After finishing 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten) and aiding in the restoration of Penn State’s football program back to postseason eligibility, James Franklin has capitalized on an extremely successful recruiting class – his first with a full year to work.
Franklin concluded National Signing Day with the nation’s No. 14 class (No. 2 in the Big Ten behind Ohio State), which is ten spots better than what the Nittany Lions ended with the previous year, featuring a remarkable thirteen players with a four-star rating.
It seems as if Penn State is on the upswing and could be back to becoming a national contender as soon as this upcoming season – especially if Christian Hackenberg can become the elite quarterback he was projected to be by the “experts” – and a lot of it has to do with Franklin getting the right players into his system.
But while some coaches use (and even rely on) the ratings from top recruiting outlets such as 247Sports, Scout.com, Rivals, and ESPN Recruiting Nation, Franklin doesn’t trust them – he’d much rather do all evaluation on his own terms with a major focus on surrounding talent.
“We had a number of guys that came to camp, and we know exactly how fast they are, we know how they compete, we know exactly how big they are. That’s important, because a lot of the stuff you see out there is not accurate,” Franklin said during his signing day press conference. “Everybody is pretty much an inch shorter than what they say, including you guys. If I asked you how tall you are you’re probably going to be an inch shorter. The weights are not usually right.
“Nobody is as fast as they say they are,” he added. “You go on Rivals or 247 right now, there’s about 60 kids that run 4.3. You go to the NFL combine, there’s six. I don’t know where they all went.”
Franklin is actively involved in offseason camps, whether it be his own or locals from the state of Pennsylvania or all the way down to satellite camps like little ol’ Stetson University in Georgia. The latter pushed some envelopes, but sometimes that’s what it takes to be successful.
“I think the fact that you can get the kids here on campus and work them out in camp and see how they compete and see how coachable they are and things like that, that’s valuable information,” said Franklin. “I would rather take a guy that I know is 4.5 on our clock, which is fast, than a kid who says he’s 4.3 from another part of the country. I think knowing is really, really important. That helps you in terms of eliminating mistakes.
“I think that’s probably a thing that’s not talked enough about, is getting what people would call the high-end prospects, but also not making mistakes, and we have a system of checks and balances in everything we do, and I believe in that.”
Everyone from the offensive and defensive coordinators to the graduate assistants are involved in the process. That’s just how Penn State rolls, and it’s how Franklin makes sure he’s getting the right guys.
“You never have a guy who the O-line coach is recruiting, and he’s in his area, so he’s the only person that’s evaluated him,” Franklin said. “We need to make sure there’s a number of guys that evaluate him and that’s everything in our program. That’s everything. That’s academics, that’s offense, defense, special teams, that’s recruiting. We have a system of checks and balances to support one another. It’s not that we don’t trust each other, it’s just you’re going to make less mistakes when you have a number of opinions on a guy.”
Of Penn State’s 25 signees for the 2015 class, 12 are in-state products. Seven of those Pennsylvania natives are four-star prospects, which is not only a testament to Franklin’s ability to bring in talent inside state walls, but it shows that he and the Nittany Lions are committed to making home-grown recruits into something great.
Even in a division with Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan, you can expect to see Penn State in contention for the Big Ten title here in the next few years.