2019 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: PENN STATE FOOTBALL CAPSULE
HEAD COACH: Name: James Franklin
Hometown: Langhorne, Pa.
High School: Neshaminy High School
Bachelor’s Degree: East Stroudsburg, psychology,
School Record (years): 45-21 (5)
Big Ten Record (years): 26-13 (5)
Career Record (years): 69-36 (8)
In his seven years as a head coach, Franklin has guided each of his teams to the postseason, including a victory in the 2017 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. In 2014, Franklin led Penn State to an overtime victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, claiming a 31-30 victory inside Yankee Stadium, he guided the Blue & White to the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl and arrived at the 2017 Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champion. The Nittany Lions concluded the 2018 season at the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Additionally, Franklin led Vanderbilt to three bowl appearances, including consecutive bowl wins for the first time in program history, winning the Music City Bowl over NC State and the BBVA Compass Bowl vs. Houston. The Commodores had played in four bowl games all-time in the 121 seasons prior to his arrival; none in consecutive years. Franklin has been instrumental in bringing success to every stop in his coaching career. His tenure as head coach at Vanderbilt was historic, as he led the Commodores to consecutive Top 25 finishes, a pair of nine-win seasons and two bowl victories, all for the first time in school history. During the 2013 season, Vanderbilt defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all in the same season for the first time in program history. At Maryland, he helped the Terrapins improve from 5-6 the year before he arrived to a 10-plus win team in his second, third and fourth years on the coaching staff.
Brent Pry (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)
Ricky Rahne (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
Joe Lorig (Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Assistant)
Tim Banks (Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties)
Tyler Bowen (Offensive Recruiting Coordinator/Tight Ends)
Gerad Parker (Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers)
Matt Limegrover (Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line)
Ja’Juan Seider (Running Backs)
Terry M. Smith (Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Recruiting Coordinator/Cornerbacks)
Sean Spencer (Associate Head Coach/ Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line)
First Year of Football: 1887
All-Time Record (Years): 887-391-42 (132)
All-Time Big Ten Record (Years): 132-78 (26)
Big Ten Championships (Last): 4 (2016)
All-Time Bowl Record: 29-18-2
National Championships: 2
Consensus All-America Selections: 42
First-Team All-Big Ten Selections: 88
Name: Beaver Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Largest Crowd/Opponent/Year: 110,889 vs. Ohio State, 2018
Team Record at Home Stadium: 292-72-0
2019 ROSTER BREAKDOWN
Letterwinners Returning: 40
Special Teams: 3
Offensive Starters Returning (5)
OL Steven Gonzalez
OL Michal Menet
OL Will Fries
TE/H Pat Freiermuth
WR KJ Hamler
Defensive Starters Returning (6)
DT Robert Windsor
DL Yetur Gross-Matos
LB Cam Brown
LB Jan Johnson
S Garrett Taylor
CB John Reid
Starting Kickers Returning (3*)
P Blake Gillikin
K Rafael Checa
K Jake Pinegar
Letterwinners Lost: 28
Special Teams: 1
Offensive Starters Lost (6)
OL Ryan Bates
OL Connor McGovern
QB Trace McSorley
RB Miles Sanders
WR Juwan Johnson
WR Brandon Polk
Defensive Starters Lost (5)
DE Shareef Miller
DT Kevin Givens
LB Koa Farmer
CB Amani Oruwariye
S Nick Scott
Starting Kickers Lost (0)
*Includes split-time starters
9-4, 6-3 Big Ten
DATE SCORE OPPONENT
9/1 W, 45-38 Appalachian State
9/8 W, 51-6 at Pittsburgh
9/15 W, 63-10 Kent State
9/21 W, 63-24 at Illinois
9/29 L, 26-27 Ohio State
10/13 L, 17-21 Michigan State
10/20 W, 33-28 at Indiana
10/27 W, 30-24 Iowa
11/3 L, 7-42 at Michigan
11/10 W, 22-10 Wisconsin
11/17 W, 20-7 at Rutgers
11/24 W, 38-3 Maryland
VRBO Citrus Bowl
1/1 L, 24-27 vs. Kentucky
9/27 at Maryland
10/12 at Iowa
10/26 at Michigan State
11/9 at Minnesota
11/23 at Ohio State
2018 TEAM STATS
TO MARGIN: -1
FIELD POSITION: OFFENSE 31.4/28…. DEFENSE 20.0/32
EFFICIENCY: OFFENSE 43.1%/56… DEFENSE 37.5%/23
EXPLOSIVENESS: OFFENSE 6.1/38…. DEFENSE 4.7/15
FINISHING DRIVES: OFFENSE 4.7/63….DEFENSE 4.1/33
ADJUSTED TO MARGIN: OFFENSE 4.0/39… DEFENSE -1/72
2018 INDIVIDUAL LEADERS:
PASSING: Trace McSorley, 192 – 361 – 2,530 – 18TD – 7INT
RUSHING: Miles Sanders, 220 – 1,274 – 5.8 – 9TD
RECEIVING: KJ Hamler, 42 – 754 – 18.0 – 5TD
TACKLES: Micah Parsons, 83
SACKS: Yetur Gross-Matos, 8.0
INTERCEPTIONS: three players tied with 3
BY THE NUMBERS
384 Yards passing by Trace McSorley vs. Wisconsin in 2016 (Big Ten Championship Game record)
155 Receiving yards for Saeed Blacknall vs. Wisconsin in 2016 (Big Ten Championship Game record)
70 Yards on a touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Saeed Blacknall on the first play of the second half 21 Straight points for Penn State erased an early Wisconsin lead
13 Tackles by Brandon Bell vs. Wisconsin in 2016 (Big Ten Championship Game record)
8 Catches for DaeSean Hamilton vs. Wisconsin in 2016 (2nd in Big Ten Championship Game history)
1:01 Time on the clock when Grant Haley stopped Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 to seal the victory
4 Big Ten Championships (1994, 2005, 2008, 2016)
1923 First bowl appearance in the first official Rose Bowl Game
.612 Winning percentage in 49 bowl appearances (6th in NCAA history)
92 Fiesta Bowl record for longest run from scrimmage by Saquon Barkley in 2017
49 Bowl appearances in school history (T-9th in NCAA history)
29 Penn State victories in bowl games (T-4th in NCAA history)
18 Fiesta Bowl record for tackles set by Matt Millen in 1977
6 One of six teams to finish in the Top 15 of the College Football Playoff Rankings in each of the last three seasons
5 Tackles for loss by NaVorro Bowman in 2009 Rose Bowl (Rose Bowl Game record)
4 Consecutive plays scoring a touchdown in the 2017 Rose Bowl, marking only second time from 2007-16 an FBS team has scored on four-straight plays
2 National Championships
299/301 Penn State has had 299 of its last 301 games overall televised, including 186 consecutive games.
