Full speed ahead for Penn State coach James Franklin, recruiting continues apace and more

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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Tuesday, Feb. 28. Let’s get started.

Franklin: Penn State is what it is

Penn State coach James Franklin reprised one of his favorite quotes while discussing his program with USA Today’s Pete Myerberg:

“Everyone has always talked about what Penn State was. … I think for the first time in a very long time, these kids have people talking about what Penn State is.”

It is something his players have picked up on and repeated. It also has a ring of truth, for while the past rears its ugly head every now and then – often in the form of matters related to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal – folks are very much looking ahead, now that the program’s fortunes are looking up.

Still, Franklin couldn’t resist one more backward glance in Myerberg’s piece, noting that it took a while for the fan base to get used to the coach’s hard-driving ways when he arrived at Penn State in January 2014.

“I was so positive, and I was so enthusiastic. And it was different. It was different for this community. In their minds, what they thought of a head football coach, it didn’t look like me. It didn’t act like me. So that was a real difference for a lot of people. ‘Is this guy real? Is he this positive?’ It was just different. Change is hard, and this place doesn’t handle change that well.”

Especially when that change meant 7-6 finishes in each of Franklin’s first two seasons. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances in the form of the scholarship limits imposed by the NCAA in the wake of the Sandusky affair, but the paying customers didn’t really want to hear it. They wanted results. They wanted things to be like they used to be in Happy Valley, not like they were.

Franklin, to his credit, charged ahead. He fired his offensive coordinator, John Donovan, late in the 2015 season, and hired former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead to fill the void. He also made astute decisions when defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand took other jobs, promoting Brent Pry and importing former Minnesota assistant Matt Limegrover as their respective replacements.

All those moves worked out, the one involving Moorhead most of all. Franklin also had one-on-one dinners with 45 players he identified as key contributors heading into last season, just to feel them out about what they liked and didn’t like about the program. As he told Myerberg:

“I think that was when things really started to change. I got to know them. They got to know me better. We learned. We grew. I think that was really the beginning of things kind of changing.”

Certainly seemed that way. Look at the way the Lions hung together after a 2-2 start last fall. Look how often they rallied in the second half. It was a unified, cohesive, tough-minded group.

That’s tough to duplicate, but now they have confidence borne of an 11-3 season and Big Ten championship. And they have a lot of people back. They might not repeat – the conference schedule, for one thing, is a bear – but there really is plenty of reason to look forward, not back.

Recruiting update

The usual recruiting tidbits surfaced Monday, beyond word that wide receiver Solomon Enis, son of former Lions running back Curtis Enis, had been offered by PSU.

Also notable is that Aeneas Hawkins, a 3-star defensive tackle from Cincinnati Moeller, announced via Twitter that Penn State had tendered him an offer.

Another 2018 prospect, defensive end Marcellus Earlington, received an offer of his own after attending Junior Day on Saturday, according to Pennlive.com. As Earlington, a 3-star recruit from New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep, told PL’s Greg Pickel:

“They have been recruiting me since the start of this past season, and yes I expected them to offer because they’ve been to my school multiple times and even went to one of my basketball games, so I could tell they really liked me. The offer means a lot to me.”

Hockey team still No. 11

Penn State’s hockey team, fresh off a two-game road sweep last weekend of Michigan State, remains No. 11 in this week’s USCHO poll.

The Lions (20-8-2), who beat the Spartans 4-2 and 4-1, are in third place in the Big Ten. Second-place Wisconsin visits this weekend, and PSU closes out the regular season at Michigan, March 10-11.

Should the Lions leapfrog the Badgers, they would earn a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, held March 16-18 in Detroit.

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