Penn State coach James Franklin helps honor student-athletes

cminemyer@centredaily.comMarch 23, 2014 

— Nicholas Boumerhi’s father is a dentist, and the Philipsburg-Osceola High School senior hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

He knows it will require his best effort in the classroom, but Boumerhi is used to that.

On Sunday, Boumerhi was among six Centre County football players and 45 high school seniors from across the region lauded for athletic and academic performance at the National Football Foundation Central Pennsylvania Chapter’s 17th annual banquet.

Penn State football coach James Franklin was the keynote speaker at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Boumerhi was a punter/kicker for the P-O Mounties and is a member of the school’s National Honor Society.

“I guess I’ve always been smart, but this is this first time someone has honored me for it,” Boumerhi said after posing for pictures with his fellow award winners. “It shows that hard work pays off.”

Other local high school honorees were Ryan Watkins, Bald Eagle Area running back and outside linebacker; Jacob Martin, Bellefonte Area offensive lineman and linebacker; Taylor Collison, Penns Valley Area running back and defensive back; Evan Young, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy tight end and linebacker; and Patrick Irwin, State College Area quarterback and safety.

Franklin urged the young players to focus on their studies while expanding their playing skills and opportunities.

“Scholar-athletes — this is what it’s all about,” said Franklin, named the leader of the Nittany Lions in January. The team is now involved in spring drills leading up to the Blue-White game on April 12.

“I want us to have the highest GPA in the country. I want us to have the highest graduation rate in the country,” Franklin said. “But I also know we have to win some football games or we won’t be around here for very long.”

The chapter gave out 20 individual $1,000 scholarships Sunday.

Eight college players from across the state were recognized. Among them were Penn State senior Kyle Baublitz and Zach Czap, of Lycoming College. Czap is from Philipsburg.

Franklin reminded the high school and college stars of the football adage that “NFL” stands for “not for long” for most players fortunate enough to even get that far.

“You better have that degree and education that will carry you for a long time,” he said.

Franklin said he counsels his players to study, engage in community service and experience life.

“Everybody focuses on X’s and O’s and schemes and all of that, but it really has little to do with that,” Franklin said. “It has much more to do with relationships.”

Former Penn State lineman John Urschel, a two-time academic all-American, was recognized for receiving the William V. Campbell Trophy in December. The national award is given for classroom and gridiron excellence.

Urschel, who has multiple degrees in mathematics, is now awaiting the NFL Draft. He turned the tables and credited football with helping him succeed in other areas.

“I am the man I am today because of this sport,” Urschel said.

The NFF chapter honored four individuals for career achievement. Among them were two from Centre County: longtime referee Daniel Leitzell, of Bellefonte; and Bald Eagle Area athletic trainer Scott Devore.

Leitzell has been a football official for 41 years, and also works scholastic wrestling matches and baseball games. He has been the clock operator at Beaver Stadium since 1978.

Leitzell compared officials to coaches in that “we’re there for the kids.” He then joked: “Except coaches make a whole lot more money.”

Devore has been BEA’s trainer since 1993. He dedicated his lifetime achievement award to his parents. Devore said his father died in December while his mother has been battling through a serious health matter.

“This is something you don’t work for,” Devore said of his honor. “It’s something that happens during the course of what you do every day of your career, something that’s very rewarding.”

The lifetime coaching award went to Danny Hale, who retired in June after 20 years at Bloomsburg University.

John Lipez, of radio station WBPZ in Lock Haven, received the Fran Fisher Award for Excellence in Sports Journalism. Fisher, the longtime voice of Nittany Lions football, was in attendance.

State College High graduate Jonathan Ganter was honored as a distinguished alumni of the NFF program. Ganter, now an attorney in Washington, D.C., was a foundation scholarship recipient in 1998.

He urged this year’s scholastic honorees to savor the moment and be thankful for the recognition.

“I was thinking what it would be like to be able to talk to my younger self from 16 years ago,” Ganter said. “I know I would tell myself how important this honor is.”

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