UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin wound up his right arm, used his left hand to massage his right shoulder then the former East Stroudsburg quarterback promptly declared his old throwing arm “a mess.”
It looked fine from the sidelines of Penn State’s Holuba Hall, where Penn State’s head football coach rocketed spirals to a handful of high school prospects on Sunday afternoon during the Nittany Lions first of seven development camps this summer. Among Franklin’s downfield targets were Millburn High (N.J.) tight end Jake Pickard and Archbishop Curley (Md.) defensive back Rashaan Simmons and Greater Johnstown defensive back Ka’Reem Gibson.
Meanwhile, nearly 200 other high school players toiled around Holuba Hall’s artificial surface under the direction of Penn State assistants with other groups of players outside on the Nittany Lions freshly painted outdoor practice fields.
Franklin called it an afternoon of opportunity — not just for the high school players to get noticed and hone their skills, but for Penn State’s staff to further evaluate a wide talent pool culled from 13 states.
“We’re excited and anticipating good numbers,” Franklin said of Penn State’s upcoming camps. “But to be honest with you, if we find one kid that ends up coming to Penn State and becoming an All Big Ten player that we might not have gotten without it, it’s a win. Even if it’s just one.”
Time will tell as to the success members of the 2015 recruiting class will have. But the Nittany Lions earned their sixteenth commit in the recent class when Myles Hartsfield committed to play for Penn State before camp activities got under way. Hartsfield, a three-star prospect as rated by 24-7 Sports, is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound safety from Sayreville War Memorial High in Parlin, N.J. He confirmed his commitment with reporters inside Holuba Hall.
Shortly thereafter, Franklin and Penn State quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne observed Hartsfield’s long-jump and triple-jumping ability. Hartsfield, who broke the Middlesex County record in the triple jump in May, impressed.
Since Franklin announced his plans to work camps down south this summer, his former counterparts in the SEC have not been thrilled. Franklin and his Penn State assistants will help instruct players at a camp at Georgia State on June 10 and then at Stetson University on June 11th with both schools located in the SEC recruiting heartland.
Franklin responded to the criticism, basically shrugging it off.
“We’re going to follow the rules but we’re going to use the rules as well,” Franklin said. “The Big Ten and NCAA allows you to go do these camps. We learned about it from other universities doing it. We called, we researched, we found out how they did it and we’re going to take part in it. For us it’s about creating opportunities. We’re going to treat six hours away as in state for us. I think that makes it fairly reasonable for kids within six hours to get to our campus. But there are a lot of families in this country that can’t afford to come to Penn State. So if we have the opportunity to take Penn State to them, awesome.”
Penn State coaches weren’t the only ones doling out instructions on Sunday.
Coaches from Rhode Island, Villanova, James Madison, Delaware and Franklin’s alma mater East Stroudsburg were also in attendance and helping to lead drills.
“We want to provide opportunities for kids. So hopefully they have an opportunity to come to a place like Penn State. But if they don’t, I want them to have an opportunity to go to Rhode Island or James Madison or Villanova or Delaware or East Stroudsburg or wherever it may be. And that’s why those coaches are here for that as well.
“We love for not only to be five, ten kids to get scholarships from coming to our camp but we love for 10 to 15 kids to get scholarships from other schools in this region.”
A handful of current Penn State players were also on hand helping out. Defensive backs Jordan Lucas and Malik Golden, wide receiver Geno Lewis, offensive tackle Donovan Smith and tight end Kyle Carter worked the camp.
“I think it’s really important as players to not only get coached and play the position, but it’s also important a lot of times to step to the other side and be the coach and kind of understand why we’re asking them to do certain things and the evaluation process,” Franklin said.
Penn State will host six more camps on campus this summer. Junior Elite camps will run on June 20 and July 20 while two more Senior Elite camps will run on June 22 and July 19. Penn State will hold a session for specialists on June 22 and a seven-on-seven team camp from July 17-18.
Next year, Franklin said Penn State will hold a youth camp for players younger than high school age.
“We weren’t able to get the youth camp set up for this year but we’re going to have that in the future because I want to get them here as early as possible that we can start Jedi mind tricking them into that the only way to do it and the only place to go is Penn State,” Franklin said. “And the earlier you start with, the better.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.