- The following Penn Staters were honored by Athlon: • DE Yetur Gross-Matos (All-America 2nd team; All-Big Ten 1st team) • TE Pat Freiermuth (All-Big Ten 1st team) • DT Robert Windsor (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • LB Micah Parsons (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • WR/KR KJ Hamler (All-Big Ten 2nd team as KR; All-Big Ten 3rd team as WR) • C Michal Menet (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • OL Steven Gonzalez (All-Big Ten 3rd Team) • CB John Reid (All-Big Ten 3rd Team) • The following Nittany Lions were selected by Lindy’s: • LB Micah Parsons (All-America 1st team; All-Big Ten 1st team) • DE Yetur Gross-Matos (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • CB John Reid (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • OL Will Fries (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • AP KJ Hamler (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • The following Lions were named by Phil Steele: • LB Micah Parsons (All-America 4th team; All-Big Ten 1st team) • DE Yetur Gross-Matos (All-America 4th team; All-Big Ten 1st team) • TE Pat Freiermuth (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • OL Steven Gonzalez (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • DT Robert Windsor (All-Big Ten 2nd team) • RB Ricky Slade (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • WR KJ Hamler (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • LB Cam Brown (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • CB John Reid (All-Big Ten 3rd team) • C Michal Menet (All-Big Ten 4th team)
2019 PLAYERS TO WATCH
6 CAM BROWN Sr. — Linebacker Made 13 appearances, including 12 starts, in 2018…Led the team with three forced fumbles…Finished fifth on the team with a career-high 63 tackles…Was fifth on the team with a personal best six pass breakups…Had a team-high seven tackles, including a career-high two tackles for loss against Kent State… Collected eight tackles at Indiana…Selected to the BTN.com and ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2016…Made 10 tackles as a true freshman at Michigan in 2016
99 YETUR GROSS-MATOS Jr. — Defensive End Became the 11th Nittany Lion to record 20 tackles for loss in a season (12th time)…Is tied for No. 8 on Penn State’s season tackles for loss list…Voted first-team All-Big Ten by the media… Selected third-team All-Big Ten by the coaches…Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following the Iowa (10/27) game… Ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 12 in the nation with 1.5 tackles for loss per game…Finished No. 8 in the Big Ten and No. 47 in FBS with 0.62 sacks per game’
36 JAN JOHNSON Sr. — Linebacker Made 13 starts…Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week (11/6) following the Michigan game…Earned a scholarship on October 18, 2018…Led the Nittany Lions with a career-high 11 tackles against Appalachian State in 2018…Two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection…Graduated with degree in psychology in August 2018 and a master’s in management and organizational leadership in May 2019
29 JOHN REID Sr. — Cornerback Made 11 starts…Earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten laurels from the league’s coaches and media in 2018…Was a nominee for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year…Finished second on the team with eight pass breakups…Was third on the team with two interceptions…Led the team in pro agility (3.98) and paced the cornerbacks in vertical jump (35.5″) in 2019 winter conditioning…Interned at Blizzard Entertainment in California (summer 2019) and Intel in Oregon (summer 2017)
17 GARRETT TAYLOR Sr. — Safety Appeared in 13 games, making 12 starts…Named honorable-mention All-Big Ten by the league’s coaches and media in 2018…Ranked No. 8 in the Big Ten with three interceptions in 2018…Registered a career-high 10 tackles, including six solo, against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl…Three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree…Is a two-time Dean’s List recipient…Graduated in December 2018 with a degree in telecommunications with a Smeal Business Certificate.
54 ROBERT WINDSOR Sr. — Defensive Tackle Made 12 starts…Named second-team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press in 2018…Selected honorable-mention All-Big Ten by the league’s coaches and media…Finished No. 6 in the Big Ten and No. 42 in the FBS with 0.63 sacks per game…Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following the Wisconsin (11/10) game…Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week after the Wisconsin and Rutgers games…Graduated in December 2018 with a degree in telecommunications.
87 PAT FREIERMUTH So. — Tight End/H-Back Appeared in 13 games, making nine starts…Selected Freshman All-America by The Athletic, 247Sports and ESPN…Named honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media…Had 14 catches of 15 or more yards…Registered a first down on 62 percent (16-26) of receptions…Ranked second among all FBS tight ends and led Big Ten tight ends with eight touchdown receptions…Was fifth in the Big Ten and 50th in the nation in overall receiving touchdowns…Ranks No. 2 among tight ends and tied for No. 10 overall in season receiving touchdowns.
71 WILL FRIES Jr. — Offensive Lineman Appeared in 13 games…Made 11 starts with seven at right tackle and four at left tackle…Helped the Nittany Lion offense finish No. 16 in FBS in red zone offense (.897), No. 18 in passing yards per completion (13.83), No. 29 in FBS in rushing yards per game (204.9) and No. 32 in scoring offense (33.8)…Named honorable-mention All-Freshman Team by BTN.com in 2017… Earned a spot on the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week following his performance vs. Nebraska (11/18/17).
74 STEVEN GONZALEZ Sr. — Offensive Lineman Made 13 starts at left guard…Has 29 career starts, which is the most among returning Nittany Lions…Named honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media in 2018…Helped the Nittany Lion offense finish No. 16 in FBS in red zone offense (.897), No. 18 in passing yards per completion (13.83), No. 29 in FBS in rushing yards per game (204.9) and No. 32 in scoring offense (33.8)…Garnered first-team All-Big Ten from Pro Football Focus in 2017…Graduated with a degree in history in December 2018.
1 KJ HAMLER So. — Wide Receiver Made 13 starts…Broke the Penn State freshman record for all-purpose yards with 1,417 yards…Named Freshman All-America by the FWAA as a kick returner in 2018…Selected Freshman All-America by The Athletic as a returner/all-purpose player…Was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection as a receiver and kick returner by the coaches and media…Selected as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award for major college football’s Most Versatile Player…Registered a first down on 71 percent (30-42) of receptions
93 BLAKE GILLIKIN Sr. — Punter Owned the top punt average (44.0) in the Big Ten and ranked No. 22 in the country in 2018…Set a program record with a 44.0 punting average in 2018…Ranks No. 1 on Penn State’s career punting average charts (43.3 ypp)…Has 37 career punts downed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line…Is the only player in program history with six punts of 65 or more yards…Is the only player in Penn State history with three punt of 70 or more yards in a season or career… Named to the 2018 CoSIDA Academic All-America first team.
92 JAKE PINEGAR So. — Kicker Made 13 starts as placekicker…Led the Big Ten in total points (101) in 2018…Ranked No. 2 in the conference in scoring average (7.8)…Is No. 15 on PSU’s career extra points made list with 53… Ranks No. 9 in extra point percentage (.963)…Is the first Nittany Lion freshman and 13th player overall (15th occasion) to score 100 points in a season…Broke the Penn State freshman scoring record with 101 points…Sits No. 6 at PSU in extra points made in a season with 53…Ranks No. 14 in a season with 101 points
2019 RECRUITING CLASS
- WR TJ JONES, 3 STARS
School (Hometown): Columbia (Lake City, Fla.)
Synopsis: Jones is yet another Sunshine State commit for Penn State assistant Ja’Juan Seider. The Palm Beach County native and former Florida coach nabbed both Jones and Chaminade-Madonna Prep wideout John Dunmore in the 2019 class.
Jones is rated below Dunmore; the former is the No. 74 wideout in the country, while the latter is a four-star, top-120 overall prospect. However, Jones was a prolific pass-catcher at Columbia. He had 84 catches, 1,711 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns over the course of three seasons.
Jones fielded offers from 38 schools, including Florida, Maryland, Miami, Mississippi State, Oregon and Pitt. But his decision came down to Penn State, Indiana and Texas A&M.
By choosing the Nittany Lions, Jones joins a young nucleus of wide receivers. Redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler, redshirt freshman Justin Shorter and sophomore Jahan Dotson will lead the way in 2019, with support from Daniel George, Cam Sullivan-Brown, Mac Hippenhammer, Dunmore and now Jones.
- DT JOSEPH APPIAH DARKWA, 3 STARS
Team (Hometown): Dusseldorf Panthers U-19 (Germany)
Synopsis: Darkwa was a late-bloomer in every sense of the term. The defensive tackle was lightly recruited prior to December’s early signing period, earned offers from UCLA, Cincinnati and Indiana that month and caught the eye of Penn State and Colorado in early January.
Darkwa — the No. 1 player in Germany and the No. 69 DT in the 2019 class — was expected to pick Sean Spencer and Penn State. Six of six experts on 247 Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions had the prospect landing in Happy Valley, and Darkwa “really felt the love” after visiting State College two weekends ago, according to his Twitter.
Speaking of Spencer, Darkwa is definitely a long-term project for the assistant coach. Even with Kevin Givens leaving for the NFL early, Robert Windsor, Antonio Shelton, PJ Mustipher, Fred Hansard and Damion Barber should be enough depth to hold the Nittany Lions over in 2019.
If not, 2019 signee D’Von Ellies is a more polished product than Darkwa. But there’s promise surrounding the Dusseldorf star.
“What makes this kid special is he is 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, but he moves like he is so much smaller,” Brandon Collier of PPI Recruits, who worked with Darkwa, told 247 Sports. “His body types are in the NFL. He is a kid that has everything you are looking for in a 3 technique.”
- DE SMITH VILBERT, 3 STARS
School (hometown): St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.)
