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July 17, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Watching for Penn State on watch lists

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I poke some fun at the preponderance of “Watch Lists” we are forced to endure this time of year. The threshold for some of these awards seems to be little more than merely being a returning starter at a major program. Plus, there are sometimes goofy requirements (the Rotary Lombardi’s are as follows: “A player should be a down lineman on either offense or defense or a linebacker who lines up no farther than five yards deep from the ball”).

 

That said, I shouldn’t be so harsh in marginalizing some nice little recognition for some of these players – particularly ones who aren’t going to win it and who aren’t going on to pro careers. Sure, they’re silly, space-filling PR vehicles for schools and quarterback clubs from across the country. But that doesn’t mean that most of these players named aren’t worthy of some praise.

 

Also, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a team’s strengths can be gleaned merely from a peek at which one of its players are on what watch lists.

 

Take Penn State. The Nittany Lions are deepest at running back and tight end (hence, two players each on the Doak Walker and Mackey Award watch lists). They have one proven, experienced player each on both the offensive line (Donovan Smith) and at linebacker (Mike Hull). Smith and Hull are on watch lists – no one else is, though.

 

#Watchlistwatch is also a barometer of how some of a team’s players are viewed from outside the blue-and-white bubble. For example, sure, those who watched Penn State game-in and game-out last season took note of Jordan Lucas’ brilliance. Validation came in the form of a Bednarik trophy watch list appearance. But while Adrian Amos’ versatility and athleticism stood out in 2013, will he be immortalized in form of a “watch list” recognition?

 

 

Penn State players’ appearances on preseason watch lists so far:

  • Bill Belton  (Walker Award – Nation’s Top Running Back)
  • Kyle Carter (Mackey Award – Nation’s Top Tight End)
  • Christian Hackenberg (Maxwell Award – College Football MVP, O’Brien Award – Nation’s Top Quarterback)
  • Mike Hull (Butkus – Nation’s Top Linebacker)
  • Jesse James (Mackey Award – Nation’s Top Tight End)
  • Jordan Lucas (Bednarik – Defensive Player of the Year, Thorpe – Nation’s Top Defensive Back)
  • Donovan Smith (Outland Trophy – Nation’s Top Interior Lineman)
  • Zach Zwinak (Walker Award – Nation’s Top Running Back).

 

 

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July 10, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State football to get $2 million facilities upgrade

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Friday is the six-month anniversary of James Franklin being named as Penn State’s 16th football coach.

 

It hasn’t taken him long to have his voice heard – both by fans and by university accountants.

 

A pair of bits of news came out Thursday concerning the program, and both seemingly have Franklin’s fingerprints on them: Penn State intends on spending $2 million to upgrade its football facilities, and some encouraging numbers were released concerning the Nittany Lions’ season ticket base.

 

First, the upgrades. According to the agenda for Friday’s university board of trustees meeting (I first saw it reported by Mark Wogenrich), the board’s committee that deals with capital planning has recommended the expenditure of $2 million to renovate the team meeting room and lobby of the Lasch Football Building and add new paint and seating to the team training table at the on-campus Pollock Dining Commons.

 

The project is almost entirely cosmetic – the agenda says the work “includes new carpeting, lighting, furniture, finishes, and wall graphics” at the 89,000-square foot Lasch Building. I can’t say that I’ve set foot in scores of big-time Division I football facilities (I’ve been to Penn State’s, Pitt’s and West Virginia’s), but PSU’s weren’t by any means extravagant — but it also wasn’t the embarrassment that Franklin tried to paint it as when he dropped an our-facilities-need-upgrading bombshell at an alumni event in Pittsburgh in May.

 

At the Sheraton Station Square that evening, there were almost audible gasps when Franklin explained that the facilities at his former head-coaching stop, Vanderbilt, were better than PSU’s – and that Vandy’s were the worst in the SEC. It was the lone “downer” for the alumni and supporters on hand during what was otherwise largely an everything’s-rosy pep rally.

 

Franklin that night (and at subsequent stops along the Coaches’ Caravan tour of Pennsylvania and neighboring areas) suggested he was embarrassed to show recruits their indoor practice facility. He talked about the “branding” and repeatedly implied that to stay a “first-class” program, the Nittany Lions needed to spruce up the facilities. He implored media and alumni to do a YouTube search of the football buildings at Oregon, Oklahoma State or Auburn, for example.

 

Before he’s even coached a game, Franklin is appearing to get his way. That said, there’s no indication this might not have happened regardless. When I was in the building in March, a large mural of Bill O’Brien still stood. New coaches are routinely given new latitude to change details as they please.

 

And as for the cost? Two million dollars sounds like a lot for some paint and carpet and chairs. But that ties us into the second bit of news from Penn State Sports Information on Thursday: Season tickets from last season have renewed at “more than 94 percent” and that “more than 4,000” new season tickets have been sold.

 

The release implores fans to buy their season tickets prior to Tuesday, when new partial (four-game) season tickets and public single game tickets go on sale. Short of purchasing a full-season plan, the partial-season route is the lone avenue of ensuring a ticket to the Ohio State game Oct. 25 under the lights at Beaver Stadium. The game against the Buckeyes is tied to buying the four-game pack of that and games versus Akron, Maryland and Michigan State.

