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Penn State Football’s Comings and Goings: Who’s Next?

by on January 05, 2020 7:00 PM

What’s next for James Franklin and Penn State football?

There have been changes galore ever since Ricky Rahne left for Old Dominion on December 9.

Since then, Nittany Lion football has been on the fast track.

Two assistant coaches were hired, and another not rehired. Four Penn State grad assistants and analysts followed Rahne to Norfolk. Yetur Gross-Matos and KJ Hamler turned pro. The Nittany Lions beat Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. 

That’s hardly the end of it, though.

On the heels of the Nittany Lions’ third 11-victory season in four years, Franklin — ostensibly on break with the rest of the Penn State workforce — has built a head of steam that is unlikely to diminish any time soon.

But who knew he’d be battling Pat Chambers and Penn State hoops and the unfortunate firing of JoeMo for attention?

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s ahead for Franklin and Penn State in the coming days and weeks, especially in terms of who’s coming and who’s going.

(We’ll save the flow of dollars for another day. Money out: It’s been 30 days since Franklin’s contract extension was announced, sans terms. Money in: There’s that little matter of CJF & Co. raising $69 million to upgrade Lasch, Holuba and the football practice fields).

Who’s Leaving?

Other than KJ and YGM, there have been no public pronouncements of any Penn State players departing the program. Defensive end Shaka Toney and safety Lamont Wade have not yet announced whether they will return for a final season in 2020, though it looks like they both will. Deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is January 20.

After the Cotton Bowl, Toney pointed out how much the program has changed since he first arrived, hinting that he has unfinished business. And on Saturday, Wade took to Twitter to make a plea to Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca:

“Bouta send Coach Ciarrocca my high school highlights.”

Wade must be a heckuva Hudl highlight package: At Clairton High School, Wade rushed for 7,079 yards (third-most in WPIAL history) and had 117 career touchdowns, a WPIAL record.

Nothing can match what happened in the weeks after the 2018 season ended. Penn State lost 19 seniors, five players declared early for the NFL Draft, and by my count, at least 12 players transferred. Wade and receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown also entered the Transfer Portal, but eventually decided to return to PSU.

Who’s Coming (Coaches)?

In the past nine days, Franklin has added Ciarrocca (December 26) and offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, hired away from Boston College on January 3 to replace Matt Limegrover, who was let go. (Officially, Limegrover’s “contract was not renewed” after four seasons at Penn State.)

Figure that Ciarrocca has already spent a lot of time looking at digital cut-ups of Penn State’s 2019 offense. He’s very likely to retool the offense, in some regards — it was, after all, part JoeMo, part Ricky, part ineffective. Under Rahne’s tenure as offensive coordinator, the Penn State offense had averages of 24 points in the final 5-4, nine-game stretch in 2018, and 26 points in his 2-2 final four-game stretch in 2019. The nomenclature may stay the same, but Franklin didn’t hire Ciarrocca to maintain the status quo.

Same goes for Trautwein. Spring practice in March/April will be a time for teaching new schemes and techniques to the players. But first, those two new coaches will be teaching the current offensive coaches — Tyler Bowen, Gerad Parker, Ja’Juan Seider and Franklin.

Who’s Coming (The Portal)?

No news…yet…of any transfers into Penn State. Last offseason, PSU added transfers Weston Carr and Jordan Stout. Carr, whose brother Austin was an All-American WR for Northwestern, was a grad transfer from Division II Azusa Pacific University. He appeared in three games for Penn State in 2019, and made three catches for 27 yards — all in the season-opener vs. Idaho.

Stout was a premium addition, transferring from Virginia Tech and contributing in a big way immediately. In the regular season, he was fifth in the FBS with 58 touchbacks on kickoffs. His 57-yard field goal against Pitt tied a Beaver Stadium record, and he made a 53-yarder against Idaho.

George Campbell, a high school five-star who was a wide receiver at Florida State, was to have joined that pair at Penn State in 2019 as a grad transfer. But a week before the start of summer drills, he transferred to West Virginia instead. There, he averaged 24.7 yards per catch on 19 receptions, with a team-leading seven receptions for a TD.

Who’s Coming (Early)?

Eleven members of Penn State’s 27-athlete Class of 2020 are slated to early enroll and start classes on Monday, January 13. They should arrive by this Friday.

According to Blue White Illustrated, they are: Defensive linemen Cole Brevard, Bryce Mostella and Fatorma Mulbah; defensive backs Enzo Jennings and Joseph Johnson; linebacker Tyler Elsdon; wide receivers Jaden Dottin and KeAndre Lambert; running back Caziah Holmes; tight end Theo Johnson; and offensive lineman Nick Dawkins.  

The number of early enrollees continues to escalate under Franklin (and in most of college football; Ohio State has 14 early enrollees, including Julian Fleming, who arrived on the OSU campus this weekend). Overall, in seven years Franklin will have welcomed 42 freshmen early in January.

By year, here’s a breakdown: Five in 2014, five in 2015, four in 2016, four in 2017, six in 2018, seven in 2019 and 11 in 2020. 

In looking at the 2014 through 2019 classes, it’s a mixed bag of what transpired after arriving early; the final results are inconclusive, with so many players still in school. But so far, of the 31 enrollees who arrived in January during that time, eight have started for Penn State and eight have transferred. Quite a 50/50 mix.

The starters: DeAndre Thompson, Chasz Wright, Tyler Davis, Connor McGovern, Hamler, Wade, Mike Miranda and Micah Parsons. The transferees: Antoine White, Michael O’Connor, Sterling Jenkins, Tommy Stevens, Danny Dalton, Alex Gellerstadt, Brelin Faison-Wallace and Isiah Humphries.

Who’s Coming (GAs/Analysts)?

The quartet that went to ODU with Rahne took a wealth of experience at Penn State with them.

Offensive analyst Kirk Campbell, who was Penn State’s QB coach for the Cotton Bowl, was at Penn State for three seasons (he’ll be the OC/QB coach at Old Dominion). Grad assistants Mark Dupuis (WR at ODU) and Kevin Smith (OLB/ST at ODU) were also at Penn State for three seasons, while Kevin Reihner (OL at ODU) played one season at Penn State as a grad transfer and was a GA last season.

(Campbell’s departure also means the Penn State football program will need to hire a new director of social media and creative; his wife Lauren had been in that position.)

Franklin has yet to announce any replacements, but they will be forthcoming. Often, GAs will have a tie to the program or with an assistant coach from a previous stop, so don’t be surprised if that is the case when those slots are filled.

Right now, that leaves V’Angelo Bentley as Penn State’s only grad assistant. A former cornerback at Illinois, Bentley was a member of the Illini’s All-2010s team. He works with the Nittany Lions’ secondary. He is the only player in Illinois history to have returned a kick, a punt, a fumble and an interception for a touchdown. Follow him on Twitter at @VBentley_2

Franklin and his staff will be at the annual convention of the American Football Coaches Association January 12-14, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The AFCA convention will draw 6,000 coaches from across the nation and feature over 100 speakers. It’s quite possible that Franklin, his coaches and admin team will be meeting with potential GAs there.



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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