Synopsis: Penn State fans might especially appreciate his player comparison from 247 Sports.
National recruiting analyst Brian Dohn wrote that Vilbert compares favorably to the Atlanta Falcons’ Jack Crawford, a Penn State alum who picked up 40 tackles and 7 TFLs in his senior season in 2011. Said Dohn, regarding Vilbert’s college outlook: “Two- to three- year starter at strong Power 5 program and mid-level NFL draft pick.”
Vilbert focused on basketball most of his high school career, and he really didn’t see the recruiting spotlight until his senior season. But, as a senior, he was impossible to ignore.
In 12 games, he racked up 45 tackles and 17 tackles for loss, to go along with nine sacks, three fumble recoveries and 11 hurries. Although he didn’t receive a high star rating, college programs didn’t seem to mind. He earned nearly 20 offers in all, from the likes of Florida, Oregon, Baylor and Florida State.
- CB DAEQUAN HARDY, 3 STARS
School (hometown): Penn Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Synopsis: Hardy’s leap to Penn State was as swift as possible. The nation’s No. 32 cornerback, according to 247 Sports, picked up an offer from the Nittany Lions on Tuesday afternoon and announced his commitment later that night.
Now, the Nittany Lions didn’t just start recruiting Pennsylvania’s Class 5A Player of the Year this week. Hardy unofficially visited Penn State on April 14 and was back in Happy Valley for an official visit on Jan. 25.
Hardy wasn’t heavily recruited by Power 5 program in large part because of his size, but he boasts an impressive resume. A star wideout at Penn Hills, as well, Hardy scored 25 touchdowns in five different ways in 2018, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He had 10 scoring plays of 50 yards or more, caught 37 passes, rushed for 373 yards and nabbed 10 interceptions as a senior.
Hardy received offers from 10 programs, including Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska. However, the Wolverines and Spartans weren’t recruiting the corner “for a while,” according to the Post-Gazette.
Hardy visited Buffalo on Jan. 11 and Toledo a week later. “I believe I’m a Power 5 conference player,” Hardy told the Post-Gazette in December.
- DT D’VON ELLIES, 4 STARS
School (hometown): McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.)
Synopsis: OK, technically, Ellies belongs in the early signing period group. But he was a special case here.
Ellies apparently signed with the Nittany Lions in December, but he kept his commitment quiet until announcing at the Polynesian Bowl in January.
At any rate, he’s a big get for the Nittany Lions. Literally. The 280-pound prospect fills a position of need in defensive tackle, and 247 Sports ranks him at No. 9 nationally at his position. National 247 writer Charles Power even compared him to Atlanta Falcons DL Grady Jarrett, saying Ellies “projects as a multi-year Power 5 starter with the potential of developing into a mid-round NFL Draft pick.”
As a junior, Ellies competed alongside current Nittany Lion PJ Mustipher. As a senior this past season, Ellies finished with 72 stops, 17 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He ran a laser-timed 5.12-second 40-yard dash.
EARLY SIGNING PERIOD SIGNEES
- TE BRENTON STRANGE, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Parkersburg High (Parkersburg, W.Va.)
Synopsis: Perhaps Strange’s commitment to the Nittany Lions went overlooked. The No. 14 tight end in the country picked Penn State over Ohio State two days after James Franklin’s team lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Buckeyes.
But if Penn State fans missed his verbal commitment on Oct. 1, they should get to know the name.
Strange — the No. 3 prospect from West Virginia — is the third four-star tight end the Nittany Lions have nabbed in the last two cycles. Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz picked Penn State in 2018. Freiermuth broke out with seven touchdowns as a starter, while Kuntz redshirted.
Nick Bowers, Danny Dalton and Jon Holland also have eligibility remaining, so Strange might not play in 2019. But should Freiermuth continue his upward trend and possibly leave after 2020 for the NFL, Strange is a good option to have.
In four years at Parkersburg, Strange caught 186 passes for 2,660 yards and 23 touchdowns. In addition to Ohio State, he also held offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Maryland and Cincinnati.
- WR JOHN DUNMORE, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood, Fla.)
Synopsis: Dunmore, the No. 17 prospect in Florida, verbally committed to the Nittany Lions on July 4 — but his recruitment was far from over.
The No. 21 wide receiver in the 2019 class unofficially visited Miami on Sept. 28, Nov. 3, Nov. 21 and Nov. 24. He took an official visit on Dec. 13 and hosted the Hurricanes’ staff for an in-home two days prior.
But James Franklin and Florida recruiting savant JaJuan Seider held off Mark Richt and company.
Dunmore racked up 730 yards and six touchdowns as a senior and gained a reputation for pulling off acrobatic scores. With DeAndre Thompkins and possibly Juwan Johnson moving on, Dunmore could compete for time right away.
In addition to heavy interest from Miami, Dunmore held offers from Auburn, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
- S JAQUAN BRISKER, 3 STARS (JUCO)
School (hometown): Lackawanna C.C. (Scranton, Pa.)
Synopsis: Don’t let the star rating or the junior-college status fool you. Brisker has all the tools, and he has the potential to battle for a starting spot next season.
He had 10 offers — from the likes of Alabama annd Mississippi State — and he also boasts the ability to play as a hybrid linebacker. In fact, for his junior college this season, he finished with 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks while playing that hybrid role.
Assistant coach Terry Smith also knows him well. He used to be the waterboy for Smith’s high school team, Gateway, nearly a decade ago.
He won’t be able to join the program until the summer. But the native of Monroeville, Pa., still has “hidden gem” written all over.
- QB TAQUAN ROBERSON, 4 STARS
School (hometown): DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.)
Synopsis: In a way, Roberson has been a Nittany Lion longer than Micah Parsons. Roberson was the second member of James Franklin’s 2019 class, verbally committing on Oct. 25, 2017, a month after Keaton Ellis pledged.
Roberson’s stock has skyrocketed since his commitment, moving from a three-star QB to a four-star recruit. His play supported that jump, too. The No. 9 dual-threat quarterback in the country put up 4,898 passing yards, 887 rushing yards and 67 total touchdowns the past two seasons.
Roberson earned an Ohio State offer after committing to Penn State, but never visited Columbus. He also held offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Boston College and Virginia Tech.
- RB NOAH CAIN, 4 STARS
School (hometown): IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Synopsis: Penn State’s run on running backs continues.
After signing four-star Devyn Ford earlier in the morning, Cain picked the Nittany Lions over Texas, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State and just about every other national title contender.
Cain — the No. 7 running back in the country and No. 104 overall prospect — had 27 offers in all, making him one of the most sought-after rushers in the 2019 class.
Gabe Brooks of 247 Sports compared Cain to two-time Pro Bowl back Alfred Morris. “Broad-shouldered, stout running back with high-volume ability,” Brooks wrote. “Prototypical body and overall build for an every-down back who can carry the ball 20-plus times a game if needed. … Willing to finish runs with authority.”
- OT ANTHONY WHIGAN, 4 STARS (JUCO)
School (hometown): Lackawanna C.C. (Great Mills, Md.)
Synopsis: A graduate of Great Mills High School in Maryland, Whigan impressed at Lackawanna in Scranton.
In 2018, the Falcons averaged 203.9 rushing yards per game. Whigan — the No. 10 overall JUCO prospect and No. 3 offensive tackle — had offers from 15 schools, including South Carolina, Nebraska, Maryland, Arkansas and Louisville.
He was teammates at Lackawanna with safety Jaquan Brisker.
- LB LANCE DIXON, 4 STARS
School (hometown): West Bloomfield (West Bloomfield, Mich.)
Synopsis: Dixon is made somewhat in the Koa Farmer mold, as he played safety in high school before moving to linebacker.
He can reportedly run a sub-4.5, and he can play just about anywhere. In October, against an undefeated opponent, he took over for his team’s injured running back and frustrated Oak Park with a series of speedy jet sweeps. He also blocked a punt. And, yes, sacked the opposing quarterback — who’s headed to Ohio State. (Dixon’s team earned the 27-21 upset.)
Both Michigan and Michigan State also offered him a scholarship, but he couldn’t turn down the allure of playing for Linebacker U.