 

According to Vivid Seats, Penn State’s average ticket price of $141 (its median price is $115 and tickets are available for as low as $40 for the Akron and Massachusetts games) is 14th-highest in the NCAA. At $141 a ticket, it would take approximately 14,000 tickets to earn $2 million.

 

If 4,000 people have bought season tickets since Franklin was hired – much of that based off the palpable buzz he’s created in State College – that’s 28,000 total game tickets sold. So, in a way, Franklin has paid for his desired upgrades himself.

 

 

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June 18, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Dave Joyner exclusive interview on the day PSU announced his pending retirement

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Penn State on Tuesday made official what many had long suspected: New president Eric Barron will conduct a national search for a new athletic director to replace current AD Dave Joyner. Joyner announced he will retire.

 

Joyner, a former Nittany Lions football and wrestling star and later a trustee at the university, was named AD as  the Jerry Sandusky scandal was breaking in November 2011. He held the job on an “acting” basis for 14 months before former president Rodney Erickson dropped that from Joyner’s title — with the caveat that the new president when Erickson retired in 2014 would have autonomy to choose his own AD (not ruling out it could be Joyner).

 

Regardless, Joyner had nothing if not an eventful tenure at Penn State. This appears to have been the first on-the-record interview he gave with a newspaper Tuesday. Some of the bullet points were included in the news story, but here is an almost-complete transcript (there is one question left out, honestly, because I do not feel 100 percent confident/comfortable in the accuracy my typing/transcribing while listening) of our 20-minute phone conversation early Tuesday evening:

 

 

 

On his future plans now that he’ll be retired…

I’ll keep on helping out as needed and try to make for a smooth transition and consult and advise for the president. I think he’s going to do a great job, and I feel I want to make sure that we finish this thing up right and get it to where it needs to be so Penn State hits no bumps in the road. I’m here to help.

But I have nine grandkids, and I’ll probably be getting home for dinner a little earlier. I’ve got lots of interests… and I’ll look at doing more of these as time goes on. I’ve got a lot of energy – I get up everyday at  5-ish to go to work, so now I’ll have a lot more time to do all the things I like and to do them with my family. I like that balance, so I’m not sure what exactly my (life) will be but probably something related to this. And we’ll see where it takes me.

 

 

On if he’d characterize his retirement as a mutual decision between he and new president Eric Barron…

Yes. We talked and we wanted to do what’s best for me best and what’s best for the program and what’s best for the coaches and everybody. My primary job – again, I was pretty much linked at the hip to (former president Rodney) Erickson, and I’m grateful to have served with him, and so as the new president came, we always talked about this happening, so we worked out a lot of it so we can help Penn State make a smooth transition, and I think it’s going to work well. I think (new president Eric Barron) is going to do a great job, I think Rod was the right person at the right time – he did a terrific job, and Penn State should be very grateful to him. And I think Dr.Barron is going to do a great job as president. He did a great job at Florida State from what I know. And he certainly knows Penn State, having been the dean of Earth and Mineral Sciences, so I think Penn State’s future is very bright both as an institution and athletically. The whole university has done a remarkable job… I think the university is in a good place – you can always get better and you can never let your guard down. But having said that, I think we’re poised to do great things at Penn State.

 

 

On the unthinkably trying times at Penn State during which he took over…

This is not saying anything  about me, because I don’t like talking about myself – it’s the situation – but I will say this: If you know of a more unbelievable situation in the history of college of athletics – or history of a university, perhaps, I can’t think of one. I can’t think of one, and if you can, more power to you. But at least in our modern memory. So yeah, you’re right, that much I’ll say. It was incredible, it was sad. We’ve always got to be respectful and reverent of all those that were hurt and never forget, and it was a very, very difficult, sad time. But you know? What are you going to do? Are you going to lie there thinking about it, or are you going to get up and get going. You’ve got to be continue to be respectful and continue to be reverent and continue to not forget – but you still have to get up. You can’t just lay there. You’ve got to try to find a way to go forward and pick yourself up and do it. And that’s what we started doing, as a university and an athletic department.

 

 

On if he’s able to proud of the job he’s done, all things considered…

I’ll just say this: I’ll let the record speak for itself; let people make up their own minds. I am honored to have served. I would say to you my intent has always been honorable. People may say no, but they don’t know what was in my heart. My intent has always been to help this university and to do the best job I can, and I would say to you I did that. Now, whether that was good enough or not, history will judge.

But I’m a 100%-in guy, and I’m focused and I’m after it every time and every second of what I do. You knock me down, I get back up. I’ll take credit for doing that — on the other hand, I won’t judge whether… You can judge me. But I will tell you that I didn’t stop. I kept trying to do the best I could and never gave up. And if that got us somewhere that we might not be right now, then I’m happy about that and proud about that. That’s what I’ll say.

 

 

On if he’d thought he’d be the AD for as long as he ended up being when he first took the position…

Yeah, you know, who knows? It’s kind of interesting – I didn’t think too much about any of that when I jumped in. We just did it because it had to be done, and as time went on, as Rod was making up his plans and deciding when he was going to go, things coalesced a little more. I’m not happy about why I came to what I had to do, but I am grateful for the opportunity. I would much rather have never done this because that means we would have never had the problem we had. But having said that, we can’t change that, and given that, I’m very grateful and honored to having been able to serve with those that I served with that are truly inspirations to me. I said it my statement today, and I meant it – that  everyday they were an inspiration to me. I think you always get more than you give when get into something like this because you learn from everyone around you, and so what’s positive about this is we all learned from each other and we all learned to be better at what we do.

