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Penn State Football: James Franklin’s Work Ethic is a Staple in More Ways Than One

by on February 17, 2019 2:00 PM

HARRISBURG — Having a strong work ethic is a staple of James Franklin’s Penn State football program.

It’s one of his ubiquitous four core values — along with sacrifice, competition and a positive attitude.

And to him, as Franklin told a full house at the annual Mr. PA Football awards program here on Saturday night, that deep-seated work ethic means never calling in sick. Never taking a day off. 

And never letting nearly a dozen staples gunned to the top of your finely-shaved head slow you down. (More on that in a minute.)

For Franklin, that is whether he was in Pocatello, Idaho, or Green Bay, Wis., or State College, Pa.

“I’ve been coaching football for 24 years,” Franklin told an audience that included Class of 2019 Nittany Lions Daequan Hardy — the 2018 Big School Mr. PA Football — and Keaton Ellis. “I have never, ever missed a day of work in my life. Ever.

“You wake up and you don’t feel good, you tell yourself you feel good and go to work. You take that mentality into the rest of your life.”


Franklin’s 24-year streak was in jeopardy earlier this winter, when he was heading over from his office in Penn State’s Lasch Building to its indoor practice field in Holuba Hall. (The Nittany Lions switched winter workouts from morning to afternoon this year, for the first time under Franklin.)


We’ll let Franklin, heading into his sixth season as head football coach at Penn State, tell the rest of the story, as he did on Saturday night (you can also watch a rebroadcast of the event next Saturday and Sunday on PCN):

“I was coming out of our indoor facility to go to our winter workouts. I was running into our indoor facility. It’s a little cold and the wind is blowing. So, I pulled my hood down to block the wind. I come running around to go inside the garage door (to Holuba). I’m 6-(foot)-2. When I looked, the garage door was open. But it was only open to 6-1. I ran full speed into the indoor facility and split my head open.

“This was at 3:15 and practice starts at 3:30.

“I get into the indoor facility and put my hand on my head. My hoodie is wet. I look at my hand, there’s blood. I put my hand up to my head — whompf, blood. I look around to find a trainer. All I see are eight student trainers with complete panic on their faces.

“So, I walk back to the office. And as I do so, all the players are coming up the sidewalk (in the opposite direction) to go inside the indoor facility. Now they all start freaking out. I go in and they look at it.”

Here’s where Franklin pauses, drawing the room in.

“I’m going to practice,” he tells the trainers, “so do what they have to do.”

The trainers put layers of gauze on the high part of his forehead and tape it up. Franklin continues, with the story and practice: “I go to practice and I’m covered in blood. I don’t even mention it to the guys. I just look at it like, ‘What’s the problem?’”

After practice, Franklin goes to see the trainers. Again.

“They put 11 staples in my head, to close it up,” Franklin tells the audience, as he shows them a photo of the injury on a big screen. “One bit of advice for everyone in the room: Avoid staples in the head.”

There is a bigger moral to the story, though, Franklin said:

“When I talk to our players, I bring up mental and physical toughness. Practice was going to start at 3:30. I’m going to be at practice at 3:30. I didn’t miss a rep. That, to me, is what our guys need to understand about life.”

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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