Penn State signs first class under James Franklin


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- They wanted it to feel like the NFL draft. The Blue Band stopped in to play a song, and flat-screen TVs hung from the walls, and, in one corner, there was a poster board accumulating names of Penn State's newest recruiting class as letters of intent arrived.

New coach James Franklin, in his standard navy suit, stood at the head of a large table. He chirped on his cell phone most of the time. This was signing day, Franklin-style.

It began Wednesday morning with the morning draft-style event and concluded in the evening with the "Signature Event," a public gathering at Bryce Jordan Center in which Franklin and former Penn State player LaVar Arrington showed clips of the 25 recruits Penn State signed (20 Wednesday, plus five who had enrolled in January), the full allotment under NCAA sanctions. The class is being hailed as a top-25 group nationally by the main recruiting websites. The time to celebrate, to breathe after a hectic month had finally come, and Franklin did this through entertainment, exemplifying the showmanship that has been a piece of the Penn State program since he took over Jan. 11.

None of this celebration could have happened had Franklin and his staff not spent the past three weeks saving Bill O'Brien's class, then fortifying it seemingly nonstop to the extent that the staff hasn't yet had time to move their families from Tennessee.

Franklin recalled a particularly hectic series of days. It started with a commitment from Koa Farmer. Franklin was enthused about the development, and then he realized Farmer wanted him to fly to California for a visit.

So he flew across the country. Later that night, he boarded a red-eye to Dulles International Airport for a visit with running back Nick Scott in Northern Virginia. That afternoon, he flew to Scranton, Pa., to visit Noah Beh. The next day brought a visit to Pittsburgh to see a recruit followed by a night flight to Atlanta so Franklin could have breakfast the next morning with another recruit.

On one leg of the trip, he said, he was seated on a commercial flight between 300-pound passengers. It was close to Franklin's breaking point, or at least close enough for him to text his master of scheduling, Andy Frank, Penn State's director of player personnel.

"I texted him and said, 'You won't break me. I know you're trying to break me,' " Franklin said. "We were flying around doing whatever we had to do to put this class together."

Franklin managed to hold onto all O'Brien's recruits except for Thomas Holley and Troy Vincent III, flip five recruits from Vanderbilt to Penn State and add four.

Franklin saw two of his biggest needs as offensive tackle and wide receiver/tight end. The Nittany Lions have two scholarship offensive tackles on the roster and added three with Chasz Wright, Brendan Brosnan and Chance Sorrell.

With wide receiver Allen Robinson gone to the NFL, about half the team's receptions and receiving yards are gone, too. Franklin signed four wide receivers in Troy Apke, De'Andre Thompkins, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, who is widely considered the top player in Penn State's class, and Mike Gesicki, a highly-rated tight end who chose Penn State over Ohio State and Florida State among others.

"We have a quarterback we feel good about," said Franklin, referring to Christian Hackenberg. "It would be a shame if we didn't find some talent to surround him with."

Franklin noted that three of Penn State's recruits signed without visiting the school.

"Those kids and families were comfortable with us," he said, "and obviously Penn State speaks for itself."

Now that signing day has passed, Franklin said he and his staff will take a few days off. They mainly will be house-hunting.

But for someone constantly trying to connect and entertain like Franklin, you're never "off." He already was working on future recruits Wednesday. In a morning downtime, Franklin could be heard telling a player on the phone how much he wants to announce his name next year.

PENN STATE'S CLASS OF 2014:

Marcus Allen, Upper Marlboro, Md. (S, 6-2, 200)

Mark Allen, Hyattsville, Md. (RB, 5-7, 190)

Troy Apke, Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon HS (WR, 6-2, 195)

Tarow Barney, Bainbridge, Ga. (6-2, 300)

Noah Beh, Scranton, Pa. (OL, 6-6, 260)

Saeed Blacknall, Manalapan, N.J. (WR, 6-2, 210)

Brendan Brosnan, Park Ridge, Ill. (OT, 6-6, 285)

Torrence Brown, Tuscaloosa, Ala. (ATH/DL, 6-4, 240)

Jason Cabinda, Flemington, N.J. (LB, 6-1, 240)

Christian Campbell, Phenix City, Ala. (S, 6-1, 195)

Koa Farmer, Sherman Oaks, Calif. (ATH/DB 6-1, 205)

Mike Gesicki, Manahawkin, N.J. (TE, 6-5, 245)

Chris Godwin, Middletown, Del. (WR, 6-2, 205)

Grant Haley, Atlanta, Ga. (CB, 5-10, 185)

Michael O'Connor, Ottawa, Ontario (QB, 6-5, 225)

Trace McSorley, Ashburn, Va. (ATH/QB 6-0, 190)

Amani Oruwariye, Tampa, Fla. (CB, 6-1, 185)

Troy Reeder, Wilmington, Del. (LB, 6-2, 235)

Nick Scott, Fairfax, Va. (RB, 6-0, 190)

Chance Sorrell, Middletown, Ohio (OT, 6-6, 270)

Johnathan Thomas, Danvers, MA (RB, 5-11, 220)

DeAndre Thompkins, Swansboro, N.C. (WR, 6-0, 175)

Antoine White, Millville, N.J. (DT, 6-2, 280)

DaQuan Worley, Coatesville, Pa. (CB, 5-10, 180)

Chasz Wright, Woodbridge, Va. (OT, 6-7, 310)


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published February 5, 2014 4:40 PM

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