Penn State Football

Penn State football utilizing on-field success in recruiting

Rarely does James Franklin let it out of his sight.

The Big Ten Championship trophy is always by his side.

“This is the first time since the game that I have not had the ball in my possession,” Penn State’s head coach joked at Wednesday’s National Signing Day press conference. “I’ve taken it into every high school. I sleep with it. My wife rolled over the other night and almost broke her elbow on it.”

Franklin and his staff, three seasons at the helm of Penn State football, have been waiting to showcase that trophy.

They’ve been waiting to display the Big Ten East division trophy in the lobby of their Lasch Building offices.

They’ve been waiting to walk into living rooms and present the proof to recruits and their families.

When this staff took over in 2014, it pitched a concept, a hopeful outlook. Now, it can display how everything came to fruition.

“The difference is how we’re selling what we have,” wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis said. “When we first got the job here, we were selling them on a vision. It took a little bit of faith to jump in the boat and be a part of this program because we were telling them that we were going to turn this into a championship program.”

The Nittany Lions snatched the nation’s attention this season, rebounding from a 2-2 start to finish with 11 wins, a Big Ten title win over Wisconsin and an appearance in the Rose Bowl, where they fell to Southern California 52-49.

It was an unexpected season to many.

But to the recruits that believed what Franklin and his staff preached, it wasn’t a shock at all to see Penn State jump from a 7-6 team that often appeared lost in 2015 to an explosive 11-3 in 2016.

“I saw that they were a program on the rise,” four-star offensive guard and 2017 class headliner CJ Thorpe said. “They wanted to be great. That hunger, it was a whole mentality that they had.”

I saw that they were a program on the rise. They wanted to be great. That hunger, it was a whole mentality that they had.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic offensive lineman CJ Thorpe

And when they came back from 21 points down to stun the Badgers in Indianapolis, Thorpe couldn’t help himself.

“You felt validated,” the Pittsburgh Central Catholic prospect said. “You were right. You get to tell everyone, ‘Haha, I told you so.’ Everybody was sleeping on them, but you knew it.”

For some of the recruits that committed to Penn State before its magical run — Thorpe pledged back in April — the Nittany Lions’ resurgence was reassuring.

For those who were on-the-fence or late commits, like five-star cornerback Lamont Wade, having that Big Ten trophy meant something.

But Franklin admitted the impact of Penn State’s 2016 season will be felt more in the future.

“I think it had a little bit of an impact this year, not as much as people think,” the head coach said. “I think where it’s probably going to have the biggest impact is the 2018 class and the 2019 class. These guys were sitting in their living rooms and at their high schools watching Penn State be really successful and play an exciting brand of football.”

Franklin and his staff are happy to somewhat switch gears in its recruiting approach.

No longer is it, Believe in us, we can do it.

Instead it’s, Look, we’ve done it.

“That’s the No. 1 recruiting tool, having your players understand what it takes to win and developing a culture in your program that other kids can get excited about,” Gattis said. “We’re looking forward to continuing to build on our brand and the excitement of this past year.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9