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Penn State Football 2018: Franklin & Co. Spring Forward with a Full Calendar

by on March 15, 2018 9:17 PM

Beginning on Monday, the Penn State football calendar picks up considerably.

For James Franklin & Co., spring drills and the Blue-White Game will dominate the next five weeks.

In the days and months ahead, there's also Pro Day, the annual (and abbreviated) Coaches Caravan, a high school coaches' clinic and several on-campus football camps.

All of this is against a new and hectic recruiting calendar backdrop, since high school juniors are now permitted to begin taking their official visits — i.e., paid by the host school — as soon as April 1. Previously, they had to wait until September of their senior year to do so.

All the while, after a six-week or so hiatus from meeting with the media, Franklin will be talking often with the Penn State beat reporters. So his thinking on all of the above — as well as the 2018 season, which is the point of all of this, after all — will be a lot more prevalent.

Here's a rundown of the weeks and months ahead:  

Franklin Press Conference — Monday, March 19. Franklin meets with the media at noon in Beaver Stadium. It will be the first time in 79 days that CJF will meet in person en masse with the PSU football beat writers since Dec. 30, in Glendale, Ariz., in the minutes following the Penn State's 35-28 victory over Washington.

There was a press conference slated for Beaver Stadium on Feb. 7, the second of two signing days, but a snowstorm that day forced Franklin to do the media availability via a conference call. The bulk of that call focused on Franklin's two newest assistants — he has hired four since the end of the 2017 regular season. They are wide receivers coach David Corley, who most recently coached receivers at Army, and running backs coach Ja'Juan Selder, who last coached running backs at Florida.

Speaking of coaches, here's a small but interesting recent development: Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Pry had also held the title of associate head coach, as recently as the Fiesta Bowl. But in the off-season, defensive line coach Sean Spencer added the associate head coach title and Pry dropped it. Pry's name has surfaced on occasion as a head coaching candidate, and in an off-season interview Spencer noted that he has head coaching aspirations.

“It’s really a prestigious honor for Coach (Franklin) to give me this responsibility and that title,” Spencer said in a February interview with his hometown Hartford Courant. “I feel as though I’ve put in the time and the work where Coach Franklin felt comfortable giving me this new responsibility. It’s a great steppingstone in becoming a head coach, but right now, I will assist Coach Franklin the best I can.”

First Official Day of Spring Practice — Monday, March 19. Teams are permitted a maximum of 15 spring practice days, within a 34-day window, with spring break and exams not counting toward that time. The Blue-White Game counts as a practice, and efficiently occurs 34 days after spring drills open at Penn State. Only once (March 20 in 2015) did Franklin start spring drills later at Penn State.

Around the Big Ten Conference, only Iowa (March 21) and Michigan (March 23) begin spring practice later than Penn State. Nebraska, under new head coach Scott Frost, will hold its first spring practice on Friday, then take a week off for spring break, before resuming practice when the players return to campus. Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern all started their spring drills in late February, the earliest in the Big Ten.

NFL Pro Day — Tuesday, March 20. Twenty-one former Nittany Lion football players and representatives from 32 NFL teams will descend upon Holuba Hall and Lash Building on Tuesday to test, poke and prod plenty of pro football prospects, from Marcus Allen to Mitchell Vallone.

Among that group will be NFL Combine stars Mike Gesicki, Troy Apke and potential No. 1 draft pick Saquon Barkley. For a list of participants and, on Tuesday their results, click here. The last time Penn State approached that number of former players at its on-campus Pro Day was back in 2010. Read my account of that day here.

Chalk Talk — Friday, April 6 and Saturday, April 7. Franklin and his staff play host to hundreds of high school football coaches from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region with a series of clinics, meals, an open practice and usually a Nittany Lions' intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday. This strengthens Franklin's already deep ties with the high school football coaching community.

Blue-White Game — Saturday, April 21. Penn State's annual scrimmage will feature a bunch of fresh faces and will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 3 p.m. Nebraska's spring game will be on BTN that day at noon. Iowa also holds its spring game that day, which is the latest any conference teams are holding their spring scrimmages. For more details, click here.

Official Visits — Sunday, April 1 to Wednesday, June 24. In the past, football prospects who were high school seniors couldn't visit a campus with the host school picking up their expenses until September of their senior year. There are new rules. Now, prospects who are high school juniors can take any or all of their five official visits as soon as April 1 — a full five months earlier than before. The shift to the spring means that Penn State could have many prospects taking their official visits the day of the Blue-White Game.

"One big thing that is going to be different is having spring and summer official visits coming up this spring and summer," says Penn State's director of player personnel Andy Frank. "Our spring game, which has always been a great event here — it's better than anywhere in the country — will be a huge recruiting day. I don't know if it will be our biggest recruiting day of the year, but it will be one of the two or three biggest recruiting days of the year because we'll have the chance to have official visits at our spring game.

"Those festivities the day of the game and before the game, and what this town feels like then, is going to be great. We will be potentially getting kids from all over the country who may not otherwise see us over the summertime."

Penn State Coaches Caravan — May 8 (NYC), May 9 (Philadelphia) and May 10 (Washington, D.C.). For four consecutive springs, from 2012-15, Penn State athletics hit the road to repair its image, sell tickets and glad-hand with alumni, fans and boosters. By almost any measure, it was a huge success -- but wearing for Bill O'Brien, Franklin and a multitude of others. Overall, in the first four years, the caravan made 59 stops in 32 days, covering 9,799 miles across seven states and the District of Columbia, reaching almost 18,000 fans.

In its first two years the caravan star was O'Brien, and in their first tour alone (2012), OB & Co. made 18 stops over 17 days. CJF picked up the mantle his first two years, making a total of 29 stops in and around Pennsylvania in 2014-15. In 2016, the tour went on hiatus. In 2017, Franklin and athletic director Sandy Barbour led a Penn State contingent that went back on the road. Staying within Pennsylvania, they made seven stops in four days, traveling nearly 970 miles.

With the football program on firm footing, the 2018 Coaches Caravan will cover three evening stops in three days, hitting three major metropolitan markets. A new twist, in addition to the abbreviated schedule: As a benefit of membership, registration is open only to members of either the Penn State Alumni Association or Nittany Lion Club, and each member who registers can bring a guest at the member price. For more details, click here.

Summer Football Camps — Saturday, June 2 through Sunday, July 29. Penn State holds several football camps for a variety of audiences in June and July — from big men and specialists to elite players and 7-on-7 teams. The annual "We Are" women's football clinic will be held on Thursday, June 7. A complete list of camps is here.

The camps are always a draw for unofficial visits by Penn State prospects, high school players with verbal offers and players who have already committed to Penn State. There's a new wrinkle in 2018, based on the revised NCAA recruiting rules: The NCAA stipulates that "official visits may not occur in conjunction with (high school player) participation in a camp or clinic."



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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