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What James Franklin Had to Say About the Penn State ’24 Signing Class

Penn State ranking James Franklin Franco Harris
Penn State Athletics

Penn State coach James Franklin had his annual post-Signing Day presser yesterday in the Beaver Stadium media room.

Here’s what he had to say.

FRANKLIN ON PENN STATE HAVING A ‘DRAMA-FREE SIGNING DAY’

**Only one of the 26 ’24 players that committed to Penn State de-committed.

Well, I think that goes back to what we talked about a few weeks ago when we talked about how every recruit, when they commit to Penn State, I talk to them about committing to me and the university, and that there’s probably going to be turnover on the staff, whether it’s right away, this year, or whether it’s in their four-to-five years here at Penn State.

And you guys, I think, have been supportive of that as well. I know none of you guys would call and write an article and make it seem like we told a recruit before we made a change or a decision that somebody would do that because you guys know we don’t operate that way.

But I think the fact that we do that, I think helps us. So when those things do happen, they are not shocked by that. I literally say to them, ‘Hey, are you going to be committed if, say, for example, Anthony Poindexter has a chance to go to be the head coach at School X, Y or Z, are you going to stay committed to Penn State?’ We kind of go through those things and I think that is helpful.

But then also, back to the point about the board being able to make these hires in a timely way, because not only are we recruiting them, but there’s people that are trying to flip our guys. When you have a change, and specifically at a coordinator position, that can be unsettling. So being able to get that position filled as soon as possible while also being thorough and detailed, there’s a ton of value in that.

But I think the other thing is being able to tell the story, right. You know, whether it’s been at Vanderbilt or whether it’s been at Penn State, we have got a history of playing really good defense under this current era, but really, like Terry Smith said today, going back forever at Penn State, we have played good defense here for a long time.

So, trusting us. Being able to show them a pattern of success and a pattern of decision-making, that has helps with that. I think all of those things have been a part of trying to limit that drama as much we possibly can.

 

ON PENN STATE SIGNEE LIAM ANDREWS’S SWITCH FROM OFFENSIVE TO DEFENSIVE LINE

We were recruiting him hard, as an offensive lineman, and thought he had a chance to be special as an offensive lineman. But I think you guys know with us, we are an under-promise, over-deliver program and I’m not going to tell a guy what he wants to hear to get him here and then switch it with other alternative motives or agendas, we are not going to that.

When we decided to say, hey, we are going to take you as a defensive lineman, if I’m remembering the timeline correctly, Deion [Barnes] was able to go see him work out, whether it was off-campus, at like a New England showcase or whether it was here, and we legitimately felt like this guy has a chance to be a special defensive lineman.

So, we were able to be transparent and authentic with him and his family and say, yeah, we are recruiting you as a defensive lineman and feel like, not only are you going to be able to do it, but you are going to be able to do it at a high level. I think that’s another part of our responsibility is, even if a kid wants to play d-line but we really felt like their best future is as an offensive lineman, we are going to tell them that.

I think, at the end of the day, we are going to let the kids play the position they want to play. But, when we evaluated him, and Deion evaluated him, we were very excited about his future as a defensive tackle, specifically as an inside guy. His ability to bend, change direction, his competitiveness; and he’s going to be a big guy.

You know, Coach [Phil] Trautwein was heartbroken, but then also involved in the process of saying, hey, we still want you here, and kind of stepped away. And Deion took over at that point, as well as the rest of the defensive coaches and myself.

And again, back to that word “trust.” I think the family trusted that we were being transparent and open and honest with them, and it really worked out well. I think the kid felt good about Penn State before that.

Now it was just a position thing we had to work through. We’re excited about him. He’s got some bumps and bruises he’s working through right now but hopefully we’ll get him rehabbing and in a position to be able to compete by the time summer camp comes around.

 

ON PENN STATE OL SIGNEES COOPER COUSINS, GARRETT SEXTON

Coop is kind of an unusual guy, right. I think, first of all, he could play all five positions. You don’t usually see a 6-6, 320-pound guy play center. I think that’s unusual. In some ways, I think it hurt him in the rankings because I think when they ranked him as an offensive lineman, they ranked him as an interior guy and they always rank the interior guys lower than the tackles.

From having him in camp, I think he could play all five spots and there’s tremendous value in guys like that. He came to every camp. That was unique. We played him at tackle, and he showed he could do it. He’s got a nasty streak. And to your point, he doesn’t look like a high school kid. He’s a lean 6-6, 320 pounds, which is unusual.

He also was really what I could say about a lot of these guys. He was a high-production, highly-rated guy who was low maintenance. I mean, literally, we offered him, they all looked at us, the whole family, he walked around the corner, I think we did this, I want to say, it was maybe during COVID or somewhere around that time because I think we were meeting outside. I’m trying to remember. He walked away and came back, like, four minutes later and said, “We’re coming.” And that was the end of it. You know, a high-profile guy that knew this is where he wanted to be. The family was comfortable, and they never wavered. They never wavered. They were awesome the whole time. He became a leader within the class in helping us get other guys. He’s coming in early. Is going to have chance to compete.  So I love him. You know, I do.