 

 

On being remembered more for his role in the firing of Joe Paterno than for anything else he’s done at Penn State…

Well, I think we have to put in perspective: People can think what they want and I respect how they think, but not all people think that way. And so people can think what they think. We did what we thought was right, and I think that’s all you can ask of someone. And there was no mal intent on my part. I just did what I felt I needed to do. Some people may not agree with that, some do. And that’s the way the world works. So if some people inexpiably tie me to that, then that’s what they do. I can’t change their mind about that and other people won’t. And other people will judge based on what really happened after that, I respect both sides. That’s why it’s America, right?

 

 

On his relationship with the coaches he oversaw, and if there was any friction with any of them…

I had a great relationship. If anybody had an issue with me, I surely… now, I’m not saying we don’t disagree about things. You know, that’s the way coaches are – they’re thoroughbred, right?  You didn’t hire people to sit in the corner and not express themselves. And so it’s an everyday working with them, and that’s part of the great challenge: They’re great people, they’re energetic, they want to perform, they want to do well. And so it’s my job to give them the best toolbox I can. You can’t always give them everything because it’s not possible, but the key is to give them everything you can based on what your resources are—not just financial but otherwise. And I feel very good about my relationship with the coaches, and I had an excellent relationship from my side. I have no issues with any of them. I think they’re all great, all each in their own right. And they’re all different. But it’s exhilarating to be around them, and it’s even exhilarating when you have disagreements with them about, “How can we do this? Why can’t we do that?’ That’s just normal life with with your family, right? And so to me that’s one of the challenges, and the great challenge of being able to work with people like that. So I respect every one of them. I think we have the best coaching staff in the country. Bar none. And what they’ve done speaks for itself. And because of the kind of student athletes we have here is because of them, too. It’s because of the university and people want to come here because it’s a great place, and the student athletes we have come here because of these great coaches and because of Penn State. And so it’s really a great combination… I’ve good chats with every one of the head coaches. We had a coach meeting today and every one of the came up and I stood at the door and they shook my hand and gave me a hug, and I’ve got a lot of nice texts and tweets and stuff that have been sent out so I’m very grateful.

 

 

On how much of a role Penn State has played and still plays in his life…

I don’t know. I have blue and white toothpaste. I have a paper clip that’s blue and white. I’m looking in my closet right now – I hardly have anything that’s either not blue or white. My family – my wife, her father, her brother.. all my three kids went here… My daughter-in-laws, so we’ve got it all over the place. So it’s sort of like it’s just a natural fit. I grew up in State College, so it kind of started way back. So I think it’s a great relationship and it’s a great feeling. This is a special place, and I don’t mean that in a braggadocios or egotistical way – this is a special place, and that’s why so many people gravitate here.

 

 

On if he looks back at the coaching hires he presided over with pride…

There’s swimming, softball, baseball, two football coaches, we’re be hiring a women’s tennis coach and a fencing coach here in the not-too-distant future. So… that’s seven.

I’ll say this: Again, I don’t like talking about myself, but I will say this about the coaches we have and that we’ve hired. I think we’ve hired some terrific coaches and we’re going to hire two more terrific coaches in women’s tennis and fencing. I know that because I have confidence in the people who have applied. And I’m very, very happy for Penn State that we have these fine people here. I really do believe that (swimming coach) Tim Murphy and (softball coach) Amanda Lehotak and (baseball coach) Rob Cooper are the best at their professions that there is in this country. I’m very grateful that they’re here. And I Think James Franklin is right in there, too, as the same. I think he’s the best football coach in the country right now. We haven’t seen him on the field yet, but what he did at Vanderbilt is truly remarkable, and what he’s done in the first six months he’s been here has been truly remarkable as well, so I think you’re going to see that on the field. I’m just grateful that they chose Penn State, and I’m, grateful that they’re here.

 

 

Some of the highlights of Joyner’s answer to the one question I did not fully transcribe — about the difficulty in performing his job’s duties:

I don’t think outside people really realize the amount of things you had to manage, the pieces and parts that were all happening so fast.  I don’t think I had any concept…

 

We were in crisis-management mode for probably 13 or 14 months until January or February, following Bill (O’Brien’s) first season, and then I just felt a little bit of a change. We got through that season, and you got the sense there was a little change in the wind, and we got to maybe start paying attention to what I call performance management and focus on moving the ship forward and trying to improve, rather than just to keep from sinking.

 

(Up until that point), you couldn’t try to move forward because you had to keep bailing water.

 

I can tell you that I didn’t sit at my desk for a month. I didn’t sit. It was always going from one place to another place, doing crisis management things. I literally did not sit at my desk for a month because I was running around and I’d be on my PDA device going through emails here and there. Then you go home at night and get home at 10 or 11and put something in the oven and eat while going over emails you have to complete, so then you go to bed and get up at 5. You eat while you’re on the stairmaster or the exercise bike and are reading emails at the same time. Then you go in and you do it again and keep going.  Thank God for Wegman’s. When you get done with work at 10 p.m., that’s where you can get some healthy food and take it home.

