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Penn State Signing Day Notebook: Franklin’s New Man Crush, Low Line Numbers, Less Selling & My New Jersey Number

by on December 20, 2018 8:00 PM

Some Penn State recruiting storylines from signing day...

1. James Franklin has a new man crush.

The Penn State head coach has, through the years, professed man crushes on such players as Cole Chiappialle, Marcus Allen and Trace McSorley.

But on Wednesday he revealed his latest: first-year running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider, hired back on Jan 25.

Seider has substantial roots in Florida. He was born there, went to Florida A&M (after transferring from West Virginia) and coached at three Florida high schools and the University of Florida. Seider’s connections helped Penn State snag a pair big-time recruits out of his home state — the nation’s No. 5 running back, Noah Cain, and four-star receiver John Dunmore.

On Wednesday, Franklin gushed all over Seider, who was an All-American QB at A&M in 1999:

“Ja’Juan has been a great hire,” Franklin said. “What I love about Ja’Juan is Ja’Juan is the type of guy that I want to surround myself with in terms of all that. Ja’Juan is interested in his family and football, and he lives it. You know, it's talking football with Coach (Ricky) Rahne, or his phone is ringing and it's a high school coach or it's a player or it's a contact. It's all the time. We're on vacation, and it's constant, back and forth, back and forth. We're back and forth to each other about a play we saw, a scheme that we're interested in or a prospect that's out there.

“It's really important to him. I know he's really happy being at Penn State and with the climate and the culture that we have. Obviously, his son (Jaden, a back-up QB at State College High School) is joining the program, which is a good sign as well. He's just done a really good job.”

Franklin also gave props to first-year tight ends coach Tyler Bowen, who was with Franklin at Maryland and was a GA at Penn State; he now doubles as the offensive recruiting coordinator. After Penn State’s 38-3 win over Maryland last month, Franklin gave a shout-out to Phil Galiano, the Nittany Lions’ first-year special teams coach and defensive line assistant. Not getting a shout-out from CJF this season, as best as I can recall: first-year wide receivers coach David Corley.

2. The Nittany Lions need more recruits along the line.

The lifeblood of any program is the strength of its offensive and defensive lines. Games are still won in the trenches. Especially in the Big Ten East.

As Franklin has said repeatedly, Penn State had only nine O-lineman on scholarship when he arrived in 2014. Adding depth there has been a priority — then and now. The Class of 2019, as it is presently constituted, has just three new offensive linemen and only two defensive lineman. Both are below Franklin’s averages. From 2014 through 2018, Penn State averaged five new D-line commits a year and four OI-line commits. In 2016, Penn State signed D-line recruits.

Penn State is targeting both areas leading up to the second signing date, which is Feb. 6.

“There are a couple of positions moving forward into February that we have to focus on — offensive line, in particular,” Andy Frank, Penn State’s director of player personnel, said on Wednesday. “Offensive tackle. Defensive line a little bit, as well. And then potentially wide receiver.”

Bowen added additional insight:

“Offensive and defensive line are positions where obviously you need to have quality players to be at the level we want to compete at,” Bowen said. “Unfortunately, with Nana (Asiedu)’s situation (the 2018 OL commit had to retire due to a heart condition) and things like that and as things go forward, we just need to continue to upgrade that position. I think it’s night and day from the first year — when I was here as a graduate assistant — to what it is now. But we need to keep on developing depth and competition. That’s why it’s a position of emphasis more than others.”

3. Franklin seems to be (publicly) selling a lot less these days.

On Wednesday afternoon, fighting a bad cold that he said was originally walking pneumonia contracted on the recruiting trail, Franklin spoke sparingly to kick off his signing day press conference in the Beaver Stadium media room.

It was a low-key performance that was in stark contrast to previous years, when he hyped the heck out of his incoming class, beginning with a signing day extravaganza that drew a couple thousand to the Bryce Jordan Center in February 2014.

In December 2017, in his opening presser remarks following the first-ever early signing day, Franklin gave a rambling press conference-preamble that sung the praises of the incoming class. His opening remarks, before he took a single question, lasted 1,096 words and included 48 numbers — most of the stats of the best-in-class variety.

On Wednesday, with his program on the verge of three consecutive double-digit seasons on the field, Franklin let Penn State’s prowess (mostly) speak for itself. His opening remarks were more than halved, at 493 words, and he threw just three numbers in there.

4. Franklin is all for recruits’ coaches, dads — and moms — wearing uniforms during recruiting visits on campus. And maybe the media is next.

Dan Mullen and Florida started the trend, when the father of four-star recruit Lloyd Summerall donned an orange Florida uniform and did a photo shoot next to his son, also decked out in full Gator regalia. Both did the gator champ with Mullen. (It worked; Summerall signed with UF on Wednesday.)

Other schools followed suit and when Ohio State commit Doug Nester recently was on Penn State’s campus for an unofficial visit, he posed for a group shot in a Penn State uniform alongside his Huntington (WV) Spring Valley High School coach, who was wearing No. 2 and looking nothing like Tommy Stevens. (Nester didn’t sign with Ohio State on Wednesday, as Penn State remains in play.)

As it turns out, at least one Penn State assistant coach didn’t like it.

On Wednesday, I asked Franklin, “It seems like a new trend where you're getting family members posing in uniforms. What's the genesis of that and what do you think of that?”

“The first thing I'd say is that I think it started at Florida,” Franklin replied. “This went kind of viral on social media, so it's no different than anything else. One guy does it and somebody else wants to do it and I don't really like kind of following other people's patterns.

“At the end of the day, I will tell you, we had one guy on our staff was not happy about it. Came into my office and was like, ‘This happened, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ like really angry. I'm like, ‘Just so you know, I have like 17 things on my list to be upset about and that's not one of them.’

“If somebody wants to have fun and put a uniform on, and take pictures, more power to them. If mom, dad wants to put the uniform on — the uniforms now are like Spandex. They are so tight. I'm not putting that on; it's a bad look. But again, this process is supposed to be fun. This is supposed to be a game, and sometimes we take it way too seriously. So, if a guy wants to come up and put a full uniform on and take pictures with his son or a mom wants to do that or an aunt or a grandmom, go at it. Let's do it.”

Franklin then told the assemblage of 12-15 beat reporters that they might be next for in-uni pics. Including me.

“You, you,” he said to me, “we’ll put you in a 26 jersey. Be very similar. The quads.”

“I want 22,” I interrupted, figuring that if Devyn Ford could wear Cappy’s retired jersey number on a recruiting trip to Penn State, then I could, too.

“No, can't do,” Franklin answered. “Your quads are very similar to another 26.”

Huh. If that’s really the case, maybe ESPN’s “Body Issue: Media Edition” is next.



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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