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Penn State Football: Franklin Makes it a Practice to Welcome Visitors

by on August 10, 2017 8:00 PM

Eleven scouts or so from the National Football League.

Penn State's senior VP for finance and business. And Penn State's vice president for administration.

Accompanied by Penn State intercollegiate athletics' chief operating officer.

The Big Ten Network, with Gerry, Dave and Howard, as well as blogger and birthday boy Tom Dienhart and a big support staff, including Rob Michel (PSU Class of 1999), who was the producer for BTN's on-site programing.

An in-house video crew.

Radio network broadcasters Ham and Jones.

Over two score members of the Penn State beat media (for the final 20 minutes, at least), from near and Lancaster, Reading and Harrisburg far. 

Assorted friends and supporters of the program, including spouses and kids. 

A family with a special needs kid.

And, of course, 100 or so Penn State football players. Plus coaches, grad assistants, trainers, managers, equipment folks, PR people, opps and recruiting admins, and quality control checkers.

They all were under the big top of James Franklin's tent on Wednesday, at Penn State's summer football practice as it extended from late afternoon to the fringes of dusk.

That's what happens when you're coming off an 11-3 season, have a Heisman Trophy candidate in Saquon Barkley and have folks from all corners of town, gown and country anxious to take a peek at one of the preseason's top-ranked college teams.


It's all by design, says Franklin, who is the director, producer and ringmaster.

"We've talked a lot about relationships. So we are open at practice to a degree," Franklin said to a media scrum after practice, 25 days before his team's season-opener against Akron. "I want people to come and experience it. I want our players to get that type of support. I want our players to develop relationships in the community and across campus. I want our coaches to do the same thing as well."

Wednesday's assemblage is nothing new, although it was a bit more ramped-up than usual. Potential recruits, high school coaches, college coaches, former Penn State players, Friends of PSU FB — they all pop up at practice with great regularity.

It all creates a new energy, said senior tight Mike Gesicki.

"The intensity and the hype around practice and the excitement to come out here, it's definitely raised," Gesicki said on Wednesday. "I'm not going to lie about it. When I was a freshman, it was there and it was coming from a lot of guys, but it wasn't coming from everybody. The difference now is that it's coming from everybody — 105 guys out here have completely bought it, to compete and get better."

Since he arrived in January 2014, Franklin has made an extra effort to engage pockets from throughout multiple communities and constituencies. That extends to practice. Over the past year, groups of youth sports teams, ROTC undergrads, international students, and faculty and staff season-ticket-holders all have made special invitation-only visits to a Penn State practice. For most — like the spouse of a faculty member who has family ties to PSU dating back to Rip Engle — it was their first time to a Penn State football practice. 


Almost all are greeted by Franklin, often individually and always collectively. Many, if not most, get handshakes and selfies with a steady steam of players after practice. There is a rhyme and reason to all of it, beyond the PR value and the selling — and reselling — of tickets.

"I think it's really, really important," Franklin said. "I think a lot of times people on campus, people in the community think they know what a college practice is like. They think they understand what these guys have to go through and the challenges they have to go through. So I think people coming and experiencing it and seeing it firsthand — there is a lot of value in that. That's what we try to do."

There are some limits and limitations, post-scandal, though.

"We have people with relationships who call and want to come to practice," Franklin said. "We're fine, but we want to know who they are. They can't bring people with them without us checking their background."

There's another reason for that, explained Franklin, who is wary of practice visitors giving away any secrets. That's why, as a condition of their attending small segments of practice, media members promise not to report on injuries, post photos that show formations or share video clips that highlight wide shots of any plays.

"I'm also a little paranoid as well because I've seen the opposite," Franklin shared. "I've seen people come and leak information. I was at a school once where their arch-rival('s) daughter went to school there and the dorm sat over the practice field and she filmed the entire practice. That did happen, so I'm going to make sure I know who is at practice."


NFL scouts at a Penn State preseason practice is still kind of new. Joe Paterno would typically open practice to pro scouts twice a year — once during an open week in the season and one other week during the year. Bill O'Brien, who came from the NFL, had a much broader open-door policy.

Wednesday's practice coverage by the BTN crew, with its accompanying cameras and mics and broadcast booth at the corner of the field, added an extra air to what have already been highly-charged practices this summer. BTN's Gerry DiNardo, who was head coach at the odd trioka of Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana, spent a lot of time on the playing field and sidelines, while Penn State was scrimmaging. And he wasn't bashful about it, either. DiNardo vigorously signaled for a first down when the Sean Clifford-led third-string offense was running against the No. 3 defense. The last older Italian coach to do that on that field was a guy named Joe.

The players see the Gerrys of the Penn State practice world. Admittedly, they are not immune to all the cameras and the boom mics and the scouts and the media and the visitors and the...

"I'm not oblivious to it," Gesicki said after practice, as he stood in front of a media semi-circle of a dozen reporters and camera people. "You come out here, you see all the eyes. You see the big names, the guys with team logos. It's a cool experience and you know that it's just another opportunity to perform and continue to make plays."


It can be a double-edged sword, in some ways. More people at practice can mean greater exposure and more juice. But they also could be a big distraction. Paterno kept visitors at a bare minimum and the result was 409 victories. Then there's Gesicki, a bona fide NFL high-round prospect who was the focus of several scouts the other day. He sees it as a welcome compliment.

"Having extra eyes here at practice speaks volumes to the kind of talent we have," Gesicki said. "There are going to be people coming in to watch practice and see what kind of talent we had. That's awesome. But it's also where we still need to take of what we need to take care of.

But Mike, he was asked, how do you make sure all those people aren't a distraction?

The big tight end pointed to the northeast.

"We play in that big stadium over there with 107,000 people and it's on TV," Gesicki said. "Everybody sees it and that's film everybody can see. So I think that prepares us for something as little as practice."

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