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Nassib Healthy To ‘Kick Some Ass,’ Johnson And Hackenberg Seek Pro Evaluations

While media days don’t often provide a great amount of tangible news, James Franklin made two things clear in Penn State’s final press availability before the Nittany Lions travel south for the Taxslayer Bowl: All-American defensive end Carl Nassib is 100 percent healthy for a game for the first time in more than a month, and Christian Hackenberg and Austin Johnson have both applied for draft evaluations from the NFL, though no formal decision has been reached for either of their futures.

“We missed Carl Nassib at the end of the year,” said Franklin, who introduced the welcoming news unprompted in his opening statement.

Nassib has flown across the country collecting an array of postseason awards, while balancing the completion of his biology major before graduating Saturday. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year missed much of Penn State’s final three games (all losses) with what was rumored to be a hamstring injury, though never confirmed by the team.

“It means everything,” said Nassib, confirming that he’s at full health for the bowl game. “I just want to put the Penn State jersey back on one more time, just kick some ass. I just want to get out there and hit somebody really, really badly.”

Nassib said he’s exhausted from countless flights, media commitments, and award ceremonies, so a chance to focus on football for the next two weeks will stand as a welcomed change. The focus on two of his star teammates, however, seemed to be far from the football field.

In the first question of his press conference, Franklin was asked if Johnson and Hackenberg had pursued NFL recourses in considering their departure from Penn State.

“I met with both of those guys I guess two weeks ago, had really good meetings with them,” Franklin said. “We have some services that we provide for families and players to get some information. They both have applied for information from the NFL as well. That’s an ongoing process for both of them.”

The NFL provides evaluations for players considering entering the draft. Josh Gattis, Penn State’s wide receiver coach and a former NFL player, said the process results in a very honest appraisal of one’s pro potential.

“What we basically decided more than anything, just like everything else at Penn State, we want to have a plan and be organized,” Franklin continued. “Not just someone coming out and throwing something out mid-week on a tweet, it’s going to be something were going to try to do together, the way they want it to be done, and also something that’s going to represent Penn State the right way.”

Johnson wasn’t available to the media on Friday, but Christian Hackenberg answered every question regarding his future the same way he has for the past three years: No, I haven’t decided, and I’m only focused on the game ahead.

Hackenberg, and many of the other offensives players that spoke Friday, said he was disappointed that John Donovan was fired. He was a hard-worker, and respected by his players, they said. Just like every other offensive player will over the coming weeks, he said that he met with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to learn about his new offensive philosophy.

“I sat down with him yesterday for a couple hours, picked his brain about it,” Hackenberg said. “I was intrigued by the offense and everything that went into it. I had never really run anything quite like the spread offense in my life so I was just kind of curious how it worked.”

There’s no telling if the coaching change will sway Hackenberg’s decision in any way. But the program’s all-time leading passer made one thing crystal clear: He won’t go into any real detail until after the bowl game.

 

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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