Kickoff Coverage The Face Of Improvement For The Lions
When considering all that’s gone right for the Nittany Lions during this magical run, kickoff coverage might become an afterthought. After all, there are other obvious factors playing into Penn State’s drastic improvement, right? According to James Franklin, it’s his program’s performance with the smaller details that’s helped it reach new heights — the rest came naturally.
Specifically, it’s the meaning behind his team’s kickoff performance and what his players are displaying. It’s been nothing but production from Joey Julius’ live leg, but Franklin sees more. When he sees players running all the way through the endzone after Julius kicks one to the moon, it’s a reflection the values he’s instilled in his team. “Julius is kicking a lot of balls out of the end zone, but what happens on some teams is when that happens, guys stop running down field or they start jogging around the 15-yard line and jog off the field,” Franklin said. “Seeing all 11 of our guys every single kickoff running through the end zone, those are little signs of discipline that I’m really pleased with right now.”
That discipline’s helped his team’s defense tighten up and keep opponents out of the endzone. Almost more importantly, it’s helped his team’s offense break records and go from averaging 349 yards per game to 430 as quarterback Trace McSorley captured the school record for total yards in a season. In short, it’s no coincidence — everything fans are seeing on the field is a result of preparation and execution. Franklin’s players are buying in, and that commitment to excellence, if you will, has Penn State battling for the Big Ten crown in Indianapolis on Saturday. Not only that, it has his program defying the odds and contending sooner rather than later with statistics that blow last year’s figures out of the water.
For most fans, single plays stick out as season-defining moments, but the dedication to routine and hustle shine much brighter than one singular moment in Franklin’s eyes.
Obviously [the blocked kick against Ohio State] is going to be a memorable play. But that’s easy to point out. I don’t need to point that out,” Franklin said. “They get that. It’s the other things. It’s how they stretch. It’s how they run through the end zone on kickoff. It’s how they show up to meetings with their iPad to take notes or their notebook to take notes.”
A focus on discipline is bigger than football — it matters more for these players as young men. That’s the reason why Penn State’s program instills such values. “It’s showing up to class and not being on the list,” Franklin said. “So we can spend our time developing these guys as men and as football players and creating championship habits in football and in life, not baby-sitting on whether they’re going to class or not making the right choices. It’s all those disciplines.”
Penn State takes on Wisconsin this weekend in one of the most important games in program history. Though the finer points might be overlooked for more attractive components, they shouldn’t be forgotten. The proof is in the pudding too when it comes to the on-field product; the Lions run a tight ship, and it all starts with attitude. These Lions don’t jog into the endzone — they sprint. It may seem like a meaningless action to the casual fan, but it’s a big reason why the Lions are in a position to contend for a conference title in the first place.
Franklin’s been patient in his teaching; the coaching staff took time to cultivate the ideas and plant the seed with the hopes that they could create better young men. That said, having those lessons make an impact on gameday was equally as important. “A lot of things I’ve been talking to you guys about for three years, the examples of community service, the GPA and the grades, all that discipline,” Franklin said.”I was really hopeful that that discipline off the field would translate on the field.”
Make a note to observe each player intently when the kickoff team takes the field on Saturday. The importance of actions most might deem insignificant carry the most weight — and they could help carry the Lions to the College Football Playoff.