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Penn State Emotionally ‘Working Through’ Journey Brown Retirement, Pandemic

When Penn State football’s James Franklin announced Journey Brown will retire from football due to a heart condition, it became clear that the team has been dealing with issues beyond the field this season.

After the Nittany Lions’ loss to Maryland on Saturday, wide receiver Jahan Dotson explained that the team was focusing on “distractions.” An emotional Franklin clarified during his post-practice availability Wednesday that Brown’s injury has been on his players’ minds.

“When you guys hear the players talk about distractions…and they don’t get into the details of it, these are some of the things that have been kind of happening behind the scenes,” he said in reference to Brown. “It’s just been a lot of things that the guys have been managing and working through.”

Franklin paused to think for a second after saying this, getting choked up before continuing with his answer. He added that losing Noah Cain on the first drive of the season had an impact on him and the team as well.

Franklin said he’s struggled being away from his family, who are isolating in Florida due to his daughter’s health condition. Usually a smiley guy, Franklin paused Tuesday and said that the usual “good” response was probably not an honest one. This emotional honesty bled over to Wednesday as well.

“At the end of the day, we got to get it done no matter what,” Franklin said. “But I will tell you, all of these things have had an impact…I have spent a lot of time on non-football things whether that’s throughout the day or that’s out at practice.”

Despite the challenges, Franklin reiterated he’s blessed to coach at Penn State.

“I’m very aware of how blessed I am and how fortunate I am,” he prefaced. “But this has been a challenging year, and there’s things behind the scenes going on like you guys just found out about today that were very difficult. Journey Brown is like a son to me, really is. It’s been a challenging year.”

In a very typical James Franklin way, he turned his attention toward Saturday and said that the team has as an opportunity to experience some joy against Nebraska, and that’s what it’s focused on.

He’s been trying to get the team back on track amid struggles like this by switching things up during practice. Franklin said they had their first in-person team meeting Tuesday. After trying to virtually engage and motivate the team, the coaching staff agreed that something needed to change.

“I’m a relational leader and talking on Zoom sessions every single day to the team — it just doesn’t have the same type of connection,” he said. “And that was the best practice we’ve had this year.”

Obliviously the logistics of getting the whole team together during a pandemic are difficult, but Franklin said they were able to safely space everyone out in Holuba Hall. Outside of just logistical issues like this, the coronavirus is another “behind the scenes” issue Penn State has been dealing with.

Franklin said things like the pandemic have had an impact on himself and on the team. Even though he’s been distracted during practice, he knows he needs to focus on football going forward in order to be successful.

“I’m going to let the trainers and doctors manage COVID, and I’m going to coach football,” he said. “I know that sounds ridiculous but I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to manage those other things as well and I feel like I got a responsibility as a head coach to make sure that we play well.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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