He may not start from Day 1, but his potential led to more than two dozen scholarship offers. His pass-coverage skills border on elite for a linebacker and, with the right development, he could be a critical cog to this defense.
- S TYLER RUDOLPH, 4 STARS
School (hometown): St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.)
Synopsis: Looking for a versatile player with great change-of-direction? Look no further than Rudolph.
Part of the reason Penn State liked Rudolph so much was the fact he can play corner, either safety position and in nickel or dime packages. “To me,” Rudolph told a local media outlet, “it doesn’t matter where I play.”
He ran a laser-timed 4.62-second 40 at a Nike camp, but he’s also reportedly run as fast as a 4.4. His official shuttle time, which helps measure change of direction, came in at 4.18 — a time that would already put him in the middle of the defensive backs’ times in the most recent NFL Combine.
Rudolph is ranked No. 22 nationally at his position and boasted more than 20 offers from the likes of Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
- LB BRANDON SMITH, 5 STARS
School (hometown): Louisa County (Mineral, Va.)
Synopsis: Say hello to the headliner of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class.
Smith, the No. 25 overall prospect in the nation, is the Nittany Lions’ highest-rated prospect and their first true five-star linebacker since 2004’s Dan Connor. (Micah Parsons was technically listed as a five-star defensive end.)
Smith runs a laser-timed 4.59-second 40-yard dash, and he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside. Barton Simmons, 247 Sports’ Director of Scouting, believes he already has the tools “to become a first round NFL Draft pick.”
Smith boasted nearly 30 offers from a who’s-who of teams such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. He could compete for immediate playing time in 2019.
- OG CAEDAN WALLACE, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Hun School (Princeton, N.J.)
Synopsis: James Franklin has long said that offensive line is the hardest place for a true freshman to contribute. But Wallace might be the exception to the rule.
Wallace is the No. 71 prospect in the country, giving the Nittany Lions one top-100 linemen in each of the last four recruiting classes (Rasheed Walker, 2018; C.J. Thorpe, 2017; Michal Menet, 2016).
Wallace — the No. 2 guard in the 2019 class — earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game in January. Brian Dohn of 247 Sports compared him to former Outland Trophy winner and top-five pick Brandon Scherff.
Wallace had offers from 30 schools, including Oklahoma, Clemson, Florida and Michigan.
- DE ADISA ISAAC, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Canarsie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Synopsis: Isaac, who committed only Monday, once thought his future path to college was wrestling.
After his explosive sophomore season, he realized it was football as an edge rusher. Rutgers was the first to offer him — and that was before, by Isaac’s own admission, he took the sport seriously. Once he did, just about every major college program came calling.
He’s widely regarded as a top-five prospect at his position, and he has more than 30 scholarship offers. His final four came down to Syracuse, Miami (Fla.), Texas A&M and Penn State. And fans can likely thank DL coach Sean Spencer quite a bit for the defensive windfall.
“My position coach at Penn State has coached my high school coach,” Isaac told Rivals, “so I trust them.”
- CB MARQUIS WILSON, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Avon Old Farms (Avon, Conn.)
Synopsis: After seeing what the atmosphere was like to the annual Blue-White Game, Wilson didn’t need to wait much longer to commit. He verbaled a month later.
He’s an athletic player, one who played both ways in high school and ran the shuttle in 4.09 — a time that would’ve been among the top-10 fastest in the most recent NFL Combine.
Wilson had more than two dozen scholarship offers from schools such as Alabama and Ohio State, and he was rated as the nation’s No. 37 CB prospect — just three spots behind future teammate Joey Porter Jr.
He’s the second commit from Connecticut in the class.
- QB MICHAEL JOHNSON JR., 4 STARS
School (hometown): Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.)
Synopsis: The son of Oregon’s wide receivers coach rejected the Ducks’ interest. Instead, Johnson will play his college ball 2,300 miles from Eugene.
The No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country, Johnson is an explosive signal-caller who boasts a 4.58-second 40-yard dash.
The No. 271 prospect in the country accounted for 99 touchdowns as a three-year starter, throwing for 5,287 yards and rushing for 2,393. As a senior, Johnson threw for 1,821 yards with 19 touchdowns and just three INTs, while running for 1,290 yards and 18 scores.
Johnson enters an interesting quarterback room. Trace McSorley is moving on, and Tommy Stevens is gone after 2019. Johnson will likely compete for the 2020 starting job with Sean Clifford, Will Levis and fellow 2019 commit Taquan Roberson.
Johnson had offers from 29 schools, including Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.
- OG SALEEM WORMLEY, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Smyrna High (Smyrna, Del.)
Synopsis: The last time Penn State went down and snagged Delaware’s No. 1 prospect was in 2014, when the Nittany Lions signed Middletown star Chris Godwin. That worked out well — and James Franklin is hoping for a similar success story in Wormley.
The No. 16 guard in the country anchored Smyrna’s offense in 2018, paving the way for 1,536 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns and 6 yards per carry.
Wormley had offers from 17 schools, including Notre Dame, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
- DT HAKEEM BEAMON, 4 STARS
School (hometown): Manchester (Midlothian, Va.)
Synopsis: A former North Carolina commit, Beamon re-opened his recruitment right around the time bigger programs like Alabama and Ohio State showed significant interest.
He’s not exactly a polished recruit but, with a 4.9-second 40 at 259 pounds, there’s plenty to work with. He was originally looked upon as a defensive end but, at his size, the Nittany Lions announced Wednesday that he would focus on defensive tackle.
He was nearly unstoppable in his Virginia league this past season. Despite regularly seeing double teams, Beamon finished his senior year with 45 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and five pass deflections.
He had double-digit offers from the likes of Arkansas, Bama, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
- CB JOEY PORTER JR., 4 STARS
School (hometown): North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.)
Synopsis: Yes, he’s the son of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star — but Pitt was never really in the picture. Penn State always was.
“They were always in my top two, from the very beginning,” Porter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, referring to PSU. “Before they even offered, I always loved Penn State. I’ve been going up there since I was a freshman. I fell in love with that school at a young age. When they offered me, it was a game-changer.”
Porter’s No. 2 school? LSU. Pitt did make the top five, however.
Regardless, he obviously knows football. (He told The Athletic he feels like a coach on the field.) He was productive his senior season — 378 all-purpose yards, three interceptions — and he’s ranked as the nation’s No. 34 cornerback.
- RB DEVYN FORD, 4 STARS
School (hometown): North Stafford (Stafford, Va.)
Synopsis: For the fourth time in five years, Penn State nabbed a top-tier running back. In 2015, it was Saquon Barkley. In 2016, it was Miles Sanders, and last year, it was Ricky Slade.
Now, it’s Ford joining what has become a run of talented Nittany Lion rushers.
The No. 80 prospect in the country, Ford is the No. 5 running back in the 2019 class and No. 2 player in Virginia, behind Penn State linebacker commit Brandon Smith. Brian Dohn of 247 Sports compared Ford to Houston Texans bell-cow Lamar Miller.
As a senior, Ford eclipsed 2,000 yards, rushed for 32 touchdowns and averaged 8.36 yards per tote.
He held offers from 30 schools, including Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Notre Dame.
- CB KEATON ELLIS, 4 STARS
School (hometown): State College Area (State College, Pa.)
Synopsis: The hometown kid is moving 2.4 miles down the road, from State College’s Memorial Field to University Park’s Beaver Stadium.
He’s the first Little Lion to become a Nittany Lion since Alex Kenney in 2010. But Ellis wasn’t just handed this opportunity — he earned it.
His hand-timed 4.39-second 40 caught Penn State’s eye, and his athleticism was difficult to ignore. As a high school senior, he recorded four interceptions and nine pass deflections to go along with 51 tackles. He played both ways and also registered 888 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns to complement his 263 rushing yards and pair of scores.
Unsurprisingly, Penn State was one of the first teams to recognize Ellis’ ability. And Ellis is hoping to make Happy Valley proud.
