UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State fans got their first closeup look at Christian Hackenberg, although not the other quarterback vying for the starting job, Tyler Ferguson, and the Nittany Lions raised a record sum of money during the 11th annual Lift for Life on Friday.
Hackenberg took part in the fundraising workout as fans watched from nearby bleachers and the surrounding area near PSU's lacrosse field. He and the rest of his teammates then signed autographs after the event, which raised about $116,000 for Kidney Cancer Association.
"It's amazing what we've been able to do in the past five years on and off the field," senior offensive lineman Eric Shrive, who personally has raised more than $100,000, said of his work with PSU's Uplifting Athletes chapter.
Photo for the Mirror by Christopher Shannon
Several Penn State players compete in a tug of war during the Lift for Life event Friday in University Park.
While Hackenberg was on hand, Ferguson missed the event as he's back home in California visiting his family. There has been speculation that Ferguson is so homesick that he might not return to Penn State to compete for the starting quarterback job, although coach Bill O'Brien and the rest of the team do expect him to return to school.
O'Brien wasn't at Lift for Life, but strength coach Craig Fitzgerald was asked about Ferguson.
"Tyler Ferguson is at home," Fitzgerald said. "He has spent time with his family, and good for him. The guys that are here at Lift for Life, really proud of them, too."
Fitzgerald also was asked if he's confident Ferguson is doing what he needs to physically during his time away from the team to stay in competitive shape.
"I'm happy he is home with his family, spending time with them," was all Fitzgerald would say. "I'm excited when he comes back."
One player who was back working out Friday, somewhat surprisingly, was running back Zach Zwinak. He suffered a left wrist injury during the Blue-White Game, and while he had the wrist heavily taped, he did take part in the grueling workout.
"Zwinak is a warrior," Fitzgerald said. "He got into that rehab with Wes Sanz, our assistant athletic trainer, Tim Bream, Scotty Campbell. All the time he is in there. He's working his hand and wrist. It's no surprise that he is ahead of schedule. That all has to do with him. If you asked me a month ago if he could do this, I'd say let's be cautious and not do this. But he said, 'I'm doing it.' It's exciting. He's ready to go."
Numerous PSU players typically are made available to the media at Lift for Life, which serves as an opportunity for them to talk about their excitement for the upcoming season. But Friday's event was different as O'Brien decided that only three members of the team would be able to speak to the media.
Shrive and two fellow Uplifting Athletes officers, center Ty Howle and right tackle Adam Gress, were the only players available to comment about the event and the upcoming season. All three expressed pride in the enormous amount of money - now more than $800,000 - raised by Lift for Life since its inception in 2003.
"It's important to our team, it's important for the fan base," Gress said. "It's for a great cause. I think it not only helps raise money for something, it helps everybody in the community come together."
Shrive has personally been responsible for a large chunk of the money raised by Lift for Life over the years. He also has personal experience with kidney cancer as his uncle, Marty King, battled the rare disease about two years ago.
Shrive said his uncle is "doing real well" now, and he was scheduled to be on hand for Friday's Lift for Life.
"It was something that was found by accident," Shrive said of his uncle's diagnosis. "That's the effect that this disease has on people that sometimes they don't find it because it's not a prominent disease, it's not a prominent cancer and the funding is not there. So they don't find it a lot. When they do find it, sometimes it's too late."
Shrive already had been working with Uplifting Athletes to raise money to fight kidney cancer, but seeing his uncle battle it served as even more motivation.
"I saw what he went through, and it pushed me to raise more money," Shrive said.
Lift for Life not only raises money for a good cause, it also serves as a good workout competition for the players.
"We have a lot of fun with it," Gress said. "It's competitive, but in a fun manor. It's not, say, as competitive as a game would be, but it's a lot of fun because we go offensive line versus defensive line, defensive backs versus wide receivers, and it really allows us to have some competition, trash talk each other a little bit and have some fun with it."
Gress promised beforehand that the offense would win the competition, but in the end the defense prevailed with a score of 220-152.
"All week long, our guys have been excited about it," Fitzgerald said. "We've been telling them it's going to be a like a game atmosphere out here and to just cut it loose like they do when they play the game.
"They've been working really, really hard all summer. That gets to be a little bit of grind. Something like Lift for Life is great for our guys. It gives them a chance to go out, relax, show what they can do. It's for points. They are having a blast. It's fun for our players. It's great for the fans with their support here for the players, and more important, for the cause."