"I was selected as executive director on Oct. 31, and everything sort of went down a week after that," said Bridgette Carrier, the senior kinesiology major who heads the 2012 Penn State homecoming committee.
What went down, of course, was the Nov. 5 arrest on child-abuse charges of Sandusky, who had been a longtime football assistant, and the enormous aftershocks that followed: the arrests of two top administrators, a student riot, Joe Paterno's firing and death, Sandusky's trial and conviction, and draconian NCAA sanctions.
That painful litany, the horror between the homecomings, was unimaginable on Oct. 15, 2011, the last time fraternity and sorority floats rolled down College Avenue. But after the bad news broke, it seemed that everything here - football, Paterno's legacy, even homecoming - needed to be reevaluated.
"Last November, when we were at the Nebraska game or at the candlelight vigil [both post-scandal events], it was like, 'Oh my goodness, Penn State alums are supporting Penn State more than ever,' " said Carrier.
"Then in July, after the NCAA rulings, they were talking about canceling homecoming football. . . . There were points when we didn't know if the alumni were even going to be coming back."
They have, by all accounts, come back in force.
Nine hours before Friday night's parade, hundreds of students and alums had staked out vantage points along College Avenue, where some of the T-shirts and posters being sold expressed the prevalent self-affirming attitude: "Restore the Roar"; "The NCAA Ruling is Bolshevik"; "We Are . . . Still Penn State."
And along Route 322 were several billboards that contained - in small, unostentatious letters upon a field of Penn State blue - one sentence, a reference to Paterno's long and heretofore praiseworthy career, to greet homecoming alumni: "you can't cover up 61 years of success with honor."
Thirty alumni groups from around the nation have organized homecoming trips. There were, by most accounts, no hotel rooms available between Harrisburg and Altoona. At Beaver Stadium, both the tailgate lots and Nittanyville, where students camp out to secure the best seats, were surprisingly full for a Penn State-Northwestern game that was more than 24 hours away.
"We really needed this [homecoming]," said Tom Mason, an alum who traveled here from Phoenix, as he shopped in a College Avenue clothing store. "I think this weekend is going to show people just how strong the Penn State community is and just how far we've come in the last 12 months."
Penn Staters hope the opportunity to feel good among the like-minded will be one of the benefits of perhaps the most significant homecoming in the school's history. Privately, administrators hope that another benefit will be a sold-out Beaver Stadium Saturday.
Coach Bill O'Brien's 3-2 Nittany Lions have drawn crowds of less than 100,000 for each of their first three home games, just 93,680 for Temple two weeks ago. That hadn't happened since the stadium's capacity was expanded above 100,000.
Attendance is down more than 5,000 a game from 2011, when the average of 101,427 was the lowest in more than a decade.
According to ESPN, searches for Penn State tickets on online ticket-resale sites were down 62 percent from 2011, while the average sales price for those seats had dipped 38 percent.
Some alumni, like Mason, will be making their first return to campus since Sandusky's arrest triggered Penn State's annus horribilis.
"If you're an alum living elsewhere and hearing people's partially educated opinions on what's been happening here, it's been upsetting," said Bobby Walter, the student committee's public-relations director. "So coming back and being able to interact with other alums and know that everyone else has the same sense of pride, that's exciting for them."
Carrier agreed, noting that "people want to come back and feel a part of one big family again."
While the continued healing of the Penn State community seems to be this homecoming's primary goal, planners steadfastly avoided that as a theme, opting instead for the more upbeat "The Glory Echoes On."
"We [eliminated] anything about healing or rebounding because we didn't feel that was necessary," said Walter. "This weekend isn't necessarily about healing. It's more about strengthening, reestablishing what was already there, and reinforcing that."
Given the sensitivities inflamed by the Sandusky scandal and the sensibilities of typical college students, the committee had to do be careful with its plans.
"When it comes to the [fraternity and sorority] floats, we had a preliminary screening process," said Walter. "But at the same time, we are all Penn Staters working for the same cause, looking to reinforce our values.
"Sandusky is still on everyone's mind. They [students] know that, and they wouldn't do anything to cause further damage."
Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @philafitz and read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz