Penn State Football Recruiting Chief Andy Frank(ly) Speaks on New Signing Date Strategies
Since he arrived as head football coach at Penn State 1,485 days ago, James Franklin has signed 113 recruits to scholarships.
The second National Letter of Intent signing day for the Class of 2018 is this Wednesday. It will mark the end of the fifth recruiting cycle for Franklin as the Nittany Lions' head coach.
The first cycle was an abbreviated one for Franklin. He was announced as Penn State's head coach on Jan. 11, 2014. And just 25 days later he announced his first class of scholarship signees.
The group of 25 included such future Nittany Lion stars as Marcus Allen, Jason Cabinda, Mike Gesicki, Chris Godwin, Grant Haley and Trace McSorley (the only one who will return for the 2018 season).
Those half-dozen standouts had a huge hand in Penn State's renaissance, which included 22 victories and a pair of Top 10 finishes over the past two seasons. Combined, they made 208 career starts as Penn Staters — the equivalent of each one being a three-year starter.
Counting McSorley, nine players from the Class of 2014 remain on Penn State's roster heading into the 2018 preseason: defensive end Torrence Brown, cornerback Amani Oruwariye, linebacker Koa Farmer, McSorley, O-lineman Chasz Wright, running back Jonathan Thomas, wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins, safety Nick Scott and running back Mark Allen.
Penn State's 2018 class features 22 high school seniors who signed their commitment papers back on Dec. 20, the first day of the new early signing period. Six of that group are now enrolled at Penn State.
On Wednesday, two or three more could be added that to the Class of 2018. Wide receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts, a senior at Harrisburg High, verbally committed to Penn State back in July. But he did not sign with PSU during the new early signing period, from Dec. 20-22.
Two other potential Penn State signees on Wednesday are 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle Rasheed Walker from Waldorf, Maryland, and receiver Solomon Enis, from Phoenix, Arizona. Enis is son of Curtis Enis, the No. 6 all-time rusher at Penn State (3,256 yards, 36 TDs) and the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, by the Chicago Bears.
Penn State is virtually assured its best recruiting campaign ever under Franklin. According to Rivals.com, only Georgia, Ohio State and Texas have higher-ranked groups in for the Class of 2018.
Here is where Penn State stands, according to Rivals.com, in recruiting over the past five seasons under Franklin:
2014 — 24th, with 25 signees
2015 — 15th, with 25 signees
2016 — 21st, with 20 signees
2017 — 12th, with 21 signees
2018 — 4th, with 22 signees
TO BE FRANK WITH YOU
A good amount of Penn State's recruiting success has been engineered by Andy Frank, who has been Franklin's director of player personnel at both Vanderbilt (2011-13) and Penn State (since 2014).
Which makes sense. Since Frank is, indeed, a former engineer. While a defensive back and special teamer at Princeton, Frank earned his engineering degree. He then spent four years in that field, before finding his way to Vanderbilt in 2005.
At Vandy, Frank was a defensive GA, an assistant recruiting coordinator, a quality control assistant and a football opps assistant, until Franklin promoted him to Vanderbilt's player personnel coordinator. At Penn State these days, Frank oversees all aspects of the program's recruiting department.
Frank spoke with the media back in late December, on early signing day. Here's some of what he had to say back then, knowing that he, Franklin & Co. head it into Signing Day No. 2 on Wednesday:
This is the first time with two signing dates. How much do you think you can draw from this for creating future recruiting strategies?
Frank: We have to be careful that we don't think what happens this year is what is going to happen next year and the year after that. My guess is that there will be a lot of lessons that we can learn, but we'll have to figure out if they are long-term lessons vs. really just short-term lessons. My guess is that for the next two or three years we'll really get a feel for how this in 10 years if we keep this same model.
With the new rules, the early signing period, the official visits and the addition of a 10th assistant coach, how much will all of those together evolve your strategy?
Frank: "Significantly. Obviously, we've changed with our big official visit. In the past we used to do that in January, two weeks before signing day. We basically fast-forwarded that to December, two weeks before the (early) signing date. The idea there is that you give yourself one week before signing day after that visit to kind of clear things up.
"One big thing that is going to be different is having spring and summer official visits coming up this spring and summer. Our spring game, which has always been a great event here — it's better than anywhere in the country — will be a huge recruiting day. I don't know if it will be our biggest recruiting day of the year, but it will be one of the two or three biggest recruiting days of the year because we'll have the chance to have official visits at our spring game.
"Those festivities the day of the game and before the game, and what this town feels like then, is going to be great. We will be potentially getting kids from all over the country who may not otherwise see us over the summertime."
Does the location of Penn State, compared to some Southern schools, help with getting kids to campus in the summer who couldn't wait until fall?
Frank: "Because most of our class will be regional — and I think that will always be the case, and I don't know if it's more or less than other schools — it will help us a lot in a lot of ways. The national kids that we are talking to on the phone, and the ones our coaches have developed good relationships with and they just couldn't get here for whatever reason? Well, now there's a chance to get them here. We can now pay for them and their parents to come. That will hopefully speed up the process a little bit. And then once they do get here, we may get 20 kids for an official visit. Maybe two or three, or five, will be able to come back on their own dime. They may now do that, where in the past they may have not."
Has does January change for you?
Frank: "Significantly. January and December in the past were basically recycling the same month in recruiting. You'd go and hit every kid every week — all the seniors, and underclassmen as you could. Now, that pool of kids we are going after will be a much smaller group of seniors. We'll do more underclassmen recruiting.
"We recruit two primary ways: by position and by area. You're recruiting pretty much by position when you are targeting largely a senior class. I think we'll be able to recruit by area in a lot of ways. We'll be in a city for a day or two with coaches. Coach Franklin will stay in a city and get to a lot of schools, as opposed to hitting two or three cities in one day.You're only hitting one or two schools when you do it that way."
What's your strategy for the last few spots for the second signing date, and if you don't get them, will you keep those scholarships for 2019?
Frank: "We'll have a couple of options. Coach (Franklin) mentioned defensive end and offensive tackle as the two positions we are going to be targeting. We have some guys in mind who we're going to recruit really, really hard, that we want to be part of our family. And we're going to look at some other guys as well at those positions.
"In addition to those two positions, we'll look at best available (players). I think we've covered ourselves everywhere else at every position, other than defensive end and offensive tackle. Other than those two positions, it will be more of who is the best plater we can possibly get?
"And then you could save it for next year's class. Oftentimes, there are deserving walk-ons who could potentially get a scholarship. I hesitate to say that next year's class will be smaller. I think it always looks smaller than it is. It will probably end up being bigger numbers than what we think."