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James Franklin: Penn State Has A Lot Of Heavy Lifting To Do

The Nittany Lions' unexpected success last season may have changed the narrative for the program. But the head coach says there is still plenty of work to do.

On a conference call with Big Ten reporters Wednesday, Penn State coach James Franklin was asked about the “vibe” of his team following last fall’s 11-3 effort, which included a conference title and Rose Bowl appearance.

After digging out of the “hole” resulting from NCAA sanctions (which in turn stemmed from the Sandusky scandal), it is uncharted territory for this group of Nittany Lions. PSU hadn’t reached double figures in wins since 2009. http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1769309-catching-up-with-t...

But for Franklin, the mere suggestion that complacency could be an issue in Happy Valley is an indication of how quickly the narrative for the program has changed.

“I think that’s a positive thing because you’ve gotten to a certain point as a program,” Franklin said. “In some ways, you’ve become a part of a different discussion now, and I think that’s positive.”

But Franklin also stressed that the 2016 season was not the end of the climb, but just another step. His ultimate goal is for Penn State to be a Big Ten and national title contenders year in and year out.

“We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do,” Franklin said. “The programs we want to compete with have been having those types of years consistently over the last five or 10 years.”

Downplaying The Hype

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Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley are both being mentioned as potential Heisman Trophy winners for the 2017 season.

But you won’t hear any such talk in PSU’s Lasch Football Building.

“We don’t really spend a whole lot of time talking about it,” Franklin said. “We’re focused on team success, and with team success will come some individual recognition — we understand that. I think those guys … want to do everything they possibly can to help this team win. 

“Saquon has never come and talked to me about touches and those kinds of things,” the coach added. “It’s always about winning, and when your best guys are your best leaders, you have a chance. It’s not that we’re not aware — we’re excited that these guys are a part of these conversations. (We’re) focused on what we have to do to be the best football team we can possibly be this year.”

Reid Reaction

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Last week, FOS learned that Penn State CB John Reid sustained a serious knee injury in practice and may miss the 2017 season. Franklin was asked about it Wednesday.

“I’m happy to talk about practice, happy to talk about guys that are practicing right now, happy to talk about the upcoming season,” Franklin said. “But as you know, I don’t get into specifics (on injuries).”

Stepping Up

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As we reported in a premium forum notebook following the first week of spring ball, redshirt sophomore WR Juwan Johnson has been perhaps THE breakout performer of the team this off-season. The athletic 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has since drawn raves from coaches and teammates alike.

Franklin joined the chorus Wednesday.

“He just has taken a very mature approach — a very aggressive approach — all offseason,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of like he redshirted as a freshman, played a little as a (redshirt) freshman, and now he kind of has figured out how to be successful with our team. He’s really just kind of made a significant jump from the end of the season to now, and it’s been kind of him identifying what his strengths and weaknesses are, and say I’m going to work hard at these areas and make those weaknesses strengths. I think we all know he has some special physical abilities, and it’s all coming together for him right now.”

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