2019 OUTLOOK NOTES
THIRTY-EIGHT LETTERWINNERS RETURN FROM 2018 • Penn State returns 38 lettermen from last year’s Top 25 squad – 13 on offense, 22 on defense and three on special teams. • A total of 39 lettermen are returning for the Nittany Lions. In addition to the 38 lettermen returning from 2018, Ellison Jordan (2017) also has letterman status. • The Nittany Lions lost the services of 30 lettermen – 15 on offense, 14 on defense and one specialist. FOURTEEN STARTERS RETURNING • The Nittany Lions return 14 starters – five on offense, six on defense and three on special teams. • Eleven additional Penn Stater’s have starting experience – five on offense, five on defense and one specialist. • Among the returning starters are 2018 All-Big Ten first team honoree Yetur Gross-Matos, as well as honorable mention selections Steven Gonzalez, KJ Hamler, Micah Parsons, John Reid, Garrett Taylor and Robert Windsor. • Freiermuth, Hamler and Parsons were also Freshman All-Americans. PENN STATE NUMBER CHANGES • Six Nittany Lions are wearing new numbers in 2019: Journey Brown (4), Daniel George (11), C.J. Holmes (48), Grayson Kline (17), Will Levis (7) and Ricky Slade (3). In addition, Donovan Johnson returns to No. 3 this season after wearing No. 2 in 2018.
POSITION CHANGES • Sophomore C.J. Thorpe returns to the offensive line after spending much of the 2018 season on the defensive line. • In addition, Grayson Kline moved from quarterback to tight end/h-back and C.J. Holmes switched sides of the ball, moving from running back to safety. EIGHT BOWL TEAMS HIGHLIGHT SCHEDULE • The Nittany Lions will face eight teams that participated in a bowl game during the 2018 campaign. • Three of Penn State’s 2019 opponents won their respective conference divisions last season. • Buffalo won the MAC East Division title and lost to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl (42-32). • Pittsburgh won the ACC Coastal Division crown and lost to Stanford in the Hyundai Sun Bowl (14-13). • Ohio State won the Big Ten East Division and went on to defeat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game (45-24). The Buckeyes defeated No. 9 Washington in the Rose Bowl (28-23). • Iowa defeated No. 18 Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl (27- 22), while Minnesota defeated Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl (34-10). • Michigan lost to No. 10 Florida in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl (41- 15), Michigan State lost to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl (7-6) and Purdue lost the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl to Auburn (63-14).
COACHING STAFF CHANGES • The Nittany Lion coaching staff will have a pair of new faces for the 2019 season. • Penn State added passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Gerad Parker and special teams coordinator and defensive assistant Joe Lorig. • Parker joins the Nittany Lions after two seasons at Duke, most recently as the wide receivers coach in 2018. He has familiarity with the Big Ten, having served as offensive coordinator at Purdue for four seasons. • Lorig has 22 years of collegiate coaching experience, including six seasons as a special teams coordinator and eight years as a defensive coordinator. He most recently spent three seasons at Memphis where his special teams unit finished in the top 5 in FBS in kick return average twice and in the top 20 in kick return defense every year.
PURDUE IS HOMECOMING FOE • When the alumni return to Happy Valley for the 2019 Homecoming game, the Penn State faithful will cheer their Nittany Lions on against Purdue on Oct. 5. • This is the fifth time Penn State will square off against Purdue in a Homecoming game. The Nittany Lions are a perfect 4-0 against the Boilermakers with wins in 1996 (31-14), 1998 (31- 13), 2005 (33-15) and 2011 (23-18). • Penn State owns a 71-23-5 record all-time on Homecoming, including wins in 11 of its last 14 games. SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE • Penn State and Wisconsin are the only Big Ten teams to have posted a winning season the last 14 consecutive years. • Penn State is one of five teams (Penn State, Boise State, LSU, Oklahoma, Wisconsin) in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to have a winning record each of the last 14 years. NON-CONFERENCE SUCCESS • Penn State went 3-0 in non-conference play in 2018. • Penn State has won seven consecutive games over nonconference opponents during the regular season, dating back to a win over Temple in 2016. • Under James Franklin (since 2014), Penn State is 15-2 against non-conference opposition during the regular season and 17-5 when including bowl games.
IN THE POLLS • Following another season with nine or more wins, Penn State finished in the Top 25 of both polls for the third-straight season. The Nittany Lions came in No. 17 in the final Associated Press (AP) and Amway Coaches polls. • Additionally, Penn State was No. 12 in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, announced in December. • Penn State finished in the AP Top 25 for the 41st time in program history. • The Nittany Lions ended the season in the AP Top 25 in three consecutive seasons for the first time since a seven-year stint from 1993-99. • Penn State has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for the last 40 weeks, dating back to the 2016 season, marking the fifth-longest streak in program history and longest streak since 1993- 2000 when PSU was ranked for 121-straight weeks. • The Nittany Lions completed the season in the Coaches Top 25 for the 21st time in program history and the third-straight season. • This is the first time Penn State has had three consecutive Top 25 finishes in the Coaches Poll since 2005-09. • Penn State is one of six teams (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington) to rank in the Top 15 of the CFP final rankings in each of the last three seasons (2016-18).
COMPLEMENTARY BALL OVER THE LAST THREE YEARS • The Nittany Lion have played complementary football over the last three years and it shows in the national landscape. • Over the last three years the Penn State offense is: • Tied for sixth in FBS in points per possession (2.34). • Fourth in FBS in points per play (1.84). • 11th in FBS in scoring offense (37.47). • Ninth in FBS in scoring percentage (43.31). • Ninth in FBS in touchdown percentage (34.57). • 12th in FBS in turnover percentage (12.83). • Over the last three years the Penn State defense is: • Fifth in FBS in three-and-out percentage (28.41). • Sixth in FBS in yards per play (4.85). • Ninth in FBS in points per possession (1.29). • 12th in FBS in second half points allowed (9.78). • Sixth in FBS in scoring percentage (25.09). • 12th in FBS in touchdown percentage (17.90). • Fifth in FBS in punt percentage (47.42). • Has 40 or more sacks in four-straight seasons for the first time since sacks were recorded starting in 1988.
WHAT COACH FRANKLIN HAD TO SAY AT PENN STATE MEDIA DAY
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: How’s everybody doing? Hope you guys had a great summer. Appreciate everybody coming out. Got a great turnout, so very, very appreciative of you guys coming out and supporting Penn State Football and following our program.
Just kind of open up with a few brief statements. You know, we kind of keep knocking away at projects throughout the program. I’m really proud, if you guys haven’t been into the stadium, one of the things I’m really excited about is we ripped up — it turned into a big project but we ripped up all that turf around the field that needs to be there for TV and things like that.
But it was kind of the old school turf like your grandma had on her back porch and that was problematic at times where guys would need to try to stop coming off the field after running a route and would slip on it and it was hard.
So we were able to get all that up, and just another thing where we are kind of improving the program very specifically from a player safety and health perspective that we take very, very serious.
Another one you guys will see at practice today is the guardian caps that we got for everybody. It’s an outer layer that goes over the top of their helmet that we’ve added, as well, this year. We’ve done the protect helmets forever. You guys have seen them and they are the ones that are the extra layer on the outside of the helmet that looks just like our helmets.
So I’m really pleased with all these projects that we keep knocking out that I think are very have important for our program moving forward, and most importantly to take care of our players and make sure that they are healthy and safe and happy in their development. So I feel really good about that.
Got a couple announcements that I’m not sure if you are aware, but Jemal Griffin who has been with me since day one, been a friend. Jemal was a head high school coach at Woodlawn High School in Maryland when I was at the University of Maryland and came on and has been with me ever since. Done a great job as chief of staff for us.
Jemal has been fortunate to be able to get a job and is going to be leaving to go to St. Thomas University in Minnesota as a senior associate athletic director. This was a goal and objective of his to get into administration and couldn’t be happier for him and his family and Kevin Threlkel has been promoted into his position.
Our big kind of philosophy this year, our mantra this year that we are going to talk about all the time is championship habits. You know, just big believers in the habits that our guys have on and off the field are really going to allow them to be successful in both areas, as well. So it’s all of it. It’s all of the little things, all the details. It’s how we practice. It’s how we meet. It’s how we prepare. It’s how we are in the community. It’s how we are in class sitting in the front row taking notes early, all those things.
