Penn State Football: James Franklin Wins The Day in a Shutout
For James Franklin, the game is never over.
And that’s even after every single one of the 72,000 or so fans who showed up for the annual Blue-White Game had left Beaver Stadium.
It was 5:01 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Penn State’s spring game had been over for 83 minutes. And a picnic featuring current Nittany Lion players and their parents beckoned.
So, as the sun pounded one end zone and the shadows started creeping over the other, Franklin came through the south tunnel one final time on game day. His daughters, Shola and Addison, each grabbed a hand.
Two young men followed. Franklin had his photo taken with one of them, then the other – the coach’s now-ubiquitous No. 1 the staple of both pictures.
No. 1 couldn’t have been more apt.
Before the spring scrimmage – technically the 15th and final official practice of the spring – Penn State football was already tops in the country. As recruiting guru Ryan Snyder of Blue White Illustrated reported Saturday morning, the Franklions of 2015 were now the top recruiting class in all of college football.
On Saturday morning defensive end Adam McLean from Quince Orchard High School, a four-star player and the top defensive prospect in Maryland, gave Franklin a verbal commitment that he would attend The Pennsylvania State University in fall 2015. That gives Franklin a dozen such early commitments, seven of them in ESPN’s Top 300, and moves Penn State atop the 2015 national rankings – ahead of Alabama.
WINS AND VICTORIES
It was a day of many victories for Franklin and Penn State both.
That includes the 37-0 shutout the Blue threw against the White, a score as lopsided as you would expect when the top two-deep take on whoever’s left on a total team roster that remains thin due to the NCAA sanctions. Perhaps the biggest victory on the field was the lack of any serious injuries, an undetermined leg injury to center Wendy Laurent not-withstanding.
The day dawned bright, and it grew into the kind of 68-degree and sunny afternoon that energizes State College, Penn State and Nittany Lion football. Attendance wasn’t the 80K that Franklin wanted or the record 76,500 of 2009. But it was more than they drew at Saturday’s game at The Horseshoe, by about 11,000 – not bad given that Ohio State beat Penn State by 49 points in 2013 and flashed brilliant with a 24-game win streak while Penn State struggled against the likes of Ohio and Indiana.
Certainly, the weather helped boost Penn State’s attendance. But Franklin had a great hand – and we’re not talking Herb, either -- in it, generating renewed interest and new excitement with his non-stop evangelism that began when he was introduced as Penn State’s head coach at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 11 in the bowels of Beaver Stadium.
By that time on Saturday, he was back in that same media room, at the dais with two bottles of water – all full. There’s no half-empty with this guy.
The media were on the ground floor, nearly 100 of them, asking 13 questions after a Franklin opening statement in a session that ran 17 minutes and 22 seconds. Franklin spoke from the script that got him to this point of his 42 years. But he was talking to the dozens of recruits and their families that ringed a second-floor balcony.
“These players are committed and I’m excited,” Franklin said. “I think we obviously have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas. We have to get better, myself included. The coaches, the players, the trainers, the managers – all of us that are in this thing. We have to get better.”
Then the big Franklin finish: “ I like where we’re going. I couldn’t be more excited to be here. I couldn’t be more proud to be the head football coach at Penn State.
And, as head coach, believe it or not, Saturday was the first time Franklin had ever been inside Beaver Stadium for a game.
Think about that. He’s a Pennsylvania native, a Neshaminy High School quarterback, a former participant at Penn State’s summer football camp, a sterling Division II QB, a coach for eight different college football teams before Penn State. But he had never been inside Beaver Stadium for a game.
As my colleague Ben Jones pointed out, it was the largest home crowd Franklin has ever had as a head coach. In Franklin’s three seasons at Vanderbilt, breaking the #40K mark for the 40,550-seat Vanderbilt Stadium was a chore.
Franklin seemed right at home in Beaver Stadium. From leading his players onto the field with a sprint minutes before the scrimmage started, to directing The Show with whistle in his mouth while 20 yards behind the quarterback all game long, Franklin was front and not too far from the Nittany Lions’ center.
He was miked up between the first and second quarters, and stood at the 44-yard line to address the crowd. He thanked the fans and the community for their support. From there, he went into his sales pitch, reminding them of his promise of #107K Strong for games in Beaver Stadium next fall.
Then, as Franklin finished, he spread out his arms shoulder high and basked in the sun and the stadium. DJ PJ Mullen pumped up Aloe Blacc’s “The Man,” best known from the Beats TV commercial that accompanied Colin Kaepernick's rocky pre-game bus ride to the stadium.
“And you can tell everybody
Yeah you can tell everybody
Go ahead and tell everybody
I’m the man I’m the man.”