mark Pavlik. The addressed a sold-out crowd of nearly 300 fans at Penn College of Technology.
The caravan stops in New York City and Scranton today, and wraps up Friday at Penn State-DuBois and Pittsburgh.
Penn State opens its 2013 football season on Aug. 31 against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Nittany Lions' schedule features eight bowl teams from a season ago, including three Bowl Championship Series teams and three that finished in the Top 25.
"Syracuse is a fantastic school and a great traditional football program; it will be a very tough opener," he said.
The Nittany Lions finished the 2012 season with an overtime win against Big Ten champion Wisconsin.
O'Brien, the 15th head coach in PSU history, said his staff was hard at work in recruiting kids from Pennsylvania along with building relationships with high school coaches.
"I think we've established a decent relationship with those guys," he said. "Our assistant coaches have been on the road recruiting the last six days and they've been in a 160 different schools and most of them have been in Pennsylvania," he said. "As long as I am head coach here, (recruiting) Pennsylvania will be the top priority."
The state high school coaches clinic is at Penn State next year and O'Brien is hoping to get 1,000 coaches there.
O'Brien has opened his Friday spring practices to high school coaches. He attended last year's PIAA football championship games in Hershey, something he said he had done while serving as a college coach in Georgia, North Carolina and Maryland.
A linebacker and defensive end at Brown, O'Brien said that he can see kids playing two ways again in college football, particularly due to the number of scholarships available to the program.
"We are very up-front with a prospect and we tell them that we are recruiting them at this (position) but you have to be ready at a moment's notice to go over there and play this position because you played wide receiver or safety in high school," he said. "It will probably happen more with skilled guys but it could also work with running backs and linebackers."
Selinsgrove graduate Ryan Keiser, a safety who has also served as Penn State's holder on special teams, is in the mix to earn more playing time on defense.
"Anytime you have more players, especially guys that are good players at a position, that's definitely going to help you," he said of the safety position. "With the move of Trevor Williams and Malik Golden, that's really helped us in the spring and hopefully that will carry over into the fall."
Another area that O'Brien is looking to gain an edge in is the health of his players.
"We are always looking to try and be on the cutting edge of fitness as well as the weight room," he said.
That can translate into a successful sophomore year for O'Brien and Penn State.