Last year James Franklin and his staff were forced to hit the ground running when it came to recruiting. This year the Penn State coaches are giving indications they are building a program for the long haul.
Hired just over a month before National Signing Day in 2014, Franklin & Co. assembled a representative class on the fly, building on the work of Bill O’Brien and his staff while adding some of the players Franklin had targeted in his previous stop, at Vanderbilt.
Now, with a full year on the job, the PSU coaches have put together a class as strong as any in recent memory, as he was happy to point out during his signing-day news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The 25-member class is ranked second in the Big Ten by Scout.com and 12th in the nation. PSU’s average national rank the previous five years, Franklin said, was 34th.
The class includes seven of Pennsylvania’s top 10 recruits, something consistent with Franklin’s dominate-the-state mantra. He noted that last year’s class didn’t have any, while the 2013 class included only one. In all, Franklin said, the Lions have attracted just four of Pennsylvania’s top 10 recruits the last four years – four of a possible 40, in other words.
This year’s success is no doubt attributable to the easing of scholarship limits that were part of the NCAA sanctions handed down in the wake of the Sandusky scandal in July 2012. But it is also a tribute to the relationships he and his staff have built throughout Pennsylvania.
Franklin, a native of Langhorne in suburban Philadelphia, noted that when he travels to that area, “You’re not really working. You’re not really recruiting. You’re driving around to see all your buddies.”
It is like that for the other Pennsylvania natives on the staff. Franklin said, for instance, that defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith was “a major factor” in the successes the Lions had in that region.
As a result, Franklin said the Lions were able to continue to ride the “positive momentum” that gathered when PSU beat Boston College in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl, and continued when the consent decree between the school and the NCAA was dissolved in January.
“I just think in a lot of ways for a lot of our fans, the pride and the hope of Penn State football and this institution never left,” he said, “but a few that maybe lost some hope, I hope these things have pulled them back in.”
Here are some other points Franklin made during his presser:
Franklin said the 6-7 Palmer, who weighed 297 pounds when he arrived on campus, is 288 now.
“I think he’s going to put the weight back on,” the coach said, “but it’s going to be the right weight.”
The 6-8 Jenkins, meanwhile, is going in the other direction. He was 307 pounds when he arrived, according to Franklin, and recently tipped the scales at 326.7.
“And it’s good weight,” Franklin said.
--Franklin could not, under NCAA rules, discuss the addition of Stanford offensive lineman Kevin Reihner, as Reihner will not graduate until May. Reihner, a Scranton native and son of former PSU O-lineman George Reihner, has already said he will come to PSU as a graduate transfer, meaning he can play this fall.
Reihner does not count against the numbers in this recruiting class, though he will count against the team’s 85-man scholarship limit when he arrives.
--After defensive end Kevin Givens flipped from Pitt to PSU on Tuesday, Lions assistant coach Josh Gattis, the offensive recruiting coordinator, was thought to be taking a shot at the Panthers when he tweeted the following: “When negative recruiting goes wrong … don't awake a giant by throwing stones!”
Franklin said that was “a general statement,” and not directed at any one school.
“Guys are competitors, and guys want to do a great job representing their university and getting young men to come, but there’s a fine line to it,” he said. “You just have to be careful, and Josh is as competitive a guy there is. We just want to make sure we’re always representing Penn State the right way. We’re selling Penn State. We don’t need to talk about other schools. … Every once in a while you’ve got to have a conversation with the assistant coaches as well, and say, ‘Let it ride. You don’t need to go on Twitter.’ ”
Gattis also denied he was calling out Pitt, and said that generally in recruiting, “You just focus on what you have to sell. That’s all I ever do. That’s all we ever do as a staff. Unfortunately it’s not always like that in the recruiting world.”
--Franklin said there are still two scholarships left to offer, but also said that because of attrition, the Lions could be down to somewhere between 78 and 82 scholarship players by the time the season begins.