And then, when you talk about Garrett Sexton it is a weird one, right. Garrett Sexton was a quarterback. You don’t hear that very often, quarterback to offensive tackle recruit, and become one of the highest-recruited offensive tackles in the country.

You know, Wisconsin has not been a big recruiting area for us. We have been able to get, you know, one kid maybe every four or five years out of that area. This year we were able to get a number [from Wisconsin]. I think it started a little bit maybe with Jerry a few years ago, Jerry Cross out of Milwaukee. I think that helped us. And then for us to get three guys out of Wisconsin this year is very unusual.

And he’s a really good one. He got hurt his senior year, so missed some time. But again, another kid and another family that, you know, was really trending as a prospect once people kind of got a chance to see him and his transition from quarterback to tackle. He came to camp and did a great job for us in camp and then his senior year was limited with an injury.

But we think he’s got a really high ceiling. Excited to get him on campus and working with him as well. Him and his family were phenomenal.

I think we were able to get a few more guys that we think can be tackles. That’s always been a challenge for us is getting the length that we would like and the athleticism to be true tackles. We’ve had some guys that have been able to be swing guys: guys that we think are probably guards but have the ability to play tackle. So we have been able to get a few more of those guys in this class.

But it’s still a little bit of a need for us, you know, whether it’s the transfer portal or, you never know, in a second signing day. You just can’t have enough of those tackle body types because typically, those guys can go inside. A lot of times it’s hard for the center/guard body types to go out. But overall, very, very pleased with the class and what Coach Trautwein and the offensive staff was able to do there.

ON PENN STATE FOOTBALL’S HIGH AMOUNT OF EARLY-ENROLLES, HOW THAT COULD HELP WITH PREPARATION 

I think, obviously, when you’re able to get guys on campus earlier, I don’t think it’s the end-all be-all, but it helps. I mean, when they are here in the spring, learning the system, getting comfortable, getting a feel, it allows them to be better positioned to legitimately compete in the summer and during training camp.

So you know, the number of guys, 16 guys coming in early, I think that helps. Now, I do think we got nine guys coming in the summer, that if they approach it the right way will still be able to compete and we’ve seen examples of that.

So that’s why you see the number trending. There’s a lot of reasons why academically it makes sense in terms of the possibility of getting a master’s degree while they are here, the likelihood of that improving. Playing as a true freshman, the likelihood of that increases.

So you know, it’s not something that we really push. But I just see that becoming more and more of a trend, which also can be challenging. Because a lot of times at mid-semester, you don’t know exactly how many scholarships you are going to have available, whether it’s guys declaring early for the NFL or whether it’s the transfer portal. I don’t think a lot of people understand that part of the process.

It’s really a guesstimate. And that guesstimate has become harder and harder to make because, before the transfer portal, we really could go back on 10 years of data to say, okay, on average, we are going to have this much attrition, and that’s all been thrown out the window now. So it makes it more and more difficult to do that.

So we’re excited about getting them here, but it can be complicated.

 

ON PENN STATE FOOTBALL’S WR SIGNEES

Tyseer (Denmark) is a guy that we got to know really well early on. Was a high-profile guy in the state.

We were able to evaluate him on film but also in seven-on-seven, live in camp, and just supreme confidence. Ball skills. Change of direction. It was obvious very early on that we wanted him and felt like he had a chance to be kind of a difference-maker for us in this class.

When you talk about Josiah Brown, he was a guy that we identified very early on. Had track times to back it up. Came to camp. Ran really well in camp. Suffered an injury his senior year, which limited some of his impact for his team and maybe some on the rankings, as well.

But they are two guys that we know a lot about and have been recruiting for a long time.

Then also Peter Gonzalez, a guy that came to camp. We told him the things that he needed to work on and to watch the improvement he made, was significant. [Peter’s] dad played college football and played in the NFL, as well. [There’s] value in that. And really, just his measurables; height, weight, speed, and had a really productive senior year.

We love those guys we have got coming in. Different body types, different skill sets that we think will help that room and create a competitive edge for us. You’ve got New York. You’ve got Inner-City Philadelphia and you’ve got Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Central Catholic, specifically, where we have been fortunate to get some really good players out of a really good program.

We are excited about getting all three of them. I wish some of them were coming early but again, they are guys that we still feel like we’ll have an opportunity to compete come summer as long as they handle these next couple months the right way, which I think they will.

 

ON DL SIGNEE T.A. CUNNINGHAM

First of all, I think T.A. is a guy that got on the national recruiting scene very early for a reason, right. There was a lot of traits that he showed that were obvious to everybody.

