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Penn State Football: Perception Is The Secret Sauce In Early Success To Franklin Era

by on April 23, 2014 6:00 AM

Perception is an under appreciated element in recruiting.

Relationships will land recruits and act as a foundation for building the team -- but perception -- that's the hype and excitement around a program that gets a recruit in the door in the first place. It's the relevancy of a program that makes mail from a school feel a little more special than one of the other dozen letters a prospect gets in a week.

James Franklin and his staff's success on the recruiting trail has already been impressive, pulling together what is at least currently ranked the No. 1 class in the nation. What is even more impressive though is how they have been able to change and create a new perception of the program almost out of thin air.

Franklin knows how to attack recruiting. That much has been as-advertised. His in-state recruiting rivals are more likely to be out-of-state schools rather than serious threats from the likes of Temple and Pittsburgh. Franklin won't win every recruiting battle, and he doesn't have to. At the end of the day Penn State is miles ahead of the rest of the state in the recruiting arms race. 

"Dominate The State", Franklin's bumper sticker mantra? 

It's a perception: Penn State is the marquee school to play football for in the state.

Talk is cheap though, and a recruiting slogan will only carry you so far. The next best thing? Take fans and recruits with you on the trail.

Not literally of course, but a social media savvy coaching staff is tweeting up a storm during their post-spring practice recruiting travels. After years of Penn State's recruiting being nearly a state secret, it simply takes a little time on Twitter to find out where each assistant is headed. It won't give you any scoops or insight into who is being recruited, but it's yet another chance to see the program actively being relevant.

It's a perception: Penn State is active and on the recruiting trail. We're everywhere and we'll go anywhere to find talent. That's how we back up our No. 1 recruiting ranking.

The Signature Event, a National Signing Day showcase for thousands of fans who are interested in the future of the program makes recruits feel like they're part of something special, and lets fans see who is headed to Happy Valley. Why turn down good publicity if you have a chance to showcase your program?

It's a perception: Our fans care about our future, and our future stars are part of something special. Recruiting is a part of what we do, and everyone is involved.

Back on social media, Penn State targets are tweeting out offers from Franklin and his staff at a rate unseen under the previous two coaching regimes. Simple "Got an offer from Penn State today" tweets are a daily occurrence with a level of consistency that suggests that it's simply not by chance that nearly every offer is made public. Franklin isn't offering spots to more players, but the players he goes after are a small part of building the perception that Penn State is being successful -- with something as simple as a tweet. Even if the recruit never heads to Happy Valley, both parties gain attention.

It's a perception: Penn State is on the minds of recruits everywhere. Kids are excited when Penn State offers them a scholarship, and they want to talk about it. Be excited if you get an offer, and more importantly, hope that you're lucky enough to receive one.

The entire process has been an interesting one to watch. Penn State is succeeding on the recruiting trail as well as it ever has, which in turn has validated the perception that the program is on the rise.

In many ways that final perception -- Penn State's bright future -- is the most impressive feat of Franklin's time in State College. In the middle of unprecedented sanctions, Franklin has at least indirectly sold fans on the idea that Penn State is headed upward. That's in stark contrast to an earlier perception -- that the program might crumble into ashes. Certainly the 2014 season will be a challenge, something Franklin has at least hinted at, but the program's appearance is not that of a faltering one, but rather an increasingly strong one.

The biggest change? All of the above perceptions were just assumed before Franklin came to town. Penn State would succeed because Penn State always has. That was a slippery slope though as simply "being" is no longer sufficient to win over the services of recruits. Bill O'Brien understood this, but wasn't with the program long enough to see through all of the long-term changes.

But James Franklin and his staff have seemingly awoken the "perception apparatus" at Penn State and it's hard to find an area where it isn't working. While Penn State has spent the past several years in the news for the "wrong" reasons, Franklin is putting Penn State back in the headlines for reasons that make people want to be involved, not turn away.

It's a perception: That Penn State's long term future is very bright.

 Franklin has yet to coach a game, but it's hard to find a reason to assume that perception won't quickly become reality.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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