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Tuesdays With James

Tuesdays with James: Penn State HC Franklin Talks Promising Freshmen, More Ahead of Illinois

Penn State is looking to go 1-0 for the third time this season Saturday at Illinois

Here are some key points from coach James Franklin’s Tuesday presser.

JAMES ON PROMISING FRESHMEN

Franklin was asked this week his thoughts on a pair of true freshmen in DB King Mack and DE Jameial Lyons and their performances against Delaware this past Saturday .

Franklin said Mack is a guy the coaching staff “identified early in training camp.”

“Based on his testing numbers, his strength numbers, based on his ability to pick up the defense, on his ability to make plays, that we felt like he was going to factor in from a depth chart perspective on defense.”

Franklin then mentioned Mack’s involvement on social teams and said he sees Mack continuing to get better.

“He’s fast,” Franklin said, “aggressive, violent. The ball likes him. He’s had the ability to make plays on the ball all during training camp as well. I think you’ll just continue to see him gain confidence and have a really good year and that his role will continue to grow.”

Mack was one of four true freshmen Franklin gave the “green light” to play early in the season, and he said Lyons is in the “yellow category.”

“That could change,” he said, “but, again, part of that is based on how healthy we’re able to say.”

Franklin said Lyons has “shown in practice and in games that he belongs.”

“Now it’s him continuing to learn the package, understanding the defense inside and out, so that maybe he’s one of those guys by game five we say, hey, we’re going to green light him,” Franklin said.

“Or he’s a guy we’re just going to maximize the four games plus postseason. We will see how it plays out. The guys on the team love him and they’re excited to watch him in practice and games. I know for the coaching staff, he’s really earned the staff’s respect as well. I’m really proud of him. I’m proud of a lot of these guys.

JAMES ON STARTING AWAY

For the past 14 years, Penn State’s played one conference opener at home.

Franklin had a quick comment about this quirk during his opening statement.

One benefit for 2023 is that unlike 2021 (at Wisconsin) and 2022 (at Purdue), Penn State won’t be opening its season at a Big Ten venue.

For Franklin, starting conference play in Week 3 is more traditional.

“If I had to guess, most people would like probably the model that we all grew up with,” he said. “You play two out-of-conference games, three out-of-conference games if you’re in a conference that plays eight, and maybe save one for later in the season, and then be able to break up your Big Ten schedule a little bit.

“I think that’s ideal. I think what’s happened. If you look at most of the conferences and what the TV people want, is they want to be able to spread out those types of games through all 12 weeks of the regular season. So, there is some give-and-take there and understanding of that.

JAMES ON THE PRESSURES OF THE PROFESSION

Franklin’s faced a variety of challenges during his PSU tenure.

In 2023, programs such as Big Ten coaches such as Jim Harbaugh, Pat Fitzgerald and, most recently, Mel Tucker have been in hot water to varying degrees.

Franklin hasn’t had any of that type of drama, but like all major college coaches in 2023, he’s had to deal with challenges such as name, image and likeness, as well as the transfer portal, things that weren’t prevalent when Franklin started at Penn State in 2014.

So how does Franklin deal with the pressure?

“I guess for me, you know, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time on what you just said and thinking about that,” Franklin said. “I try to take the same advice that I give and just try my very best to be the best version of myself for the players, for their parents, for the staff, for my family, as I possibly can be.And that’s not always easy, right? It’s constant and this is a challenging job. As you guys know, I think I struggle with how to balance my time with my family as well as the team and my responsibilities for both.”

Franklin credited his wife, Fumi, and the Penn State community for helping him manage.

“Having a strong wife is really important and helpful,” he said. “Living in a college town I think is really helpful, because my wife and kids being able to stop over to the office. You know, you guys come out to practice usually in the beginning of practice, but at the end of practice there are a ton of kids there, ton of wives there and families, and lettermen. I do believe being in a college town, it helps. It really does from a family perspective.”

Franklin said his job is “a challenge,” but doesn’t know if it’s more challenging than it used to be.

“I think this profession has always been challenging on people and on head coaches and on families, so I don’t know if it’s more so,” he said. “Maybe just seeing a recent trend that’s closer to home for us. Again, I try to take the same advice that I give my players and try to be the best version I possibly can for the players, for their families, for my family, for the Penn State community, the best I possibly can.”

”I’m going to make a mistake and say something silly every once in a while in a press conference that you guys will crush me on social media. It also helps to have such good support from Matt Schuyler, which I’ve talked about before, and Dr. [Neeli] Bendapudi, our president, and (Athletic Director) Pat Kraft, that I think goes a long way. I talked about the importance that was for alignment, but also just I think it’s important that Neeli knows I have her back and she’s got mine, and the same with Pat and Matt and the rest of the board. I think all those things are really, really important.

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