AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — At Penn State bowl media day in Happy Valley earlier this month, Nittany Lion coach James Franklin was asked (in a roundabout way) if he was concerned about how his team would behave on its trip to Jacksonville, Fla., to face Georgia in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl.
“I'm just stating a fact,” a TV reporter said. “You have a lot of guys college age going to Florida.”
Apparently lost on the talking head were two pretty important facts: 1. Franklin’s “college-age” guys are subjected to the temptations of one of the nation’s top party schools every day. 2. The team survived a trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl last year without any serious discipline issues surfacing.
As it turns out, even if the Nittany Lions were hell bent on getting into trouble on this bowl trip, they’d have a hell of a time figuring out how to do it.
The team hotel is the Omni Amelia Island, which is part of a gated resort at least 45 minutes north of downtown Jacksonville. And there is no “easy” way to make the drive between the two areas (we tried the two most logical). Get behind a slow vehicle on one of the one-lane road feeding the island, and the trip can get closer to an hour.
“The issue a little bit here is the hotel and the site is excellent,” Franklin said. “But we’re either 20 minutes from one location, or about 45 minutes or an hour from another location where the guys would really want to hang out. So that creates some challenges.
“We’ll vary the curfew … very similar to what we did in New York last year, where as the game gets closer the curfew gets earlier and earlier,” he added. “If I had to guess, a lot of guys are just probably gonna stay around here rather than make the hour drive each direction.”
For the record, the resort is beautiful. It is right on the ocean and includes a golf course.
Also for the record, Penn State did not pick the secluded location, the TaxSlayer Bowl did (Iowa stayed at the same place last year).
Franklin said being so far from the city is something of a mixed bag.
“There’s some positives to that, as a coach trying to keep control of 125 17- to 22-year-old males,” Franklin said. “But there’s also some issues with that where you get concerned that guys may miss curfew because of being an hour away. We don’t want any of those types of distractions.”
Franklin said the entire team made the trip to Florida and that nobody has been sidetracked by academic issues.
“I’m really pleased,” he said. “This is two years in a row where every single one of our players is eligible and every single one of our players is on the trip. I know it sounds like that should be common, but that’s not common in college football.”
Franklin said 56 players are carrying a 3.0 or higher GPA with a handful of others who are awaiting grades.
“I’m really proud of our guys and academic support staff,” he said.
Penn State is officially in game week. And since the TaxSlayer Bowl falls on a Saturday, it is not too complicated to keep track of the game prep — it is the same as it is in the regular season.
“It’ll pretty much be a normal week,” Franklin said. “We practiced yesterday — a normal Sunday for us with a little extra work. Then today (Monday) is our normal day off. So then we’ll just go the rest of the week just like normal prep. Obviously, we don’t have school to balance, so we’ll be an NFL team in a lot of ways this week. But it’ll be a normal Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday practice plan.”
IT AIN’T OVER…
Penn State defensive assistants Bob Shoop and Brent Pry have both been mentioned as candidates for jobs at other schools. Though no news has broken on either front, Frankin said, “I’m part of the process and know what’s going on.”
He added, “It’s not over. It won’t be over probably until after the (AFCA) Convention and things like that. … But so far, so good being able to keep the staff as intact as we possibly can.”
Penn State flew into Jacksonville Airport, boarded buses and then drove straight to the Omni. Franklin held a press conference with three media outlets a few minutes after stepping off the bus.
And yet he was still asked if had a chance to “look around and take in” the beauty of the surroundings.
“We’ve been here literally 35 seconds, so I really can’t speak on that yet,” Franklin said.
But he then let the reporter off the hook.
“Yeah, this is a great location,” he said. “This is what you kind of imagine when you think about bowl games and opportunities likes this, especially coming from a part of the country like Pennsylvania.”
A RUFF TRIP
As bags were being unloaded from the Penn State buses after the team arrived here Monday, there was a bit of a curious sight. On one cart was a pet carrier filled with what appeared to be pet supplies.
Twenty minutes later, the rationale behind the pet carrier became clear when Franklin’s young daughters — Shola and Addison — came walking by with a puppy.
PSU's First-Puppy, a Labradoodle, is named Spot.
The dog was a Christmas gift for the girls.
The Nittany Lion players have a huge hospitality suite in the convention center at the Omni.
We were asked not to show photos or videos of the room, but it includes video games, TVs, a pool table, a ping-pong table, couches, chairs, tables and big refrigerators filled with all sorts of soft drinks.