 

 

 

 

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June 16, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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A day after Father’s Day, James Franklin’s thoughts on his daughters

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PTR-PSUfb1-011214

 

Yes, I know I’m a day late for Father’s Day. Please forgive me, as I took the day to enjoy Father’s Day with my first child, who also happened to celebrate her first birthday this weekend. Anyway, maybe it’s just me and my status as a new father making me more sensitive to such things… but reading this excellent story by Blue-White Illustrated’s Nate Bauer made me want to share what James Franklin told me about his daughters when I had a sit-down interview with him earlier this spring.

 

Franklin, as has been written about by me and many others, has been living in some combination of a State College hotel, his on-campus office and a new home in the area he bought since he was hired as Penn State’s coach in January. His family is not scheduled to join him living in Central Pennsylvania until next month. They did not want to take daughters Shola and Addison – who were 6 and 5 years old, respectively, when their father accepted the Nittany Lions’ job – out of school in the middle of the school year.

 

I asked Franklin about the personalities of the young ladies in his life.

 

“Very different. I’ve never understood that – people always say that their children are different and I’ll say, ‘How can they be that different?’ Well, they are. I mean, our oldest, Shola, is she wants to please you. She’s going to follow the rules. You tell her do something, she’s going to do exactly what you tell her what you tell her to do. If you look at her funny, she’s very emotional, she’s going to start crying. And she’s very caring about people. Got a lot of personality, funny. And then my youngest is a terror. Addy, she’s a terror. She beats her older sister up, I could say whatever or do whatever or look at her and it doesn’t phase her one bit, she kind of look at me and kind of roll her eyes like to say, ‘Are you kidding me? You better come harder than that.’ Really rough, really tough. But they couldn’t be any more different. Shola loves football, wants to be at the game. My other daughter, she could care less, so just different personality. And Shola is probably a daddy’s girl and Addy’s probably a mama’s girl.”

 

That was exhibited when Bauer wrote Franklin of “Shola’s enthusiasm and Addy’s slight disinterest” during their nightly FaceTime chats while apart.

 

Ah, fatherhood.

 

As a bonus, since we’re delving into the family life of James Franklin, here is what he said about his wife, Fumi. Again, it didn’t take long for his thoughts to revert right back to parenthood:

 

“She’s pretty high-energy. She’s not a public person; she doesn’t want to do interviews – she just wants to do a great job with our kids, and we’re very supportive of each other. She’ll do some things in the community in terms of fundraising and things like that for children and stuff like that… but it’s more just about our family. With the hours that we work, she makes sure I know all the time that she’s got the most important job that we have in our home and that’s raising and taking care of her children.”

 

There have been times when some have questioned the genuineness of Franklin. When it comes to the joy and sense of responsibility he expounds when he talks about being a dad, count me among those whom get the palpable sense Franklin’s sincerity is 100 percent authentic.

 

 

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June 13, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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PSU players would welcome sanctions rollback to allow for ’14 bowl, Hull says

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We’re 11 weeks before Penn State kicks off the James Franklin Era on a rugby pitch in Dublin, Ireland. Around that time, we’ll have a much better idea about on what field the Nittany Lions’ 2014 season will end.

 

As of now, that place is the Beaver Stadium grass at some point during the day of Nov. 29, when the regular season ends with the incomparable Land Grant Trophy on the line against reigning Rose Bowl champion Michigan State.

 

Will Penn State – at least in theory – have an opportunity to earn itself a trip to the Rose Bowl itself this fall? As it stands, the answer is no. The Lions are entering season No. 3 of a four-year ban on postseason play levied by the NCAA during the summer of 2012.

 

But some of those unprecedented and crippling sanctions have since been softened – namely, scholarships were restored to the rosters (and incoming recruiting classes) in 2014, ’15 ’16 and ‘17. Those were by way of a recommendation from former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who was appointed as Penn State’s independent athletics integrity monitor.

 

Mitchell’s next annual report is said to be due late in the summer. He and the NCAA both have hinted that further sanctions reductions could be coming – assuming Penn State doesn’t slip up. If that’s so, here are the remaining penalties affecting the football program: The 2015 team is limited to 80 scholarships (the usual FBS limit is 85), wins from 1998-2011 remain officially vacated and, of course, the postseason ban for the 2014 and ’15 seasons.

 

New Penn State president Eric Barron, in an interview with the Trib, already has publicly maintained that the school should be rewarded for complying with all that was asked of it since the controversial Freeh Report’s release.

 

Of the penalties remaining, the vacated wins seem, by far, the least likely to be restored. At least not now. Too much politics involved – and besides, they do not immediately affect the program in the present or going forward. I know these victories mean an awful lot to a lot of people, but for now, put it on the back burner. It’s probably not changing now, and doesn’t need to.

 

The five extra scholarships are something to keep an eye on. These, in all likelihood, would be in the form of five incoming freshmen – and with the recruiting momentum the new coaching staff has, that will figure to only help the Lions immensely in the future. Although the currently-lessened sanctions allow PSU the full complement of a 25-prospect freshman scholarship class, that does the Lions no good because the 80-player roster limit will be passed by then (barring some significant roster shakeup before signing day in February). The bowl ban is getting all the publicity now – but those seemingly-innocuous five remaining extra scholarships to give might have a greater longterm impact.

