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Franklin & Co. Rebuilding Penn State Football With 69 Recruits in 555 Days

by on July 19, 2015 11:00 PM

Busy? James Franklin and his staff know busy.

How about 69 signed and verballed recruits in Franklin’s first 555 days in office busy?

That’s not reloading.

That’s called restocking. Or, to be honest, after a 38-25 record since 2010 and the turmoil of the sanctions on then off, that’s called rebuilding.

It’s a task that Franklin and his team of coaches and staffers – at least a baker’s dozen of whom who came from the Vanderbilt Renaissance – have taken on with gusto.

Gusto, yes -- but not a lot of vacation, especially given the bulk of them came to Penn State a few weeks if not a few days after their final game at Vandy, a Jan. 4, 2014, victory over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Franklin quickly headed north and was announced as Penn State’s head coach a week later. And it’s been footballs to the wall ever since.

The Nittany Lion coaches are likely to get a few days off between now and when summer drills start the first week of August. But only a few.

Before Media Day officially commences the preseason on Aug. 6, Franklin will lead his team of assistants and key support personnel on a three-day retreat in Philadelphia. Last year, the group went to Pittsburgh and took in a Steelers practice and a Pirates game, hosted by Bucs president Frank Coonelly. It’s a getaway before his staff gets going in high gear, a tradition that Franklin started at Vandy.

In his last season Vanderbilt, the staff went to Chattanooga, Tenn. There, Franklin led a few brave souls in some cliff jumping into Chickamauga Lake. Filmed by director of player personnel Andy Frank, the 49-second video is narrated by assistant coach Josh Gattis – both of whom hold the same jobs at Penn State. (Watch the video here.)

A BLUE STREAK SINCE BLUE-WHITE

At Penn State, Franklin and his team have jumped in with both feet as well. Take the past 14 weeks, since the Blue-White Game ended. It’s now two-thirds of the way from April 18 in Beaver Stadium to the first game of the 2015 season, Sept. 5 vs. Temple at the Linc. It’s been quite a run for a multi-tasker from Philadelphia named Franklin, who is trying to revive the on-the-field Penn State football tradition while re-inventing parts of the brand as well.

Taking the names off the jerseys this past week was just his latest move. Over the past three months, Franklin has:

-- Pitched a baseball at Yankee Stadium, throwing out the first pitch for a Yankees-Tampa Bay game in late April. (He’ll throw the first pitch at the Phillies’ THON night in Citizens Bank Park on July 30.)

-- Been to baseball games with his family at Lubrano Park to watch the Nittany Lions, and at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha to watch Vanderbilt play Cal State Fullerton in their College World Series opener. His buddy Tim Corbin coaches Vandy, and Franklin sat with Corbin’s wife Maggie and daughter Hannah, wearing a gold shirt and black shorts.

-- Pitched recruits. When the spring scrimmage ended, he had six verbal commitments for the Penn State Class of 2016. By 5 p.m. this Saturday, when Philadelphia’s Shaka Toney committed after the Lasch Bash BBQ, he had 18 for 2016. And one -- quarterback Sean Clifford -- for the Class of 2017.

That gave Franklin his 69th recruit since he was introduced as Penn State’s 16th head coach on Jan. 11, 2014. Granted, many of the 25 signees in February 2014 were originally Bill O’Brien’s boys. But the 25 that followed in February 2015 were members of the James gang. Add in the 18 verbals for the Class of 2016 and a few more to come by next February, and as many as 72 or 73 of the 85 scholarshipped players on Franklin’s squad for the 2016 opener against Kent State could be his recruits. That’s 85 percent.

-- Caravanned, traveling over 1,300 miles to address 2,500 fans at 12 stops in four states and Washington, D.C. (In contrast, in Joe Paterno’s final two seasons at Penn State, he made zero such summertime appearances and just two in 2009, in New York City and Erie.)

-- Satellited as a guest coach with his staff, at six camps in eight days – in Detroit, Florida, suburban Chicago, Atlanta, North Carolina and Virginia. They also found time for a visit to the Big Ten Network studios in Chicago.

-- Spoke at a Pennsylvania manufacturers dinner in York, received a Good Samaritan award in Harrisburg, visited the children’s hospital in Hershey with his team, appeared at Pat Chambers’ CVC golf tournament on the campus courses and hand-delivered season tickets in State College.

-- Mingled with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi at a Steelers OTA.

-- Tweeted his brain out (with help from PSU football social media maven Lauren Damone). Since the Blue-White Game and through Sunday, here is Franklin’s unofficial Twitter tally: 105 Tweets, 331 Retweets and 32 birthday Twishes.

-- Football camped at Penn State, working with high school prospects, kibitzing with his assistants, shaking hands, visiting privately with prospects and riding his “Unrivaled One” golf cart. Riding shot gun on Sunday was Class of 2016 verbal Lavert Hill, a diminutive yet 4.41 fast cornerback from Michigan.

FRANKLIN'S ONE FOE

Sunday afternoon’s Elite IV was the seventh and final Penn State football camp over a four-week period, which began with Lion Strong 7on Passing Camp and included Sunday morning’s Future Lion Camp (first through eighth grade). Franklin was at and all over them all.

So on Sunday, it was the final minute on the final day of the fleet of camps as hundreds of campers and their parents gathered around Franklin, whose goal was to provide inspiration as a lasting supplement to an afternoon of 90-degree perspiration.

“And don’t Tweet out what you had for breakfast,” Franklin said near the end.

A few seconds later, at 4:09 p.m., Penn State’s head coach wrapped it up, his summer public obligations nearly over -- save mostly for the Phillies first pitch and Big Ten Media Day on July 31.

Then, he climbed aboard his cart, headed out the side door of Holuba Hall, drove straight down the middle of the outdoor practice fields, hung a sharp right, then another right. Franklin parked his cart in front of the doors to the Lasch weight room. He hopped out, hurried to the glass door and pulled. Hard.

It was locked. It may have been the first time he was stopped all summer.

 

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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