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Blue-White Game Countdown / 19 Days: Cue The Music, ‘Hey, It’s Franklin’

Editor’s note: This is part of a daily series counting down to Penn State’s Blue-White Game April 18.

By Mike Poorman

“Hey, it’s Franklin.
Coming over to play.
Growing a little every day.”
–Franklin The Turtle’s theme song

James Franklin and about thirty dozen of his closest friends got together in Holuba Hall on Saturday morning. It was Practice Five of Penn State’s 2015 spring football season. But Job One for Franklin was about a half-dozen things. All were part of Penn State football. And Franklin was in the middle of them all — equal parts CEO, coach, recruiter, cheerleader, spokesman, and even manager.

“Hey,” Franklin shouted to no one in particular during a quick break in a scrimmage near practice’s end, “can we get some water for these guys who are playing hard out there?”

“Hey, J.D.,” Franklin yelled across the practice field to offensive coordinator John Donovan during an intense four-minute drill, “no more timeouts for the defense.”

“Hey, how did you guys like that?” Franklin grinned after a play as he sidled up to 230 inches and 810 pounds of giggling defensive linemen named Anthony Zettel, Garrett Sickels, and Carl Nassib.

“Hey, Threlkel,” Franklin motioned to Kevin Threlkel, a trusted Franklin aide since their days at K-State. The lanky assistant sprinted a 40 cross-field over to Franklin, listened intently to his boss, then shared a laugh as he hustled off from whence he came.

Hey, it gets exhausting following this Franklin guy around all morning.

We’re Talking About Practice

Franklin is the anti-Iverson. He’s never met a practice or a part of a practice – or practice bystanders or guests – he didn’t like.

For predecessors Paterno and O’Brien, practice was Football. But for Franklin, football practice is about oh-so-much more. It’s not just a drill, a play, a scheme, a mulligan for a drive gone awry 126 days ago. It’s also about manufacturing buzz and excitement that recruits high school stars, ticket-buyers, headline-writers, co-workers, and scout-teamers and superstars alike. Franklin mints it all.

Saturday’s practice had kind of a party-with-pads atmosphere to it, part PSU and part LMFAO. Seemingly, a good time was had by all. (Except for another disgruntled practice participant named Allen – as in running back Mark Allen. More on that in a minute.) It’s Franklin’s show, no doubt. The minute-by-minute practice schedule is in his left hand and a whistle is around his neck when it isn’t in his mouth. Practice marches to Franklin’s beat.

The speakers played that Penn State favorite, “Zombie Nation,” but there wasn’t a hint of anyone walking or dead. Allen probably felt like a bit of both, though. On the final play of the scrimmage, he fumbled inches from a touchdown and spent what was a commercial break for most players doing what appeared it be an odd combination of up-downs and push-ups.

“Hey,” said Franklin, looking for an assistant to oversee Allen’s penance, “who’s going to take him?”

Practice had Nittany Lions past, like Deoin Barnes. And Nittany Lions present, about a hundred of them. And lots of PSU folks working on the future — a couple dozen coaches, GA’s, trainers, staffers, football support personnel, student assistants and Penn State PR people.

New Look Lions

Some of the old guys sported new looks. On offense, Christian Hackenberg tossed a live-scrimmage red zone TD to tight end Mike Gesicki. Tight end Kyle Carter lined up at fullback. On defense, a bearded Jordan Lucas excelled at safety, having made the move from cornerback in the offseason to kick off his final season. Linebacker Ben Kline looked studly at linebacker, where Brandon Bell was sporting a new number that matched the last two letters of his surname. Newly-mustachioed defensive tackle Zettel snidely whiplashed any blockers in his direction.

Also at practice were about 50 potentially future Nittany Lions — committed, offered, and I’m-just-browsing, ma’am. They were on the friends and family plan, bringing along parents, siblings, high school coaches, real coaches, and uncles of the Dutch variety.

(Franklin, as gregarious a major college football coach as there is, knows how to talk to the Dutch variety. He’s recruited for 10 colleges, and spent a season next door to Holland, playing quarterback and serving as the offensive coordinator for the Roskilde Kings of the Danish American Football Federation.)

The youngsters were a mixed bag. As Greg Pickel of succinctly wrote, “Among the confirmed group were a couple 2015 signees, four 2016 verbal commitments, eight offered juniors, eight offered sophomores, and two offered freshmen.”

There were nearly 40 members of the media there as well, watching the end of practice and then meeting with Franklin for the third time in a dozen days. It was also the third spring practice open to the press, as Franklin has made good on his promise to be open in Year 2. Saturday’s group was visibly larger than the one that turned out on March 17 for the spring practice kickoff presser – as small of a contingent for that event as most beat writers have ever seen.

Media Well Done

Keeping the word out there about Penn State football – sans scandal for the first time in years – is yet another Franklin priority. That’s why, media-wise, he practices it with a couple of public preaches a week. And that’s why, after donning sweatpants over his practice shorts and pulling on a second sweatshirt when practice ended, he races over to edge of the field, the media dutifully congregated.

“Hey,” Franklin said to a throng of reporters and camera people, “thanks for coming out. How you guys doing?”

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