 

Many at Penn State are privately cautiously optimistic about getting the remaining “bowl ban” lifted – or at least half of it. Personally, at this point, I’d be highly surprised if PSU isn’t permitted for postseason play (remember, that now also includes the Big Ten championship game, should the Lions win the new East Division) in 2015. This season, I wouldn’t be shocked, either way.

 

The player who is arguably Penn State’s best upperclassman, linebacker Mike Hull, told the Trib he and his teammates are hoping they can go bowling during his fifth-year senior season.

 

“I’m speaking for every guy on our roster,” Hull said in a recent phone interview. “Everyone is aware of (Mitchell’s next annual report), and everyone hopes the sanctions get reduced.

 

“We’re hopeful — but you never know what’s going to happen, so we’re just thankful to still be playing football. But it would be great if we could go to a bowl game and play for a Big Ten championship, especially in my last year.”

 

Like their university leadership over most of the past two years, Penn State’s players haven’t too often campaigned for sanctions reductions. Of course, they’d be in favor of them (why wouldn’t they be?). And it’s understandable why they’d be reluctant to say so, though (You know the clichés/coaches’ rationale: It’s out of their control, the focus is on the current season, etc.).

 

The opinion of fellow linebacker Ben Kline is more of the diplomatic answer you’ll get from a Penn State player when asked by the Trib if he’s eager for Mitchell’s report and hopeful for sanctions relief: “All that stuff goes over my head, I try not to pay too much attention to it. Me being here, the years I’ve been here, my class and Mikey’s class, we’ve been through it all. So we’ve kind of learned to just pay attention to what we can pay attention to. So I really don’t pay a lot of attention to it.

 

“I will say that I know that Penn State’s going to do whatever they can to make sure that we maximize our experience while we’re here and put Penn State football in the best position possible moving forward. I trust them to do that. Whatever goes on with the NCAA and the Big Ten and Penn State, I don’t really try to pay attention to it, but I will say that I do trust Penn State as an institution and I do trust the administration will make the right decision and fight for us for whatever they think is appropriate. And I will deal with whatever they decide.”

 

That fact is – barring any backroom politicking – the fate of the state of the sanctions (on face value, at least) lies not with the school, not with the conference, and not even with the NCAA. It lies with Mitchell (Although it will be the NCAA that acts – if it acts at all – it will be upon a recommendation from Mitchell).

 

The Nittany Lions have much to concern themselves with besides what Mitchell’s next report says. That doesn’t mean it surely isn’t in the back of a lot of blue-and-white minds.

 

“I’m trying not to get my hopes up for anything, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Hull said. “But it would be great if we could go to a bowl game after not being able to go for the last couple years. It would be really big for our program, especially for the younger guys. I’m not getting my hopes up right now but it is in the back of my mind that there’s a possibility that the sanctions might be reduced.”

 

 

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June 11, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State’s recruiting in Maryland and New Jersey over the past decade

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James Franklin and his staff, thus far, have made good on Franklin’s brashness that Maryland and New Jersey are “in state.” Not only did they need all of two weeks on the job to pillage flip Rutgers’ highest-rated (per Rivals.com) 2014 recruit from the Scarlet Knights’ back yard, the PSU staff has already nabbed four of New Jersey’s top 10-rated players in the 2015 Class (Rutgers’ highest is No. 18). In Maryland, the early returns have been similarly gloomy for the fellow Big Ten newcomer Terrapins – Penn State has verbal commitments from two of the top five-rated prospects (three overall) from just across the Mason-Dixon Line. Randy Edsall’s team has none of the top 10 in-state players.

 

The sample size is ridiculously small, and none of these “commitments” means anything until signing day in February. But that said, the early returns suggest that Maryland and Rutgers’ inclusion into the Big Ten will only help the Nittany Lions hold down their traditional recruiting footholds in those areas. Even more impressive, they are doing it without former recruiting wiz and assistant coach Larry Johnson, who, er, dominated the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia recruiting area.

 

Some of Penn State’s best players over the years have hailed from Maryland or New Jersey. Some of the Lions’ best teams over the years were stocked with players from those states. Even over the past decade (and on the current 2014 team, as we examined yesterday, the JeseryLand is a boon for Penn State), the areas’ importance cannot be understated when it comes to PSU’s success.

 

I went through incoming recruiting classes back to 2004. I counted the 2015 verbal commitments, which, of course, are still pending. (All recruiting class information is courtesy of research on Rivals.com’s Penn State commitment lists over the years). (For the purposes of this blog, I went straight by the “Location” listed on these charts… I was not going to get into the whole where-was-he-born/where-did-he-go-to-prep-school/where-did-he-go-to-high-school parsing minutia).

 

Over that 12-year span, Penn State signed 61 recruits from either New Jersey or Maryland (an average of just more than five per season) – split remarkably down the middle with 31 from the Garden State and 30 from, well, whatever Maryland’s nickname is. (Complete list below).

 

That’s an average of more than five incoming scholarship players per year from NJ/MD – over that time span, Pennsylvania accounts for 74 players, or 6.2 per incoming class. When you eliminate 2004 and ’05 from the discussion and use just the past 10 years, the score is PA 57, NJ/MD 54. Almost equal.

 

(As I mentioned yesterday, the combined approximate populations of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million and New Jersey-plus-Maryland’s 14.8 million are close enough to use as a comparison as equals).

