As the Centre Daily Times staff was en route to Jacksonville for Penn State’s bowl week, the Nittany Lions were at practice and a few were made available to speak to media.
One such player was junior defensive tackle Austin Johnson, who head coach James Franklin announced was seeking advice from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and who could very well be Penn State’s best prospect at the next level.
Johnson told the scrum of reporters, via Audrey Snyder, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Ben Jones, of StateCollege.com, that when asked about his future plans, Johnson grinned and said “as of right now, I’m staying.”
He told the reporters that he had discussed his options with his mother, with head coach James Franklin and with defensive line coach Sean Spencer, after receiving an undisclosed grade from the board.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop also assured media that he wasn’t going anywhere, despite some speculation he might bolt for a head coaching position in the near future.
It's just a matter of time before we get this thing rolling.
Bob Shoop, on Penn State’s defense
“I put it out on Twitter last night that I saw that the play-by-play announcer for the Pirates left, and that was my dream job,” he said, via audio courtesy of StateCollege.com. “But other than that, this isn’t really the time to talk about that. ‘No’ is the answer to that question (regarding if he interviewed for the position in the first place), that’s the simple answer to that question and today is really about our team and looking forward to going out there on Saturday.
“I hope that Penn State will have me forever and ever and ever. I love being part of coach Franklin’s program, I love what we’re building here and I’ve said this millions of times, I think we’re an (ESPN) 30 for 30 story ready to rock and roll. It’s just a matter of time before we get this thing rolling. We’re playing in the best division in the best conference in college football and that’s really exciting to me.”
Shoop also said that he does ultimately have head-coaching aspirations, but the extraneous factors haven’t quite aligned for him yet in terms of looking elsewhere.
“I’m as competitive as anybody, anybody who knows me knows that,” he said. “And I was a head coach (he went 7-23 in three years at the helm of Columbia) and did not have a successful conclusion to my head coaching experience. But if the right opportunity presented itself for me and my family and the people who are important to me and we sat down and talked about it, sure that would be something that I would be interested in.”
And besides the familial and personal reasoning, he alluded that things are starting to really click between him and the rest of the defensive staff.
“All of the defensive coaches, we have the best staff in college football, I always say that,” he said. “Brent (Pry), Sean (Spencer) and I have been together now ... this is our fifth year and we’ll be going on our sixth year, and we really can almost finish each others’ sentences.
“Meetings the first year that took hours and hours and hours now take minutes. You know, Brent and Sean are both tremendous sounding boards. My style of management, I’m not a micro-manager, I let those guys be the head coach of their position and they do an outstanding job and they’re great recruiters and we have a great friendship.”
Getting their grub on
The team is staying at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort outside of Jacksonville, a sprawling and opulent property near the water, and the TaxSlayer Bowl and participating hotel representatives pulled out all the stops for the team’s welcome banquet on Tuesday night.
As players filed into an indoor-outdoor ballroom surrounded by massive tables stuffed with every kind of steak and seafood imaginable, their eyes widened when they saw the “county low boil,” a pot of seasoned corn and assorted seafood and sausage that was about four feet in diameter, and plates piled high with crab legs, oysters and New York-style strip steaks.
Before the meal could begin, however, TaxSlayer Bowl president Rick Catlett warmly thanked the team for its attendance, players and coaches joined hands and strength coach Dwight Galt blessed the meal at Franklin’s request.
Then, the players were released to the heavily laden tables, but in drives — fresh graduates went first, then those with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher, and on down the line ... and finally, last of all, the freshmen were sent to the buffet.
The Nittany Lions have a closed practice on Wednesday morning, and then will head to the Mayport Naval Station for a tour and an option to watch a basketball doubleheader.