Penn State recruiting challenged by pandemic
The following are the highlights of Penn State coach James Franklin’s Tuesday press conference. The Nittany Lions host Illinois on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (FS1).
With Penn State set to reveal its 2021 recruiting class with the early-signing period beginning today, Franklin spoke about some of the difficulties in pitching to players and building relationships with them without being able to hold official visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a place where you have to come and see it,” Franklin said of Penn State’s campus. “Whether it’s the spring game or a junior day or a practice, it’s a special place but you have to come see it. Not having spring ball or having the summer, we’ve had to be really creative in how we show the campus and how we give a campus tour.”
Franklin mentioned that the coaching staff spent extra time diving into Zoom calls with potential recruits and their families and conducted campus tours through FaceTime and other types of video calls.
Franklin said the staff also made some videos tailored to individual players as well to try and separate themselves from other schools.
“Our recruiting staff has had to become very creative in finding different ways to connect and attract the best student athletes that we possibly could,” Franklin said. “Showing them the facilities, setting up a meeting with a strength coach and our academic staff over Zoom. We tried to recreate everything we would normally do but you’re doing it virtually which is not easy to do.”
With recent changes to transfer rules being brought to a vote, the transfer portal may become a new form of recruiting going forward as the NCAA has introduced a one-time transfer rule in October that will allow players to transfer once without having to sit out a season.
The legislation is expected to be voted on and passed in January.
Franklin said the rule would “dramatically” change recruiting and that scouting would mirror NFL teams and how they are constantly evaluating draft-eligible prospects as well as players on other teams.
“It’s similar to an NFL model where you have a completely separate recruiting department studying other people’s rosters and being ready to take transfers,” he said. “I think that you will see that on a significant level this year across college football. I think about how much college football has changed in the last 5-10 years in terms of rules. It’s very different and you have to be willing to change with the times.î”
Franklin noted he sees frustration from fans and coaches that are fond of the old model but believes coaches need to jump on board with the trend.
“I think that people often get frustrated with it or don’t understand it or want things to go back to the way they were but that isn’t happening,” he said. “You have to accept it and you have to embrace it. A lot of programs have saved scholarships for transfers even before the new rule and now, you are going to see that even more.”
Jahan Dotson had another memorable performance on Saturday as the electric junior wide receiver hauled in eight passes for 108 yards, while adding to his highlight reel with an impressive 81-yard punt return for a score.
He’s also become a leader in the locker room and has grown into a big-time playmaker.
“He’s just been more vocal this year in general, and I can really see his confidence growing,” Franklin said. “It was really cool to see how the sideline reacted to him on the punt return. They were throwing him around and carrying him around on their shoulders. He’s just one of those guys that I think everybody likes and respects.
“As he’s gotten bigger and stronger, he’s gotten more explosive. I think that there is a lot more left in the tank for him and there is a lot more development. I think he continues to get more confident, continues to get stronger and more explosive and he has a very bright future. He has kind of put himself on the map now.”
The Nittany Lions have allowed just three sacks in the last three games after surrendering 20 during the 0-5 start. The play up front, as well as the ability to run the football has made a difference.
“I think that it is a combination of things,” Franklin said. “It is our ability to run the ball better. I think that it’s our play-action pass, it’s us using the RPO and staying on schedule a little bit better on first and second down. I think it’s a combination of all of those things. Coach (Phil) Trautwein has done a really good job as well and he has a really good relationship with and has earned the respect of those guys in that room.”
LET IT SNOW
With a substantial amount of snow set to hit Central Pennsylvania starting this morning, Franklin recalled memories of trying to get to campus when he was the offensive coordinator at Maryland after receiving nearly three feet of snow.
“When I was the offensive coordinator at Maryland it snowed like 30 inches,” Franklin said. “I told my wife that I was going to work. I had an SUV and I said, ‘I’m going.’ I couldn’t get out of the driveway and I spent like the next six hours shoveling it and my wife was just laughing at me.”
Franklin said that he’s hopeful that the storm will not be too disruptive for the team as it prepares for Illinois on Saturday.
“Fortunately, we all live pretty close, and most of the guys live on campus,” he said. “We will figure it out and adjust and be ready to get the work done that needs to be done. It’s just another thing in 2020 that we are going to have to handle and have a plan for. We already started talking about it as a staff and also with administration. It may start out as a football practice and end as a snowball fight. As long as I don’t get hit in the face, I’m good.”