 

Only two incoming classes did NOT include a New Jersey signee (2007 and ’08) and only one did not have a Maryland native player (’07). The most combined came in 2006, when half of the 24 signees that year were from MaryJers. Five were from NJ that year (most of any class I looked at) – the most in a year from Maryland was the eight in 2009.

 

In fact, 2009 had a combined 11 players from NewMary, including future standouts Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson, Sean Stanley and Malcolm Willis.

 

Counting 2015’s verbals, if you go back to 2006, in those 10 recruiting seasons, only four times has Penn State signed more Pennsylvania kids than it did those from MaryJers. In 2011, it was five prospects from PA and five from NJ/MD; only in 2013, ’07 and ’08 did Keystone Staters trump these two neighboring states when it came to PSU signees.

 

Unless Rutgers or Maryland will be able to make any better inroads into Pennsylvania now that they’re in the Big Ten, it would seem that these numbers can only be seen as troubling for Terrapins coach Randy Edsall and Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood. Even without Johnson, Franklin & Co. seem willing and able to keep Penn State’s strongholds in these areas – areas that are now within their conference’s footprint.

 

 

 

Signed recruits to Penn State in each of the past 12 seasons, by state (per Rivals.com)-

(*-2015 numbers are for verbal commitments as of June 11, 2014 – verbal commitments are non-binding, and class could grow or change)

 

Maryland

2015*: 2

‘14: 2

‘13: 1

‘12: 4

‘11: 2

‘10: 1

‘09: 8

‘08: 0

‘07: 0

‘06: 7

‘05: 1

‘04: 1

 

 

New Jersey

2015*: 4

‘14: 4

‘13: 3

‘12: 2

‘11: 3

‘10: 1

‘09: 3

‘08: 1

‘07: 0

‘06: 5

‘05: 3

‘04: 2

 

 

Pennsylvania

2015*: 6

‘14: 3

‘13: 5

‘12: 4

‘11: 5

‘10: 7

‘09: 7

‘08: 6

‘07: 8

‘06: 6

‘05: 7

‘04: 10

 

 

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June 10, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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The importance of New Jersey and Maryland to Penn State

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Speaking at a May alumni stop in Baltimore, new Penn State coach James Franklin famously said: “I consider this (Maryland) in-state. I consider New Jersey in-state. I know there are other schools around here, but you might as well shut them down.”

 

Big words – particularly for the universities of Maryland and Rutgers, which officially join the Big Ten three weeks from now. But thus far, Franklin & Co. are backing them up on the recruiting trail. They have four New Jersey verbal commitments for 2015 (all in that state’s top 10, per Rivals; Rutgers has zero in the top 10) and three Maryland recruits (two in the Rivals top 10; Maryland has none).

 

New Jersey and Maryland have always been extremely important to Penn State’s football success. But with the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights now conference rivals, will that affect the Lions? Will it be easier recruiting against them (the ability to say your games on the Big Ten Network will be on in your area, plus you’ll be back for a game every other year) – or more difficult (rather than play for a perceived lesser-conference team, now a prospect can “stay home” and still play in the Big Ten)?

 

That’s up for opinion/debate and is subjective. Over the next two days, I’ll go through and examine just how much of incoming recruiting classes over the past decade have been via the neighboring states to the south and east. Today is focusing on the 2014 roster and on-field contributors from these contiguous states. Tomorrow is the pure recruiting data from the recent past.

 

 

A couple things to note:

1. The combined population of Maryland and New Jersey is about 14.8 million, which is about 2 million more than live in Pennsylvania. However, that’s still a pretty apt comparison, seeing as how, after all, Penn State is, well, in Pennsylvania, so you’d naturally be compelled to think that it would more often get more players from its home state. So for the purposes of this blog, PA and Md/NJ (call it New Mary or JersMary?) are equal.

2. The lists of starters/contributors, of course, can change by the time the season starts. I tried to be as flexible as possible. Apologies in advance to, say, Anthony Smith, if he ends up starting all 12 games or to Antoine White if he is a contributor at defensive tackle as a freshman.

3. I used Penn State’s official roster for the home state tallies, although I had to add in the incoming freshmen for this fall for the “total players” and scholarship-player numbers. I will not assume that any of the players who enroll later this month will start or contribute for this list (although I will say that I do expect several to – I just am not gonna play that projection game just yet for a kid who hasn’t enrolled or gone through a practice yet, OK?).

4. The term “starter” is a hazy one, particularly in today’s world of multiple sets and packages on both offense and defense. So, for the purposes of this discussion, yes, two tight ends, for example, can be starters (good thing Kyle Carter is from Delaware or it’d look even more awkward!)

5. I did not count Washington D.C. for Maryland’s total (sorry, Jordan Smith).

OK, first off, the 2014 roster.