So that’s going to be something you’re probably going to hear all year long is our championship habits mantra that we are going to keep hammering home.
Some objectives in the different phases. On offense we want to make sure we establish a championship two-deep at all positions. That’s critical, in our conference and this level of football, you have to develop depth. That’s going to be important for us to do. We got started yesterday. I thought it was a good first day, but obviously we still have a lot of work to do.
Two guys I want to give some love to that probably aren’t getting a whole lot of it, and should, and are deserving, Bowers. Bowers is a guy that had a bunch of injuries throughout his career and has battled through them and his family has been unbelievable and he’s been unbelievable. I think he’s going to have a huge year for us. He’s also a guy that’s a senior, and again, has had a lot of varieties and has battled through it and has just been a fantastic teammate. He’s been a fantastic student here and in the community, and I think he’s going to have a huge year for us this year. I wanted to bring him up.
Also wanted to bring up Gonzalez. He had a decision to make at the end of last year. He made the right decision and came back. Really excited about his experience and development. Excited about what he’s going to do in camp from a leadership perspective, and I think he’s going to have a big year for us as well.
On defense, continue to be aggressive with our opponents on the other side of the line of scrimmage in terms of tackles for loss, and sacks, but also, we’ve got to minimize some of the explosive plays and obviously be more consistent against the run. That’s going to be a big focus for us this year.
A couple guys I want to mention, as well. Shane Simmons, a similar background as Bowers. Has battled a bunch of injuries the last couple years. Every year we go into the season saying it’s going to be his breakout year, and he’s as healthy as he’s been since we recruited him. You’re going to see him. He looks beautiful. He’s 260 pounds. Moving extremely well.
So really, really excited. I think that’s going to be a name that you guys see in practice and it’s going to be a name that I think is going to have a chance to have an exciting year for us.
The other guy not getting talked enough about is Shaka Toney, a guy within our program, has got so much respect, is so explosive. He’s great for our offense, tackles with his get-off and his speed. Tested really well this off-season. Think he’s going to have a huge year for us.
And then John Reid is the other one. John is a guy, obviously coming back off injury yesterday at practice. Not only did he look as good as he did pre injury but better from an experience, from a maturity, from an understanding of our defense and our culture.
Guys I wanted to mention on those two sides of the ball. And then obviously on special teams, continue to establish our CTG, the change the game culture, that Coach Lorig has brought to us and excited about how good we can be on special teams.
Last year we were depending on two true freshmen to have significant roles in specialist positions. Obviously we’re in a much different position this year, and you know, I think Joe and those guys are going to have a huge impact.
Looking forward to it. Excited about it. Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do ahead of us. Again, I want to thank you guys for all coming out and supporting us. I also want to thank the administration, Sandy Barber and President Barron, and then Scott Sidwell, who is new with us and doing a great job, as well.
I think we are really starting to kind of hit our stride in terms of understanding what everybody expects, standards, how we work together, how efficient we are, and that’s been a real positive, so pleased with that.
Open it up to questions.
Q. Could you take us through the logistics of how you pick a starting place kicker, and could you address who is in that and how important that role is, given some of the struggles you may have had last year?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, so you talking field goals or you talking kickoff?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: So what we will typically do, it’s probably no different than any other position. So we have our individual periods and things like that. We bring them over to the stadium. I think it’s important that they get to kick in the stadium, as well, during practice. So we do those things.
But just like every other position, we chart and grade everything. So we chart and grade everything. That allows us to — you know, we have a gut feeling of what we think, but then we can go back and actually check the data. At this level, everybody in our organization, everybody in our program, can do it. It’s the level of consistency. It’s, you know, who is the guy that’s going to do it the most consistent to give our team the best position to be successful. There may be a guy that can hit a 60-yarder but obviously the value is the guy that can hit 40 yards and in at a very, very high rate.
Kickoff, obviously, with a lot of the new rules and things like that — we were able to get a transfer in Mr. Stout from Virginia Tech. He was fourth in the country last year in kickoffs, so we got some experience there. At the end of the day, these guys will kick and we will track all of them. We typically end practice with a competitive period in front of their peers. A lot of times we’ll do it for running to put some pressure on those guys, and obviously under those conditions, as well, it’s magnified.
So game-winning field goals, kickoffs, punts, same type of thing with specific hang time, specific distances that we’re looking for, and at the end of the day, you’re looking for who is going to be the most consistent in practice and ultimately, you hope that translates to most consistent in games.
Q. What are the positives and negatives of having such a young football team?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: So obviously, the positives is you’ve got a bunch of guys that are hungry and are excited and that have something to really prove and got a chip on their shoulder. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Obviously the negatives, is you lack experience, and experience counts and experience matters. There’s no doubt about it.
Experience playing major college football, experience playing in Beaver Stadium, experience playing in all these different venues that we are going to go on the road, that is a factor. There’s no doubt about it. But that’s our job. Our job is to help these guys gain as much experience and as much confidence as we possibly can, and also create depth.
So that’s the other area, probably will show up on special teams. You know, a lot of times, those guys that you’re looking for from a depth perspective on offense and defense, they may have significant roles on special teams, and it’s impacted our depth there. There’s no doubt about it. I think there’s arguments that you can make in both directions. Obviously for us, we’re focused on all the positives, but we have an awareness, obviously, of the challenges that come with it.
Q. What are your overall thoughts on the secondary going into camp and is depth a concern at that position?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t feel that way for a number of reasons that I’ll cover.
The first thing I’ll say is it has a chance to be a strength. We went into this feeling really good about the corner position. I also am I big believer that it’s the earliest place on the defensive side of the ball to make an impact as a young player. I think you look at the corners we’ve been able to recruit and develop, I think those guys are going to be able to come in here and compete right away.
I like our depth, our length, our talent at the corner position. We went into spring ball feeling like we had some question marks at safety, but then after spring, we felt like we were probably a little bit further along there than we thought, and then obviously we got some guys that have joined our program in the summer that are going to help add to that, as well. So I think we are going into this thing with a lot of confidence. In our secondary, GT has had a great summer. He looks unbelievable. He’s as lean and explosive and as fast as he’s been and he obviously has tremendous experience.
And obviously that other passion with Lamont Wade, Brisker, Sutherland, a number of guys that have played and also we think have a chance to make an impact for us. We feel good. Obviously we still have got a lot of work to do and we have to gain experience with those guys and get them really confident and comfortable with our schemes and what to expect. But I know coach banks and I know Coach Smith feel good.
Q. Going back to the youth, does that result in young leadership?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it impacts that. There’s guys that are thrust into leadership roles that probably under typical situations would not be; KJ Hamler is a guy like that, for example. He’s kind of the old guy at the position in some ways right now.
So yeah, I think you’re always putting a priority on developing leadership through your entire roster, when you have a big team like football with 125 guys to think — that goes back to our philosophy of having not just two seniors as captains, because you want to make sure that you’re having an impact, and being able to relate across your roster from freshmen all the way through seniors, offense, defense and special teams and all of it.
There’s guys that are definitely thrust into roles that under — and I don’t even know if I want to say normal because there’s a new normal now in college football with a lot of the rules. But it’s probably going to be, you know, at least similar for the next couple years until we change the rules again.
Q. Gross-Matos is obviously expected to have a pretty big season for you guys. What have you seen from him so far and is there any certain that maybe his time away from the team might hinder his development at all?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously you want as much time with guys as you possibly can. But he’s a mature guy. He’s had a great summer. From what I see, he looked great yesterday. I know he’s appreciative of being back.
I think he’s going to have a really big year for us. As the year went on last year, really started to kind of separate himself I think into one of the more elite defensive ends in college football. He’s a lean — I think he told me yesterday, he’s 255 pounds. He’s been as big as 265. I could see him playing 260 this year. We’re very pleased with him. Very pleased with him and his development and his appreciation for being at Penn State and his appreciation for being a part of our football program and his attitude and approach.
He’s always been a guy that always got a smile on his face. I think you guys probably read a bunch of different stories about his background. I think because of that background, he probably has a different sense of appreciation than maybe the rest of us, but we are expecting big things out of him.