And then, obviously, when you talk about whether it’s moving high schools, or whether it’s limited film based on injuries, for us, we just want to make sure that we understand the reasons behind all those things, and the thing that’s great about T.A. and his family is they have been totally transparent about all those things, and I think you guys know, we are thorough and detailed with everything that we do.

So here is a guy that had some challenges and some adversities that he had to overcome, and the family had to overcome, and then some physical injuries and setbacks and things like that. But the reality is, at the end of the day, that body type, those traits, those skills are still there, and we think he’s a highly-motivated young man.

We just feel like he’s one of those guys that gets into our structure and our system, he’s going to flourish and be one of those guys that everybody is talking about a couple years from now, in terms of a guy that Penn State got a steal on because we trust in our evaluation process, and really did a lot of digging to make sure we understood all the details and were comfortable with the details.

ON QUINTON MARTIN

Yeah, I think what’s unique about both of our running backs this year in this class, both of them were used heavily as wide receivers, and I think in today’s college football or the NFL, the more ways you can use running backs, the better. I think we made a huge investment this off-season and during the season to use our running backs in different ways and want to continue to grow in that area.

But I actually think both Quinton and Corey [Smith] could play wide receiver for us. It’s kind of back to the conversation we had about Liam [Andrews]. The guys that we are recruiting really should be recruitable prospects on both sides of the ball. You should be able to make the argument that those guys are able to do it and do it at a high level.

The thing again, and I’ve said this about a lot of our guys, but here is Quinton who is the No. 1 recruit in Pennsylvania based on ratings and rankings, depending on how much stock you put into that kind of stuff. But really, was low maintenance. You know, Quinton and his family and his support system have been awesome. He was able to lead his team to a state Championship Game this year. Committed to us. Never wavered. Stopped flirting with other schools and other teams. Totally shut it down. Really has done extremely well academically. Has just been awesome.

And again, back to that whole; Ja’Juan Seider is a guy that, I think if he chooses to be a head coach, is going to be a head coach. You just saw another one of our former guys, Gerad Parker, get the head job at Troy. There’s a bunch of guys that have through here that have gone on to become head coaches.

Here is another one that I wanted to make sure that Quinton understood that, as well. If Coach Seider decides he is going to be a head coach, he’s to go to be, and are you comfortable with that and committing to Penn State and Terry Smith and myself. Terry is another guy like that that we talk about.

And Quinton and his family really never wavered. Had some hard conversations early on and working through some dynamics and things like that. But was awesome.

I just think, you know, I don’t care what business you’re in, what industry you’re in. When you’re in a leadership position, the more staff that you can have that are high production and low maintenance; the more players that are high production and low maintenance, especially in 2023, with all of the craziness going on in college athletics, and specifically college football, you know, that’s something that we really value. I think he’s another example of that.

Then he’s coming into one of the best running back rooms in the country. That didn’t intimidate him either. Wants to come in and compete see how things play out. And we are going to put him in position to do so.

It’s awesome. We’ve got a pretty good run going right now, again, with the state of Pennsylvania and the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania. We’ve got to do it again next year. That’s not looking as promising right now as it has been the last couple years, but we’re going to battle and to find a way to get that one done as well. All these players, Singleton and Quinton that have done it. They have a responsibility to help us sign the No. 1 player in the state next year, as well. We take a lot of pride in that.

Again, I’m a big believer for a lot of different reasons, not just Penn State’s but for the young men. That’s a win-win for everybody. The best players in Pennsylvania need to stay in Pennsylvania and they need to come to Penn State.

I also believe the best players in the region should come to Penn State. I’m biased but I think we’re the best option in terms of combination of school and football and being able to compete at the very highest level. We are the best option within the footprint, and that’s no disrespect to any other program. But I believe that and I feel that way.

ON THE TYPE OF PLAYER PENN STATE’S LOOKING FOR

I think that’s one of the things that I think you guys have heard me talk about in the past and I talk about with the staff a lot.

Again, knock-on-wood, I think we have done a good job of this because again, we are responsible for 125 18-to-22-year-old males, the most unpredictable group of people on the planet, and we are responsible for them, unfairly, 24 hours a day.

We have worked really hard at making sure we know what we’re bringing into the locker room, not perfect, but make sure we know who we are bringing in the locker room, who we are bringing into the Happy Valley community, who we are bringing in to the brotherhood of lettermen, and making sure that the guys that we take that the lettermen are going to be proud of those guys. The community is going to be proud of.

And again, that’s not easy. But I think we do a ton of homework there. Just like myself, they are not all perfect. But I do believe the guys that we’re bringing within our structure and within our support system will flourish. I really believe that. I’ve got a ton of examples of guys that have flourished under the structure and under the system.