 

PENNSYLVANIA

Total players: 45

Scholarship players: 18

Starters: 9

Other significant contributors: 2

 

NEW JERSEY/MARYLAND COMBINED

Total players: 25

Scholarship players: 22

Starters: 8

Other significant contributors: 5-6

 

The total players number for Pennsylvania is inflated because of the high number of in-state walk-ons you’d probably see anywhere. What’s more important is the scholarship players and the starters, which are roughly even (I’ll go more in depth below) – and it’s notable that it appears as if there will be more scholarship Mary-Jers players on the field for PSU this season than those from Pennsylvania. Furthermore, as I’ll note below, even the Pennsylvania scholarship total is inflated because of at least five players who earned scholarships after enrolling at Penn State (a phenomenon far more likely for in-state players, judging by a much larger pool of PA walk-ins alone). However, just because guys like Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle didn’t have scholarships when they set foot on campus shouldn’t take away from the fact that each was good enough to be a starter, at times, in 2013. So I won’t discount such players at face value.

 

 

Here’s the breakdown:

 

PA

Projected 2014 starters from Pennsylvania (9): DE Deion Barnes, TE Adam Breneman, G Miles Dieffenbach, LB Mike Hull, TE Jesse James, S Ryan Keiser, WR Geno Lewis, OT Andrew Nelson, LB Nyeem Wartman

Projected 2014 non-starters but significant contributors from Pennsylvania (2): S Jesse Della Valle, LB Ben Kline

 

 

NJ

Projected 2014 starters from New Jersey (4): LB Brandon Bell, RB Bill Belton, DT Austin Johnson and (at least) one of OL Wendy Laurent/Angelo Magiro/Brendan Mahon

Projected 2014 non-starters but significant contributors from New Jersey (3):  DE Garrett Sickels, S Anthony Smith and (at least) one of those three linemen listed above.

 

 

MD

Projected 2014 starters from Maryland (4): DB Adrian Amos, OT Donovan Smith, RB Zach Zwinak, CB Trevor Williams

Projected 2014 non-starters but significant contributors from Maryland (2): WR Richy Anderson, DB Da’Quan Davis

 

 

Ironically, the balance of “starters” power between PA and NJ/MD could hinge merely on what formation Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan use for the first play of the game. Zwinak and Belton aren’t on the field together too often (although I suppose it’s possible), but if PSU goes with two tight ends and two wideouts, then Anderson, maybe, creeps in. Or, conversely, maybe Breneman is left out.

 

Regardless, we’re mincing words here. The point is, the combined empire of Maryland/New Jersey is, it appears, arguably just as important (if not moreso) to Penn State in 2014 than its home state is.

 

Tomorrow, I’ll break down recruiting classes over the past decade – who comes from Pennsylvania and who comes from New Jersey or Maryland.

 

 

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May 30, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State’s still-stellar 2015 recruiting class just got a little smaller and a little less stellar

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After a series of recruiting home runs, James Franklin & Co. experienced their first recruiting strikeout at Penn State.

 

The Nittany Lions were building one of the nation’s top 2015 incoming classes. They still have one, but it became marginally less impressive when four-star Indiana linebacker Josh Barajas decommitted Friday and instead gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.

 

Word leaked in the morning, and Barajas has made it known on his Twitter account. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly even tweeted his version of James Franklin’s now-famous “#WeAre… Better!” to alert the world of a new prospect commitment.

 

Penn State dropped to No. 3 in the national team 2015 recruiting rankings compiled by Rivals and 247. Clemson passed the Lions – although the Tigers got a commitment from a four-star wide receiver Friday so might have jumped PSU regardless. The Nittany Lions had held the No. 2 spot for most of the past couple months.

 

Barajas was a rated as a four-star prospect by each of the four major recruiting service websites, and his ranks both among Indiana players and national linebackers were exceptionally high.

 

As for the level of surprise associated with Barajas’ flip… the answer is a seemingly-dichotic combination of “none at all” and “eyebrow-raising.”

 

When he announced his verbal commitment March 30, it was a big surprise to those in the recruiting community. He was widely projected to be headed to Notre Dame, and even his high school coach was saying that, too, as recently as days before word came about Barajas telling Franklin he was going to be a Lion. He lives less than 70 miles from South Bend. Those at Penn State who knew Barajas – none that I talked to had a bad word to say about him – say proximity to campus and family influence played a factor in his “flip.”

 

But while Barajas choosing Notre Dame wasn’t shocking – Franklin letting a prospect slip through his grip is a little surprising. His aggressive recruiting style has been wildly successful both in three years as the coach at Vanderbilt and in his first 4 ½ months in State College.

 

But it’s not without its risks. Having kids commit so early leaves an eternity of time for other coaches and programs to pillage them – or just for one of them to have a good, old-fashioned change of mind. Still, in the often-fickle, sometimes-underhanded world of recruiting, incoming players say Franklin takes a commitment seriously – and expects them to, too. With the fluid nature of the puzzle pieces that need to fall into place, a decommitment can reek havoc with a coaching staff’s plans.

 

Check out this quote from Franklin, to PennLive.com’s great PSU reporter Audrey Snyder in March:

 

“There are only two things you have in your life, that is your word and your reputation,” Franklin said. “I would rather a kid not commit to us if he’s still looking around and wanting to go through the process. I think there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re not sure that’s what you want to do, keep looking around until you figure it out.

“But, once you stand up and shake my hand and look me in the eye and say this is where you want to go, we’re engaged. There is no more dating and there is no more flirting. Come Signing Day, we get married, and there is no divorce.”

 

Apparently, Kelly and Barajas kept up their courtship. That said, don’t blame Kelly. If you’re a Penn State fan, you’ve seen plenty of examples of Franklin’s “flipping” prowess already – and you’ll surely see more. This is the system that is in place – one of non-binding, verbal commitments until Signing Day in February – and coaches and prospects all live by it.

