- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State coach James Franklin has been in the Big Ten for less than a month, but he's already making big news on the recruiting trail. At his introductory news conference Jan. 11, Franklin proclaimed: "We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region." He then went out and landed eight recruits in the three-plus weeks before signing day, flipping five who had pledged to Vanderbilt, his former team. Franklin upgraded Penn State's perimeter with players like wide receiver Saeed Blacknall. It's safe to say the Big Ten recruiting landscape is a little more interesting with Franklin in the mix.
ESPN.com caught up with the Penn State coach earlier Wednesday to discuss his first recruiting class with the Lions.
Where does today rank among your favorite days of the year?
James Franklin: Professionally, it's a really good day. You're talking about your future, you're talking about the possibilities of what these young men are going to bring to your program. So from that perspective, I enjoy it, there's no doubt about it. And I'm a guy who likes recruiting because I like being successful, and good players help.
What were your main goals with this class, given the limited time you had to finish it off?
JF: Well, we had major holes in the roster from a scholarship reduction standpoint. We had to try to fill some needs, although we're not going to fill all of our needs in one class. The ones that were obvious, we only had two scholarship offensive tackles in the program, so that was important for us. When you've got a quarterback like [Christian] Hackenberg, you better have some weapons to throw the ball to, so wideouts were important. And then continue to work on depth in the D-line as well as the secondary. We still have a long way to go, but considering we had three weeks to finish this out, we did pretty well.
What stands out about the wide receivers you brought in?
JF: The combination of [Mike] Gesicki at tight end, who's really a big wideout, H-back type guy, and then at wideout, the size and speed combination that we have, I feel really good about that, with Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin and all the guys we have. [Troy] Apke as well, I think it's a nice class. When you have a quarterback like Hackenberg, it helps you recruit, but it's also a responsibility for us to surround that guy with as much talent as possible.
How much was speed an objective with this class?
JF: Speed always is an objective for us. We will have the fastest team in the Big Ten. When you say that, a lot of people think you're talking about DBs and wide receivers, but for us, it's kickers, it's offensive line, it's every position. We want speed throughout our team.
You've talked about players committing to coaches perhaps more than schools. Is too much made out of the school versus the coach? You obviously had relationships with several of these guys from your time at Vanderbilt.
JF: I don't know if that's exactly what I said. I said the school's a major factor and always will be, but with the recruiting process and teams and organizations, it's about the people. You're going to look at the schools and the rankings first, but once you narrow it down to a group of schools you're comfortable with, it comes down to how you feel about the people. It's not about the buildings; it's about the people inside the buildings. That comes down to relationships and trust and all those things. We've had guys we've been recruiting across the country for two years, and we were going to stick with those guys. The same thing with the recruits and families. They were comfortable with us and who we are as men and how we conduct ourselves. It also helped that we went from one school to another that has similar philosophies when it comes to academics.
Did you notice any differences being in the Big Ten or this region?
JF: It's too early to tell. We were just scrambling the last three weeks. I'll have a better idea next year or after spring. The biggest difference is that Nittany Lion logo on your shirt carries a lot of weight in this part of the country and nationally. This is a national brand. And I'm a Pennsylvania guy. I have a lot of connections in this part of the country. So does my staff. It's a big deal for the Penn State coaches to come by the school, to be in that community. This is a very, very proud, storied, historic program, and people are yearning to get back to that. That's what makes this place so special. There's just so many positive things to sell.
You mentioned the defensive line. What do you like about the guys you brought in there?
JF: They're all going to have to contribute. With our situation, all these guys were recruited to come in and play. Once they get here, if they're not ready to play, whether it's emotionally or physically, then we'll redshirt them. But with our scholarship numbers, our mentality is all these guys are going to have to come to play. Maybe they're playing special teams initially, but by the midpoint of the season, you hope these guys are getting significant reps. We're going to have to do that for the next couple of years. Both [Tarow] Barney and [Antoine] White are going to have to play. The fact that they're already here on campus gives them a much better chance, just learning how to practice and the mentality and how we do things. Culturally, our players are good because they've been winning for a long time.
You want to focus in Pennsylvania and the region, but how important is it for you to extend the reach, especially to the South?
JF: We've got to dominate the state and we've got to have a huge presence in this region. On top of that, we're going to recruit nationally by position. You better know where the top players are by position, and you never know. Maybe a kid grew up being a Penn State fan or has a relative that went to Penn State or played here. Now you've got an in and a chance to go pluck a guy from another part of the country that is a big-time player.
Did you send any message to the Big Ten with how you finished off this class?
JF: I don't know about all that. I'm proud of the staff, I'm proud of the players that helped us recruit these guys and be tremendous hosts. I'm just focused on Penn State and doing the best job we possibly can. The more days that we have like this, attack the day with everything we've got, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, the Saturdays will start taking care of themselves.