Q. How is Ricky Rahne different from how he was last year? Did you want him to go outside of the program in the off-season and gather new information and ideas?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we always try to do that. We try to go outside, but we also, you know do, it inside. We bring a lot of people in. We have two NFL coaches with us right now. We had an NFL coach with us yesterday. Friends that I have, friends that Ricky has, guys that I’ve worked with, you know, that have opportunity to be able to visit with us. We went and visited other programs, as well.
But I think there’s no doubt, year two, as a play caller, obviously makes a difference. I think every assistant coach feels like they know what it takes to be a coordinator. Every coordinator, assistant coach feels like they know what it takes to be a head coach until you sit in those chairs and those seats and have that type of responsibility, it’s different.
I think in year two, you know, Ricky learned a lot over the last 12 months. As you know, I got tremendous amount of belief and faith in Ricky. We’ve been together for I think 11 years and I’ve watched him develop, and I know how talented he is. I think everybody in our program, within our walls, is extremely excited about the steps that we can take offensively.
Q. Compared to when you started out as an assistant, which is a while ago, assistants have so much opportunity to move up and climb the ladder and get exponentially more money. Have you changed your philosophy on what you can do. Even Nick Saban can’t hang on to guys because they are constantly job hopping and they have the incentive to do so. Is there anything you’ve tried to do in the last few years to mitigate that in any way and just hang on to guys?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, yeah. I think that’s discussions that me and sandy and Scott are having all the time. I think it’s conversations that I have with my staff all the time. I think the guys on my staff that are older, experienced coaches, seasoned, I’d call them, that have been around; I think sometimes as a young coach, that growth and that opportunity is important, but also, you have to be careful because sometimes you’re at a place like Penn State and you may take it for granted, and then the rest of your career, you’re trying to get back to a place like Penn State.
And we’ve all — we’ve all made those mistakes. Especially when you’re working with good people and you’re working at a good place that really cares. You’re working with a great group of young men that we get to work with. So it’s just balance. You know, it’s discussions. You know, I’m very transparent with recruiting. You know, I talk to recruits about college football and the nature of it. They are committing to me; they are committing to the university; they are committing to the program and our players, and I want our coaches to stay at Penn State as long as we possibly can.
To me, there’s a difference. If guys are leaving for clear promotions, then it’s a no-brainer and it should be a decision that everybody is excited about and everybody embraces, and our players see it and are happy for them and we’re happy for them, the administration.
What we have to work hard at is we don’t have the lateral moves. They are the ones that I think are challenging. A guy that’s an assistant coach and is going to be a play calling coordinator; we want that; I want that for them and their family if that’s their objective. Guys that are leaving to be head coach, we want that for them.
We have to create an environment here as much as we possibly can, that guys are happy here, they feel appreciated, and that we have an awareness — my biggest thing is that we are having an awareness of what the market is. You know, what the market is like nationally, what the market is like in the teams that we would consider peer institutions and things like that. And we don’t have to lead the pack, but we need to be in that conversation, if that makes sense.
Q. I’m curious, how do you envision KJ Hamler’s role potentially being a little bit different this year. We saw you moved him around in the spring. How do you expect him to take on an expanded role in that group?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously the first thing is, you know, him having the ability to be great at the slot position. Also, having the flexibility — Mac Hippenhammer is back obviously being with Coach Cooper and the baseball program had a great year.
He’s just one of those guys, he’s a natural football player. It makes sense to him. The game makes sense to him, very similar to baseball, as well. I could see us in some situations where we want to get Mac on the field, so that may be ten personnel or we want to get Mac on the field and we want to move KJ outside. It could be for a specific match-up that game. It could be things that we are trying to get done and trying to get the ball in his hands where now he becomes the first option in the quarterback’s progression.
That’s where we’re a little bit different, my old West Coast offense background. It was about personnel and matchups and getting people into specific spots. You know, when I was offensive coordinator at K-State, Jordy Nelson who played for me, who had a great NFL career and one year, Jordy had I think 122 catches for 1,600 yards and we just moved him around. Where our offense is about speed and lining up and getting the defensive lineup so we can get the best call in.
So it’s a little bit different philosophy from that standpoint, but from week-to-week, it could be a situation or specific play where we do want to move him outside or in the slot. And then obviously we think he can be, you know, a tremendous punt returner and tremendous kick returner, as well. So now you’re in a situation where he’s getting enough touches per game both at wide receiver, both at kick return, both at punt return, as well, for him to make an impact.
Q. Micah Parsons played a significant role last year in your defense and looks like he will play a bigger role possibly this year. What do you see in him?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think about how much production he had last year and he never played linebacker before in his life. So how much more confident — that’s one of the things I talked to the team about the other day. I said, listen, I have so much belief in you guys and in our organization and our university and our team, and I have that belief because I see how you guys go about your business every single day, both on and off the field, how you are in the community, how you are in community service. You know, went down to Children’s Hospital. I’m so proud of our guys of how they conducted themselves and carried themselves.
I also know when I go around the room, Micah Parsons, how much better are you right now than you were at this time last year. Jahan Dotson, he was telling me in the weight room the other day he went back and watched his first couple weeks of practice and it was embarrassing watching himself on film and here is a guy what played for us as a true freshman. I could go on and on, naming guys, how much better they are and we relied on a bunch of inexperienced guys.
I agree with you guys, we are a young team, but we relied on a bunch of inexperienced players last year and they are all a year older. So that’s one of the reasons I’m so confident is I know what they have done. I mean, Chris Stoll I think is a great story. You’re going to see today, that guy has dramatically changed his body. He’s more athletic. Our body fats have plummeted. Kayla and her staff have done a fantastic job for us in those areas.
That was a big part of my meetings at the end of the year. I meet with every single player and go over their academics, some social things, I go over football, I go over every single things and one of the big things with each guy was setting goals of body fat. Des Holmes came running into my office because he dropped his body fat like dramatically. And as you can imagine, when you do that, your athleticism increases. And I know our guys are confident right now.
So you know, there’s a lot of really good things going on from a lot of different perspectives, but I’m proud. I’m proud of them.
Q. There was a report yesterday that indicated Beaver Stadium might host a high school game or games this fall? What are your thoughts on that?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, so obviously, our No. 1 focus is on Penn State and our football program and our athletic department and our university. So we are not going to do anything that would cause challenges or issues there.
But obviously when we can be great partners in our community and when we can be great partners in our state, and provide a great experience, you know, in this community and for the State of Pennsylvania, and something that’s going to promote athletics and something that’s going to promote college football and high school football in our state, you know, we want to try to do it. I don’t think it’s going to be something you see very often but there’s going to be some times where it does make sense. I do think there’s been some discussions that me and Scott have had. We’d love to get to the point at some point that maybe we’re able to host a state championship games here.
I think there’s a lot of reasons why that makes sense. We’re in the center part of the state. I think it would be exciting for kids to have the opportunity to do that, and you see that in other states, as well. So there’s some opportunities there and we’re going to look at them.
Again, I don’t think you’ll see us doing a whole lot of this, but there’s going to be some times where it makes sense and we want to be a great partner.
Q. Quarterback question. Three years with Trace McSorley. Can you talk about Clifford, Levis, what goes into you being comfortable with naming a starting quarterback and how that is all going to evolve between now and Idaho?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yep. Really, exactly how we have always done. It first of all, I want to thank Trace McSorley and his family for the type of teammate he was, the type of player he was, type of student he was. He was the model, he really was, in a lot of different ways. I actually just talked to David Culley yesterday who is a good friend of mine who is with the Ravens, and what do you guys think Trace is doing? He’s still doing the things that we watched, we were fortunate to be a part of for three years. He’s making great decisions. He’s making plays and he’s putting the offense in position to be successful. So couldn’t be more proud of him.
I also think it’s been very valuable, obviously, for Clifford and Levis, specifically, to watch that guy and how he prepared for the last couple years. The type of teammate he was, the type of competitor he was, all of it. So you know, for us, every single position, we are going to compete like crazy and give everybody opportunities to try to increase their role or to try to win a job, whatever that may be or whatever that may look like. And we’ll make the decision at the time that it’s most appropriate for our team, but then also most appropriate for that guy, as well, because there’s also leadership components that come with that position.
