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February 5, 2014

Column: Franklin's fresh approach on Signing Day

The party started long before we'd arrived.

Through the halls of the Lasch Building, walking from the vacant polished floors in the back of the complex past the carpeted hallway lined with the faces of Penn State All-Americans hung on cinderblock walls, shouts echoed from above like a celebration from heaven.

To the men and women in James Franklin's first-ever 'war room,' the comparison might have seemed apt.

With Franklin sitting at the head of a long boardroom table - decked out in blue and white - the curtained off upstairs lobby packed with assistant coaches, media, program supporters and staffers, focused its attention to five flat-paneled televisions beaming the faces of Penn State's signed commitments into the room. Framed by blue and white helium-filled balloons with silver stars at the top, the atmosphere was that of an Alumni Association away game pep rally, a pregame tailgate and a spaceship control center all wrapped into one.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey," a nameless voice shouted as the room quieted. "Hold up. We got one coming."

Speakers blasting a FaceTimed voice into the room, Franklin let the young man on the other end know the assembled masses were ready to welcome him into the fold, gesturing to assistant coach Charles Huff to begin the formal presentation.

One-by-one, flashbacks of Roger Goodell, David Stern or Paul Tagliabue inescapable to anyone present as Huff worked his way through special guests - including 32-year equipment manager Spider Caldwell, All-American linebacker Mike Mauti, Blue Band members and Penn State cheerleaders, among others - as they introduced the names that will suit up for the Nittany Lions for the next five years.

Across the room, staffers prepped the next name plate to secure to the room's '2014 Penn State National Signing Day' draft board.

In order, Jason Cabinda, Noah Beh, Chance Sorrell, Troy Apke, Amani Oruwariye, Grant Haley, Trace McSorley, Troy Reeder, Saeed Blacknall, DaQuan Worley, Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki, Nick Scott, Torrence Brown lined the wall, Nos. 1 through 15, respectively, each given his own separate Signing Day introduction to pumped up cheers and applause from the room, not unlike a needless hype producer bringing a late-night talk show in and out of commercial breaks.

In between announcements - the breaks in this case - cooks at portable omelet stations served up made-to-order breakfasts while coffee, juice and milk sat waiting as remnants of an overnight blizzard left the Lasch Building parking lot - and most of the Penn State campus and roads - an unplowed mess.

Meanwhile, during the apex of seemingly every small talk conversation between program supporters, staffers, media and onlookers, the speakers would redirect all attention to the sounds of ESPNU's all-day Signing Day coverage.

Near total silence would ensue, but not for Urban, Al, or Nick, though.

With the World Wide Leader's Pedro Gomez offering intermittent live shots from the Lasch Building's pristine weight room, stats, rankings and highlight videos of Penn State's newest recruits flashed across 70-inch plasma displays as the studio team at Disney discussed Franklin's whirlwind efforts to hammer home the job Bill O'Brien began months earlier.

Even Penn State's early enrollees got in on the act.

With time winding down on the media's opportunity to mingle and hang out in the war room, Antoine White, Michael O'Connor and De'Andre Thompkins, all at Penn State since mid-January, got their own personal introductions despite not needing to officially participate in the Nittany Lions' new Signing Day extravaganza.

Five more names would fill out the morning's festivities - all taking place following our goodbyes and eventual exit from the room - including Christian Campbell, Koa Farmer, Johnathan Thomas, Mark Allen and Marcus Allen to round out the signing class, plus early-enrollees Chasz Wright and Tarow Barney.

Spurred on by a new head coach embodying the definition of pizzaz, flash and geniality, a new era at Penn State football yet again welcomed itself Wednesday morning in Happy Valley.





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