So for us, I talk to the staff a lot about [not getting] intoxicated by talent and talent alone. You know, look at the transcript. There’s a ton of information on that transcript besides just GPA: Absences, tardies, the type of classes they are taking. Ask a ton of questions at the school. You guys heard me talk about this before. Talk to the high school coach, but there’s pressure on the high school coach, right. Talk to the teachers. Talk to the guidance counselor. Talk to the principal. Talk to the other students in the hallway. You guys have heard me talk about this before.

My mom was a hall aide as well as a janitor in our school system. Talk to them. They know everything, and how these young men treat those people that work in those buildings I think is very, very telling.

Talk to other coaches in the community that don’t have the pressure to talk kindly about the kids. Get information from them. Be willing to ask the tough, uncomfortable questions.

You know, and it’s funny because I say the same thing to the recruits. I’m a big boy, you won’t hurt my feelings. Ask the tough questions. If there’s concerns that you or your family have or other schools have negative recruited, just ask. Let us talk through these things, and that’s part of building that trust and that relationship.

Then again, not telling recruits and families and for the most part, the kids that we’re recruiting into families, they appreciate the transparency; that we are not just telling them everything they want to hear. ‘Oh, you want to wear No. 1? You got No. 1, and you’ve told that to every recruit in the class, even the O-lineman. Like, are you going to start as a true freshman? Oh, yeah, you’re going to start as a true freshman. Back when we were in Pollock dorms, oh, you’re going to have your own room with your own bathroom’. And then they showed up and they didn’t.

Like we are an under-promise, over-deliver program. I think sometimes we lose kids for that because we don’t sell them on a fantasy. We sell them on the reality. But I think, when you sell young men and their families on the reality, then I have a better chance of holding them accountable to what the expectations are once they get here and that trust is established, and then once they get here, you’re able to build on that trust and that relationship.

Because, as you guys know, as well as I, it’s not going to go perfect. You know, they are going to think they are going to play as a true freshman. Some will. Some won’t. Some are going to expect to play as redshirt freshmen or true sophomores and maybe they don’t get the same amount of playing time that they thought they were going to get. Or maybe they miss a couple field goals and then social media blows up on them. Like there’s going to be adversity that comes.

So by really developing this relationship based on trust, and love and support through the good times and bad times, I think allows you to overcome some of those things.

And we have been fortunate. We have been fortunate through chemistry, love, support, honesty, transparency, that I think we have been able to work through a lot of issues that can be challenging at times.

The quarterback, Ethan [Grunkemeyer], what are your big picture plans for him? What do you expect him to possibly play next year?
A: Yes, my friend. That’s hard to say, right. We recruited Ethan because we’ve seen over time that he’s got a chance to be a really talented player in the Big Ten and nationally.

He’s proved that, you know, over his entire career, and really over the last probably year and a half, he has really taken it to a different level. His high school and his high school coach did a phenomenal job with him. His quarterback trainer, as you know now, we’ve got history with him. He’s done a great job with him as well. His family have done a great job. This kid is wired right. He’s been raised right. Discipline and structure at his high school. Discipline and structure in his home.

I think all these things lend a young man to have success when he gets in our structure and discipline. I think he’s fortunate. I think more times than not, especially at the quarterback position, you know, are there exceptions? Yes. But more times than not, you like to come in and sit behind a guy for a year and learn and take it all in.

I think there’s a reason why Drew [Allar] threw 23 touchdown passes and one interception, whatever that number was this year. I think being able to sit behind Sean [Clifford] and learn behind Sean was valuable.

When I was with the Green Bay Packers and we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers that year, I think a big part of Aaron Rodgers’ success was he was able to sit behind Brett, learn from Brett, what Brett did well, what he would do differently. And obviously you look at his career.

So, I think more times than not, there’s a ton of value in that. Now, does that mean that he won’t have a chance to come in and compete? No. We want him to come in and compete. We want all of our guys to come in and compete but, worst-case scenario, if he doesn’t, if he can sit behind and learn for a year and then be competing that following spring, then that’s not all bad, either.

Again, these are the type of conversations we have had as well and that he understands and I think him and Drew have a relationship, and that helps too. But that position, as we all know, is the most important position, probably in all of sports, and specifically in college football, in terms of competing for championships, conference and national.

So, the better we can recruit at that position and develop at that position, and then recruit around that position to complement those guys, the better. That’s O-line, that’s tight ends, that’s running backs, and that’s receivers and that’s coaches. That’s all of it.

We are pleased with them. We are really happy he’s in the fold and his development over the last year and a half has been really cool, and it’s interesting because you look at Drew’s trajectory as a recruit and Ethan’s, it’s very similar in a lot of ways. So, pretty cool. I think we are also allowed to recruit other states besides Ohio for quarterbacks, but if it works out that way, we’ll be happy to go there again.

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