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James Franklin: Recruits’ expectations can be difficult to match
The transition from a high-profile recruit to third- or fourth-stringer often creates quite a shock for young college players. Sometimes it can challenge an athlete’s self-confidence.
Penn State coach James Franklin is no stranger to these circumstances, seeing it play out annually throughout his coaching career. While meeting with the media after practice Wednesday, he explained initial individual expectations are routinely unreachable.
“All these freshmen came in thinking they were going to start as true freshmen,” Franklin said. “That’s kind of the story they have in their mind: they’re going to come in and start as true freshmen and be freshmen All-Americans. For some guys it works out like that, and for other guys it doesn’t, so there’s a transition.”
This transition process is happening within college football programs across America right now as depth charts are established and made public. The confirmation that a redshirt season is far more likely than meaningful reps can be a tough pill for some to swallow — but it has become a realization for the vast majority of 2017 Penn State signees.
Franklin mentioned just three freshmen he expects to avoid a redshirt this season: cornerbacks Tariq Castro-Fields and Lamont Wade, and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos. He made those statements Tuesday shortly after Penn State released its season-opening depth chart.
Though the door is open for other freshmen to earn playing time as a result of performance or injuries, Franklin limited his immediate outlook to that trio. Most members of the 2017 recruiting class don’t appear on the three-deep. Some exceptions include quarterback Sean Clifford and receivers KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer, who are each listed as third-string players.
“I think all these guys, they come into it through the recruiting process and what they envision their freshmen year to be. Very rarely does it play out that way,” Franklin said. “You know, I think nationally, very rarely does it play out the way they kind of pictured it in their mind. And I think that’s good.”
When Franklin first arrived in State College three years ago, roster structure created a necessity for freshmen to contribute immediately in several roles. With the Nittany Lions now sporting the most depth and talent that Penn State has possessed in several years, that’s no longer the case at most positions.
Franklin considers it an early obstacle for talented players, but one that will help strengthen their resolve.
“This is a very humbling profession,” Franklin said. “Those guys being able to go through that, where they were dominant, dominant high school prospects and high school players, and then they get here and they are basically at the bottom of the barrel and they have to fight their way back up. That’s a really important stage and process to go through from a maturity standpoint and from a growth standpoint.”
Running back Journey Brown rushed for 7,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in high school, but he’s buried behind at least four other Penn State ball carriers. Beyond Happy Valley, Ohio State freshman quarterback Tate Martell — the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year who didn’t lose a game during his final three prep campaigns — is battling for third-team reps.
For freshmen facing an uphill battle to crack the lineup, Franklin feels it’s vital for them to keep pushing forward.
“They’ve got to embrace this,” he said. “There’s no better preparation for them then to go against the first- and second-team offense and defense in practice every single day.”
4-star DB Cam’Ron Kelly plans to visit Happy Valley
As usual, Virginia will be a state near the forefront of Penn State recruiting efforts moving through the 2019 cycle. The state has produced current Nittany Lions standouts such as Trace McSorley and DaeSean Hamilton, and blue-chip 2018 commits Nana Asiedu and Ricky Slade currently attend high school in Virginia.
The list of 2019 Penn State targets who play prep football there include linebacker Brandon Smith and running backs Devyn Ford and Jordan Houston. You can also count cornerback Cam’Ron Kelly among this group.
Holding a 4-star rating and considered a top-200 recruit in 247Sports’ 2019 composite rankings, Kelly expects to visit State College this season, according to Adam Friedman of Rivals. He plans to attend the Oct. 21 matchup with Michigan for his birthday weekend.
What better way to celebrate a birthday than being surrounded by 107,000 fans during a highly anticipated Big Ten battle in “White Out” conditions?
Kelly, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior at Oscar Smith (Chesapeake) High School, landed a Nittany Lions scholarship offer on May 5. Penn State is one of nearly 30 college programs to enter this pursuit, and he is still just halfway through his prep career.
Clemson and Oregon are among his most recent offers, while Auburn, Florida State, Georgia and Michigan offers were also part of a frenzied May for the coveted defensive back.
Kelly contributed at cornerback and receiver in 2016. He collected 48 catches for 753 yards and 5 scores as a sophomore, per MaxPreps, adding 35 tackles and 8 interceptions.
Penn State is in solid position with a few compelling 2019 cornerbacks. New Jersey standout Nyquee Hawkins and local State College product Keaton Ellis have expressed significant interest in the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is still searching for its first commitment of the 2019 cycle. This latest development again shows the program is laying great groundwork, and further validates the Michigan game as a huge recruiting spectacle.
Check out Kelly’s sophomore-season highlights here: