Penn State Football Pre-game: What’s Playing Inside The Players’ Headphones
Pearl Jam. British Christian songwriter Matt Redman. Country rockers Florida Georgia. Rapper Rick Ross.
That’s just a slice of the music that will be blasting inside players’ earbuds and headphones in the hours leading up to their game Saturday against Indiana at Beaver Stadium.
“When we are on the bus going to the game, you’re going to see every guy with headphones on,” says senior safety Jake Fagnano. “They’re probably listening to 100 different songs.”
Not when it comes to music.
They may be a band of brothers, but nothing is as personal as what the Nittany Lions listen to. (Links to the songs are included below, when mentioned.)
In all, I surveyed six players for their game day music choices and all responded with a smile or within minutes – even seconds -- of a message. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen when writing a story about Penn State football; obviously, music is very important to them. They are, after all, college kids.
“It’s very individual,” says Fagnano, who could start at free safety in place of an injured Malcom Willis on Saturday. “There are a few songs we play in the locker room that make you go, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ And then we’ll get it our iPods. But for the most part, every guy on the team has his own music.”
Fagnano is a fifth-year senior so long in the tooth that his secondary mates call him The Godfather. But that doesn’t mean he listens to Sinatra or Tony Bennett. In fact, he says one of his favorites, “Go Harder,” is by rap artist Future. He sheepishly adds: “My girlfriend got me into it.” He also likes “Some Nights,” by Fun.
Family influences middle linebacker Glenn Carson’s choice in music, beginning several hours before kickoff. Carson has a cool outward demeanor, but inside he’s almost always revving to go. And he wants to make sure he doesn’t peak too early emotionally.
“Way early before the game, I’ll come out and listen to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes,” Carson said. “I’m a (Manahawkin) Jersey guy and it’s what my dad used to listen to when he was working out. It doesn’t overly hype me. It’s good listening – it gets the heart rate up, but not to the point where it makes me anxious and I have to calm down. I go through almost an entire album, although I like ‘Talk to Me’ and ‘Trapped Again.’ ”
For Carson, the third-leading tackler on the team, things change about two hours before kickoff. “That’s when I start to shift gears,” he says. That’s when he switches to punkers Rise Against, a politically active group that is straight edge – it disdains drugs, tobacco and alcohol – and whose music is the vein of Green Day. Carson explains: “‘Behind Closed Doors’ is a good song and gets me going.”
When comes to music, quarterback Matt McGloin and his backup, Shane McGregor, are as different as their hair (short red and flowing blonde, respectively).
McGloin is the one who rocks out to iconic alternative band Pearl Jam. He’s also a Dave Matthews Band fan. McG Tweets out about DMB, which is a regular visitor to Montage Mountain outside of Scranton. McGloin, who lives just a few miles away from Montage’s Toyota Pavilion, is a concert regular. His favs include Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” and DMB’s “Pig.”
McGregor favors Christian-oriented music, like the aforementioned Matt Redman and his “10,000 Reunions” or “Hold Us Together” by Matt Maher. “I feel best when I am at peace,” he says. “And that music puts me in a good mood.”
What his teammates listen to before games is particularly interesting to McGregor. The journalism major authored a story about it for a magazine writing class and his curiosity continues. “If I could do one silly prank,” he says, “it would be to pull off everyone’s headphones and find out what they’re listening to when they’re walking around campus.”
For strong safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, the playlist is in constant flux. “It changes from time to time,” he says, “but recently it’s been ‘So Sophisticated’ by Rick Ross and ‘In God We Trust’ by Meek Mill.”
Ross actually has a football background, but that’s not why Obeng-Agyapong, a Bronx native, favors him. Ross, who was named by MTV as 2012’s “Hottest MC in the Game,” attended the historically black college Albany State University on a football scholarship. Meek Mill is a hip-hopper from Philadelphia, who may best be known for being in the middle of bar tussle this summer between Chris Brown and Drake (the singer, not the former PSU football player named Curtis).
Bar fights may not be the main staple of country and western music, but they’re up there with heartbreak and pick-ups. Zack Zwinak certainly causes the former for opposing defenses and has the motor of the latter.
Zwinak, who has run for at least 94 yards in five of the past seven games, favors C&W musicians Florida Georgia and Jason Aldean. One of Zwinak's favorites is “Dirt Road Anthem,” by Aldean and featuring rapper Ludacris. He also likes “Cruise” by Florida Georgia.
“I bet I’m the only guy on the team who listens to country music,” says Zwinak. “It helps me stay relaxed and not overthink things.”
The one guy who is constantly thinking on game day is head coach Bill O’Brien. In fact, for home football weekends, O’Brien arrives at Lasch Building early Friday and does not return home until Saturday evening. From the office he heads with the squad to Toftrees, where the team stays overnight, then he takes the blue bus to Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
All the while he’s poring over his call sheet – the list of plays that he, as offensive coordinator, will signal into McGloin during the game. That leaves no time for Ludacris or DMB. O’Brien is more worried about third-and-2 in the red zone, with Penn State ahead by six with four minutes to play.
Now that’s music to his ears.