When James Franklin took over the Penn State football program last January, he knew he was taking hold of a program beset by NCAA sanctions and recruiting limitations.
Although the NCAA had lessened the NCAA’s inital scholarship reductions four months before Franklin arrived — Penn State would be able be at 75 total scholarships in 2014 and 80 in 2015 — Franklin would still have to settle for a limited classes sizewise until the team would be allowed to carry a full 85 in 2016.
But when the NCAA completely lifted the sanctions in September, everything changed and Penn State was able to get creative in order to maximize its recruiting efforts and replenish its depth. Although recruited along with the rest of the 2015 class, early enrollees Sterling Jenkins, Paris Palmer and Tommy Stevens will count retroactively toward last year’s class.
By signing 22 more players on Wednesday and getting a verbal commitment from Stanford offensive lineman Kevin Reihner — who announced he will transfer to Penn State as a graduate student and be eligible to play immediately — Penn State still has two spots left in the 2015 class.
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“We’ll have them either this year or next year,” Director of Player Personnel Andy Frank said. “We’ll have about two left that we could potentially give this year and we’ll continue to look around. Things will happen in the spring, things may happen tomorrow. You never know. But things will happen over the course of the spring where guys will decide they want to leave the school they’re at and I think we’ll be looking around.”
Coaches are not permitted to talk about players who have not signed National Letters of Intent and Frank made sure to remind Franklin of that on Tuesday when reporters asked about Reihner and a handful of preferred walk-ons who have announced their intentions to attend Penn State.
The restoration of scholarships also put Penn State in a tricky position on recruiting trails.
Penn State missed out on some top-tier recruits who simply chose other schools. But they were forced to pass on others — specifically a few skill position guys defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith said — not knowing if they’d have space and knowing they’d have to restore depth in the trenches.
“You’ve got to find players,” Frank said. “It’s hard to tell a kid no in September and expect him in February to say yes to you. Unfortunately we were in that situation where we had to tell really, really good players, ‘Hey, we don’t have room for you right now.’ Knowing what we know today would we have taken those guys? Yeah, we would’ve. We would’ve loved to have.”
Coaches rely on Frank
behind the scenes
Frank is not as noticeable on the sidelines and isn’t readily available to reporters. But he plays a massive role in the program’s day-to-day operations.
“They’re kind of like back in the command center,” offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis said. “Andy Frank is really kind of the director of the whole organization from a recruiting standpoint. He does an unbelievable job making sure we’re organized, making sure we’re in the right areas and attacking the right areas we need to.”
Frank uses a big whiteboard to keep track of day-to-day recruiting targets and maps out detailed itineraries for each coach. Sometimes, there are logistical breakdowns and Frank has to have a backup plan ready. Or he has to conjure one quickly so Franklin or whichever coach doesn’t lose critical recruiting time.
Take a recent plans for Gattis to fly out of Philadelphia to visit a prospect in Florida. Gattis woke up in State College and got in his car and headed east. But snow beat him to Philadelphia and the flight was delayed to the point he wouldn’t make it south in time. So he called gave Frank a ring. Frank told him to turn west and booked him on a flight out of Pittsburgh — the same flight Franklin was taking.
“You have a backup plan and sometimes a backup plan happens on the fly,” Frank said.
Camps offer coaches
Franklin brought up the team’s summer camps eight times during his 33-minute press conference Wednesday.
Penn State hosted a handful of camps last season and spent time on other campuses in order to evaulate prospects in person. Those evaluation sessions pay dividends, Franklin said.
“If you look at most of our class a bunch of the guys came to camp and worked out,” Franklin said. “So they could improve and get better with their fundamentals and their skills and have great high school careers. But also there's an opportunity to evaluate those guys as well and see how coachable they are.”
Gattis said coaches may be able to judge potential a bit better. Take a quarterback for instance — if he can throw free of in-game stress inside the team’s Holuba Hall, it provides coaches a clearer picture of his potential skillset.
“It also allows that student athlete to see how we coach,” Gattis said. “It gives them a better understanding of who we are as coaches and whenever you’re able to get a kid on campus, especially at Penn State, you’re able to show them what you can provide them, not only athletically but academically.”
Penn State will host seven camps this summer.
Only drama on signing day? A wrong number
Within a few hours, all of Penn State’s 2015 recruits had signed and sent their National Letters of Intent to the coaching staff.
While the day began with a celebration in the team’s “War Room” inside the Lasch Building, it went off without any hitches despite a few jitters as coaches waited for the last letter to come in. Four recruits were in by 8 a.m. and five more came in before nine. The next 12 were in before 11 and Penn State coaches anxiously awaited the final member of the 2015 class.
The official timeline has Altoona defensive end Kevin Givens as the final signee — at 11:19 a.m. A coach called each recruit and Skyped or FaceTimed as they sent their letters. At one point, Franklin tried to FaceTime Shareef Miller and misdialed. Instead he wound up chatting briefly with a Penn State fan.
ESPN.com had a reporter in the room after other reporters had been asked to leave. ESPN later tracked down the man on the other end of the line.
“It was Coach Franklin,” Aleem Medley told ESPN.com. “They had all the balloons in the background. I’m like, ‘Coach?’ I was doing most of the talking. We just had a good laugh. (The call) was only about 58 seconds or so. I was just so stoked.”