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May 12, 2014

Sorrell finds his fit at Penn State

A one-time Division I football recruit himself, Gardner Sorrell played center at Kentucky in the mid-1980s before finishing his career as a Division III Academic All-American at Thomas More.

He went through the recruiting process and played under a variety of coaches at a couple of colleges. He knows the ropes. So once his son Chance became a three-star recruit at Middletown (Ohio) High and started collecting nearly a dozen scholarship offers, he gave Chance a piece of advice.

"Find the best fit for you," Gardner told him. "Don't follow the coach, because the coach may not stay around." Then, as he recounted the story, he paused, laughed and said, "Ironically."

In the end, Chance and his family still found what they consider to be the best fit for him - despite following James Franklin to Penn State. In June, Chance Sorrell committed to Vanderbilt because of the school's academic reputation and his family's tight bond with the head coach. Then, as the story goes, Franklin took his dream job at Penn State in January and Sorrell, an offensive tackle prospect, became one of the first recruits to follow suit.

"Getting to go with Coach Franklin was a blessing," Sorrell said following his commitment. "It's just great to be a part of Penn State."

It wasn't as if they were disregarding Gardner's initial advice, blindly following Franklin to an unfamiliar school - although it might appear that way from the outside.

Gardner used to work in the steel industry, and his boss was a Penn State grad. He attended a few games at Beaver Stadium, and Chance visited as a basketball recruit a few years ago, an experience he described as "incredible."

In addition, Penn State briefly recruited Sorrell before his commitment to Vanderbilt. The family thought highly of the university then, but Chance didn't earn an offer from Bill O'Brien. Because he had missed all but four games of his junior season due to a broken ankle, O'Brien's staff wanted him to attend summer camp before offering a scholarship. Franklin, however, was already sold on Sorrell, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive line prospect who played tight end/H-back in high school, and Sorrell was sold on Franklin.

So once Sorrell's father began receiving reports from his old football buddies connecting Franklin to Penn State's coaching vacancy, the Sorrells began to prepare for the coach's impending departure.

They also began to prepare - due to the trusting relationship they had built with Franklin - for the possibility that Chance might be able to follow him. They had already been impressed by Penn State's campus and knew that the university, like Vanderbilt, had a strong academic reputation. If Franklin was in charge, it could be an even better fit than what he had initially found.

A few hours after Franklin's introductory news conference, Sorrell noticed a new Pennsylvania phone number ringing on his caller ID. He and his parents turned off the television and sat at the kitchen table, as Chance answered the call.

It was Franklin, and he was offering Sorrell a scholarship to Penn State - one of the first.

"It made me feel good," Sorrell said. "It made my family feel good, and it made it feel like we could really trust [Franklin.] Of course he can trust us. He has our back, and we have his back."

Over the phone, with his parents' blessing, Sorrell verbally committed to Franklin and the Nittany Lions, becoming the second prospect to flip from Vanderbilt in only a few hours. (The first, defensive end Lloyd Tubman, later de-committed and signed with Kentucky.)

"Football is such a big deal at Penn State," Gardner explained. "That's the edge that Penn State has over Vanderbilt, even though Vanderbilt is a very respectable school and respectable football program. But Coach Franklin rose them like the phoenix out of the ashes."

Franklin has told the Sorrells that he hopes to have even more success with the Nittany Lions. And they're going to trust him on this one, too.

"Coach Franklin would always talk about how you don't want to rent a program; you want to build it and own it," Gardner said. "I think that Penn State is in a position right now where it is not a rental. It is a rebuild, and I think it's a great opportunity for Coach Franklin and the players who commit, because I honestly believe that they'll bring Penn State back to where it deserves to be."




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