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March 26, 2014

Column: Recruiting success reveals more

James Franklin is really, really good at this.

Tuesday afternoon, just 74 days after being announced as Penn State's new head coach, the 42-year old secured his 18th verbal commitment for the Nittany Lions. The latest, Rivals.com three-star wide receiver Brandon Polk, built the program's Class of 2015 to nine members before even reaching the month of April.

In totality, based on the Rivals.com star rankings, Franklin and his new coaching staff have pulled in the verbal commitments of a combined total of 61 stars or, 3.39 stars per player. And now, boasting 918 total points in the Rivals.com Class of 2015 team rankings, the Nittany Lions have jumped all the way to No. 4, trailing just Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU.

With the NCAA having backed down from its scholarship restrictions, re-allowing 25 total scholarships for the Class of 2015, every indication is that the Nittany Lions will maintain their place among the nation's elite by the time signing day rolls around in February.

On its own, the deluge of incoming talent would be impressive enough.

That Franklin has managed to do it under a frantic state of transition, with the specter of the NCAA's onerous sanctions still prohibiting bowl participation for the next two years and - even after the reductions prompted by former head coach Bill O'Brien last October - continuing total scholarship limitations, the results are flatly exceptional.

Forgetting for a moment the stars, the rankings, the grainy highlight footage and ongoing message board discussions that all combine to form an unquenchable hype machine, something much simpler is happening at Penn State right now than maybe anything the program has seen in its recent history.

With Franklin leading the way, genuine, uninhibited excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm have tipped the scales, growing strong enough to outweigh the challenges that continue to exist as the program moves forward.

Speaking to a small room of reporters at the National Football Foundation regional awards banquet Sunday afternoon at the Penn Stater, Franklin - maybe unwittingly, but probably not - provided his best insight yet into the 'selling' process he's pushing to recruits at Penn State.

"Just like we're selling at Penn State that a young man has the opportunity to chase all of his dreams and have the best of both worlds both academically and athletically, to me, that's what this organization is all about," he said. "Making sure that they understand how much we appreciate them and all their hard work and making sure that they understand it's not just them.

"It's the support system that they've been able to get with their family and the high school coaches and the people in their community that have supported them to achieve their goals. Because, none of us do it by ourselves. We're all working together toward something greater."

That "something" is the potential of Penn State football finally realized.

While O'Brien and his staff kicked awake the sleeping giant, only to find itself frustratingly trapped in a jail cell, Franklin has the giant lifting weights, eating well, and training for action the moment it's released from the halfway house.

Working indiscriminately with the full comprehension of just how critical his tenure's early days are to the program's future success, Franklin is at once massaging its current makeup while optimistically looking toward the quickly approaching future. Creating an atmosphere of excitement and cooperation with diminishing signs of frustration lingering over the program, recruits have responded accordingly.

"We had a bunch of recruits in this weekend and they come to the games and we show them all of the great facilities, but in the end, it has nothing to do with the facilities," Franklin said. "It has to do with the people. It has to do with the feel that you have in your gut… It's about relationships, and when you've got a great chemistry in any organization and any team, you're able to do special things."

The level of future success still an uncertainty, Franklin's early efforts have already ensured an aura that is appealing and inviting for the future.

At a place where the future seemed incredibly distant not so long ago, that, in and of itself, is special.

Penn State NEWS


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