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‘We Feel Good About It’: Penn State HC James Franklin, OL Hunter Nourzad Encouraged by Young Linemen

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin Penn State Nittany Lions Band November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

At Penn State and everywhere else, it’s hard for a true freshman to hold his own.

This is true regardless of where they play; quarterback, linebacker, receiver, wherever.

But for offensive and defensive linemen, many feel it’s perhaps more difficult than it is at any other position.

Penn State coach James Franklin is among those who feel that way.

“Typically, the further away you are away from the ball, the easier it is to get on the field (right away), Franklin said Thursday in a post-practice media availability. “So corners and wide receivers, safeties, things like that.”

“In there, it’s a totally different world. 17, 18 years old compared to 21, 22, 23 is very different. The speed, the size, there’s not too many guys like that in high school. So it’s a huge adjustment.”

Penn State has four freshmen—including the two highest-rated signees of the ’23 class— looking to make that adjustment this season.

Five-star J’ven Williams (Wyomissing, Pennsylvania) and four-star Alex Birchmeier (Ashburn, Virginia) have been with Penn State since they enrolled early in January, as has three-star Anthony Donkoh (Lightridge, Virginia).

On late-signing day in February, Penn State added another ’23 OL in four-star Chimdy Onoh (Baltimore.)

By the time Onoh signed, Birchmeier and Williams were already at Penn State, and Onoh couldn’t enroll until the summer.

Overall, Franklin’s pleased with the way the four are handling things through almost a full week of fall practices.

“I think they’re all adjusting well,” he said. “Obviously, Chimdy was at a little bit of a disadvantage not being here, not only in the spring, but he didn’t get here, I think, until summer, too, as well. So it’s challenging.”

Penn State also doesn’t need the youngsters to be game ready right away.

With veterans such as Hunter Nourzad, Caedan Wallace and likely 2024 first-round pick Olu Fashanu back, the freshman won’t be thrust into a high-pressure situation in Week 1, barring something unforeseen.

“We don’t need those guys ready now,” Franklin said. “We need them guys ready, you know, by Game 4 or by Game 5, ready to really help us.”

In Thursday’s availability, Franklin cited Nourzad and Fashanu as two of the offensive line’s leaders.

Nourzad was available to media after Franklin’s press conference, and he said he feels that Williams (6-foot-5, 313 pounds) has been “picking everything up really well.”

“He asks a lot of questions, the older guys help him out and he’s really comfortable with trying to improve stuff; asks what he can improve,” Nourzad said. “I think his confidence is really building, especially in summer ball.”

Nourzad offered a similar compliment to the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Birchmeier.

“They’re both really good athletes, but the position’s really hard at the college level. There’s a lot of development mentally and physically, but the same way, he’s very humble. He knows that he needs to ask questions. He asks questions all the time. He knows he needs to improve, and everybody’s really looking to help him.”

Franklin said Penn State’s modified Fashanu’s reps, and that’s created more opportunity for the young guys.

Overall, he likes where things are at on the line.

“They’re getting a ton of reps right now,” he said. “We’ve done some modifications, as you can imagine, with Olu’s reps, which helps those guys, creates a ton more opportunities. So, it’s still a work in progress, but we feel good about it.”

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