The good thing is both of them are approaching it the right way. They are both approaching it as if they are the starter and they are both approaching it from a leadership perspective and both are very talented. We are excited about that.
When we will name a quarterback, I can’t tell you. We will do it when it’s obvious to everybody. Sometimes you get in tough situations, when it’s not obvious, it’s a close call. That’s what we get together as a staff and make that decision and move forward. But I don’t know the timeline of that. Obviously the earlier, the better, for everyone involved. But we have also been impressed with Taquon and Michael Johnson, as well. Obviously we’re going to need at least one of those guys to step up and prepare as if they are the starter, as well, and be ready to play this year. Hopefully you’re in a situation where you can redshirt but we’ll see how that plays out.
Then I do want to mention a guy named Shuster, who you guys probably haven’t gotten a chance to get to know a whole lot, but he has been fantastic. He is a great leader in the quarterback room. He’s like having another coach. He’s great with the young guys. He’s great when it comes to game planning. He’s a cultured driver.
He’s a guy that’s going to go on and be very, very successful. He’s already been offered a job after he graduates, but you know — we try to talk about that a lot, about, you know, there’s obviously the starting quarterback and everybody understands the significance of that position, and the defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, starting defensive end or middle linebacker or head coach or whatever it may be, and we all have different roles, but every role in the entire organization is significant and its impactful and it’s going to have a profound, you know, profound impact on our team this year. We cannot win without the scout team corner coming to practice every single day and bringing something to the team. And that guy Saturday night, you know, after we win, should be just as proud as anybody else because they know everybody played a huge role in that, and that’s a lot of people that are in this room today, as well. That’s our support staff. That’s the administration. That’s all of us.
So Shuster is a guy I wanted to mention, as well, because he’s been a fantastic teammate and member of our program and our organization. But as soon as we know, we’ll make the announcement to you guys, as well, because I know you need that information to do your jobs, too. I also think it maybe sells papers that you guys can kind of tease it out there for awhile, act like you have the answer and then don’t and make people open the page. So whatever you guys need, we’ll give it to you.
Q. How was your summer? Did you do anything interesting or different or way from football?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: To the second part of your question first, me and Ja’Juan Seider and Gerad Parker, we do kind of our little old man work out every day where we do like eight curls and eight military press, and then we do a walk around campus and it’s pretty kind of, you know, quiet and nice little sleepy college town for the most part in the summer, and we walk around and it’s good.
We get to talk, get some exercise, but as you can see, as the summer goes on, it starts — you can feel the change. You can feel the students coming back in and the people coming back in and obviously Gerad coming from Duke, him and his family, they are enjoying it. I’m just trying to explain to them, you know, you are going to notice a difference each week and the electricity and the excitement starts to build in this town. So that’s great.
But stuff this summer, not a whole lot. Just you know, a bunch of family time. A bunch of family time. When we were able to get away, we did our camps and clinics and things we always do, but we were able to get away with my wife and kinds and extended friends and families, and we have gotten to the point now where we are maybe a little bit weird like this, but a lot of the coaches and the staff, we vacation together.
You know, they come and hang out, where I think a lot of places, the last person you want to see is the guy you work for. I think that says a lot about our culture. You know, as much time as we spend together, we really try to create a family atmosphere. I just left the office and Coach Parker has like 16 children and they are all up in the office running around. We had dinner the other night, all the staff’s wives, families, were there for dinner, which was great.
But for me, it was just family time. I don’t spend enough time with my wife and kids year round; I think you guys have heard me say it before, I have a significant amount of coach guilt and then it goes to the summertime and they have been begging for me all year long and then they go from not having me enough, to having a full dose of James Franklin, and like after the first three hours, they are like, can’t you go back to work, we’ve had about enough of your butt.
But I will tell you this. I did get my — like we probably all have, I got my rear-end chewed the first night because I had not got off my phone, I had not got off e-mail and text messages, and I did what we all do. I blamed Sandy. I said, “Oh, yeah, Sandy sends me too many messages.”
But I got my butt ripped that first night and that was probably the best thing for me because I was probably better this summer than I had ever been. I would wake up early before Fumi and the kids got up, try to respond all my e-mails and text massages. As you guys know, you’ve got 125 guys, there’s always something going on. So try to get up in the morning, do that, and then try to put my phone on the side of the bed and then go out and do what whatever we were going to do for the day and come back at night and respond to whatever messages I had.
I probably had more quality family time this summer and I think that’s something we are probably all trying to do in our profession is find balance. I would not necessarily say that I have year round balance but trying to do it when it’s right, and when it’s possible, it needs to be a priority.
I can’t talk out of both sides of my mouth. I can’t tell our players that they need to be present and when they are in meetings to be in meetings and maximize that meeting; and when you’re in practice — when you’re in class, be in class and maximize that moment and I don’t do it with my family. An opportunity to look in the mirror and get better and make sure that I’m living what I preach.
Q. You’ve lost one of the greatest leaders this program has had. You mentioned KJ as a leader. Where else is the leadership coming from, and do you think it will be an issue finding that leadership and filling that void?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s going to be a big part of our camp is like always, you’re finding your true identity. You have an idea of what you think you’re going to be going into camp and then you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to be able to hang your hat on and how quickly can you get to that during camp or is that within your first three games or whatever it may be, and part of that identity is who are your culture drivers in your program and who are the guys you can go to that you know are reinforcing those messages all the time, whether it’s in the locker room when you’re not around or whether it’s Saturday night or whatever it may be, or after adversity, because we all know, it’s easy when things are going well. It’s when the tough times hit.
So you know, I think on offense, obviously Michal Menet has played a lot of football for us. Really smart guy. Level-headed. Got a really good relationship with him and his parents, which I think is always a big part of that, to be able to work through some of those tough times, as well and have great discussions. But I think he’s going to be a guy. Obviously Gonzalez being a senior, I think one of the only seniors that we have, a few, him and Bowers and Chisena and Carr. But I think Gonzalez is going to be one for us, too. And then Fries. Fries has played a lot of football for us.
So we are going to need those guys to have a significant role from an upperclassman perspective. Bowers falls into that category, and I think you’re going to have some guys that are young, like Freiermuth who played a lot of football last year and had success and is more comfortable. I was watching Saquon the other night. They were doing an interview about him and his leadership has obviously, it’s improved. His role on the team from a leadership perspective, he’s got a stronger voice, he’s got a louder voice right now in their organization in I think year two. I think Freiermuth is like that. I think KJ is like that, a guy that’s had success. It probably doesn’t have to be this way, but typically, those guys that have a great impact also are guys that have been successful on the field.
I think a guy like Shuster could have a significant role from a leadership standpoint for us, but sometimes guys are not willing to do it if they are not the starter and I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Some guys like Shuster has earned everybody’s respect by the type of teammate he’s been.
So you know, there’s a number of guys from that perspective. Obviously the quarterbacks, just it’s part of that position. It’s going to happen. But this is going to be something that we are going to have to develop. On defense, Shaka Toney has got a strong voice with our team. He’s very well respected, not only for what he does on the field, but really, Shaka, from what our players say, Shaka is one of the great friends and teammates on the team for everybody. He’s the guy that they all seem to go to with issues or concerns or things or advice. He’s obviously got a strong voice.
Jan Johnson, Cam Brown, those guys are going to need to step up, John Reid. There’s a number of guys. I hate to do this sometimes because you miss people out and I go to practice this afternoon and someone’s mad at me. Garrett Taylor obviously has played a lot of football and has earned everybody’s respect by how he’s gone about his business, and then on special teams, Blake. We just have to keep developing them. I’m not a big believer as you guys know, on the two captains deal, on a 125-team, so it’s captains and that’s part of it, but it’s so much more than that. To think two guys are going to lead a whole team, you need leaders by position. You need leaders by offense. You need leaders by defense, special teams. You need coaches to approach it that way, assistant coaches to be head coach at their position to manage things, as well. It’s all of it. It is paramount to what we are trying to do and where we want to go.