STATE COLLEGE — The scooter Ben Kline was riding wasn’t going to get the job done. The Penn State linebacker was much more at home after commandeering a full-blown equipment cart to tear around the turf and direct the action.
As much as Kline would have loved to be put through the workout gauntlet at the team’s Lift For Life fundraiser Saturday, a torn Achilles tendon forced him to run the show with the help of some wheels.
Kline’s 2014 season is almost certainly over before it began after recently undergoing surgery to repair the damage. His left foot in a large boot, Kline put a positive spin on his first year as president of Penn State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, which organizes the event.
Saturday’s event brought in over $131,000, according to Kline, all of which benefits the Kidney Cancer Association. Now in its 12th year, the Penn State chapter is closing in on $1 million in total fundraising.
“It’s just nice to be out here and making an impact in some way,” Kline said from the seat of his motorized scooter that helps him get around campus in the early weeks of rehab.
A fourth-year junior, the York-area product has had his career derailed by multiple surgeries, including winter operations on his shoulder and a torn pectoral muscle. Bouncing back from those procedures only to have this latest major setback was tough to stomach.
Kline poured praise on his teammates for helping him get through the situation emotionally.
“We have such a great team. Being in that locker room is the best part of the day no matter what,” Kline said. “Seeing those guys and being around them just makes it easier to deal with things.”
The injury news is a bit more positive for another injured member of the Nittany Lions.
Senior guard Miles Dieffenbach, recovering from a torn left ACL suffered early in spring practice, remains optimistic that he will be able to return at some point in his final collegiate season.
“Yeah, the knee’s feeling really good, and I definitely hope to be back on the field for the later part of the season,” said Dieffenbach, who had surgery in the spring. “Right now I’m in a really good place. Haven’t had any hiccups.
“Feeling good, strength is good, just hoping to stay on track and be back for the last three or four games.”
The biggest positive for Dieffenbach is that the ACL was the only ligament he damaged, perhaps keeping the door open on his Penn State career.
By comparison, star Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan tore an ACL early last spring and amazingly was back on the field to face Penn State in mid-October, just a shade under seven months after the injury. That, of course, is an outlier even as medical procedures and rehab regimens improve.
Like Kline, Dieffenbach served as a spectator for Saturday’s event, which featured six workout stations and culminated with some team-wide tug-of-wars in the center of Penn State’s lacrosse field on campus.
Dieffenbach and Kline were two Lions players who jumped on the mic to address the crowd during the festivities, thanking fans who showed up to help raise money.
“We’re all just excited to come out and help,” Wyoming Valley Conference alum Eugene Lewis said. “I’ve been getting more involved, and it’s always a good time.”
When players weren’t flipping tractor tires or pushing weighted resistance sleds, they were competing in some more conventional workouts — dead lifts and bench presses.
Linebacker Mike Hull, often called the strongest pound-for-pound player on the team, made his claim to the title again, putting up 30 reps at 225 pounds on the bench. Newcomer Tarow Barney, a junior college transfer at defensive tackle, also hit 30 reps.
Thirty reps was the top mark put up by any linebacker at this past winter’s NFL combine.
With a larger focus on fan interaction this year — freshmen players instructed kids in short clinics during the event and a lengthy autograph session closed out the afternoon — the Lions were on pace to set a new fundraising record.
Former Penn State receiver, Scott Shirley, who founded the event back in 2003, was in attendance as always.
“I’ve been here for all 12 years and I don’t plan on missing one,” Shirley said. “It’s incredible to see how much this has grown, and it’s a testament to these players that this keeps growing.”
Kline said he received plenty of advice from past presidents, including Shirley, Scranton native Eric Shrive and former team captain Brett Brackett.
“I’ve had a ton of great conversations these past few months, even from guys I didn’t play with here,” Kline said. “It’s been incredible.
“It’s really exciting to see it all come together. I know a lot of guys put a lot of hours into what we’re doing right now.”