 

Plus, remember, it’s not as if PSU won’t be fine without Barajas. It still has a consensus top-three class in the country and still has plenty of positive momentum. Also, don’t blame Barajas – none of his now-former future teammates (huh?) have publicly wished him well.

 

“We are all still very committed to psu,” New Jersey four-star offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez said in a message to the Trib. “And we understand Josh’s decision, and we are all just  family.”

 

Eastern Pennsylvania three-star linebacker and PSU commit Jake Cooper tweeted: “We lost a good one today and best of luck to (Barajas) as he takes his career to the next level with Notre Dame. “WEAREstill107kstrong”

 

Maryland three-star defensive end and PSU commit Jonathan Holland also tweeted well-wishes to Barajas . Then he added what became a popular refrain among the remaining 15 prospects in Penn State’s incoming Class of 2015: “At the end of the day, #WeAre still 107k strong, #WeAre still family, and #WeAre PENN STATE #WeAreStillPennState #107kstrong

 

There’s still seven-plus months until signing day, so a lot can happen. But at the moment, Barajas’ departure leaves Penn State again thin at linebacker. The Lions practiced with just four scholarship linebackers this spring, and the unit’s best player is a fifth-year senior. Just two linebackers are set to enroll later this summer, and Cooper is lone linebacker in the Class of 2015 at the moment.

 

 

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May 29, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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New PSU president Eric Barron on Franklin, Paterno and (kind of) Joyner and Freeh

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New Penn State president Eric Barron is on record in the past that he believes successful athletics is important to a university. Judging from my interpretation of an hour-long interview several Tribune-Review reporters conducted with him Thursday, Barron’s recognition of sports is more than mere lip service.

 

Barron repeatedly referenced sports – sometimes, just in passing; other times, to drive home a point or make an analogy – over the course of a wide-ranging discussion in the Trib’s D.L. Clark Building offices. Barron, of course, was here to talk about more than – and more important things than – just sports. Some of the Trib’s finest newsside reporters ,Debra Erdley and Adam Smeltz, detailed that. As the lone reporter representing sports (although two Trib sports editors were present), I’ll offer some of my initial impressions of Barron’s opinions of the athletics issues facing Penn State.

 

The main bar for the Sports section for Friday’s print editions mostly is centered around Barron publicly supporting the idea that the NCAA sanctions levied on the football program be softened when former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell releases his next PSU athletics integrity progress report in August.

 

While, on face value, this might not be surprising – after all, shouldn’t a sitting university president be expected to always stand up for the school and its best interests? You’d think, but remember, it was Barron’s predecessor, Rodney Erickson, who himself signed the consent decree for the penalties in July 2012. Since, Erickson’s public tact has more involved a conciliatory we’ll-take-what-they-give us tone toward the NCAA than one in which he publicly campaigned for sanctions relief. Barron, initially at least, appears to opt more for the latter. (To be fair, for a variety of reasons the political airs have evolved sharply over the past two years toward a more pro-Penn State, anti-NCAA position being given sympathy).

 

Here are some of Barron’s other football-related thoughts:

 

“I’ve seen or heard nothing that would make me question it.”

 

  • On his initial meeting with Franklin:

“I have had lunch with him, and I was impressed with how student-centered he is. And to the degree to which one of his objectives is to break the all-time record for the grade-point average for football. And we had discussions on lots of different topics, including if a student doesn’t go to class, how do you get them to go to class. And now we could apply this to people at 8:00 in the morning and have them run laps if they don’t show up for class – I don’t know if it would work. But we talked about a lot of things like that, and I felt very good about the lunch that I had in terms of his attitude and his focus and what his objectives are. And of course he’ll be tested very publicly, won’t he?”

 

 

  • On if he sought personal assurances from Franklin that he was involved in no wrongdoing in connection to Vanderbilt rape case:

“This was not a, you know, ‘Let’s walk through this,’ kind of case… we didn’t talk that way.”

 

  • On how he plans on dealing with the issue of Joe Paterno’s legacy at Penn State:

“It’s a completely different situation, but when I was shortlisted to be president at Florida State, Bobby Bowden was fired two hours before that meeting. And partly from the viewpoint no president would take the job if they had to deal with a legend. And I quickly realized that about 35 percent of the people thought that was outrageous, and 35 percent of the people felt it was high time, and the 30 percent in the middle were silent. And so you’ve got, really, a lot of opinions, and it took three years to get to the point where Bobby came back. Right, to my wife’s credit, to the point of her calling up Ann Bowden and having lunch with her twice, and it doesn’t work to sit there and do it on the – no offense – on the front page of a paper, and it doesn’t work with saying, ‘I’m going to go do this and this.’ This is a period of healing, and it takes time. But you can count on the fact that it’s important to me and I’m going to do my best to help.”

 

  • Barron was asked a follow-up to press on dealing with the Paterno situation:

“You’ll have to give me time. I haven’t been here very long, and I just described a three-year process for someone who was fired. And this is, you know, more sensitive, and does take time. I will say this: Every single one of those alumni, no matter where they sit, cares deeply about the institution. That’s, at least, a foundation for moving forward, I think, in very positive ways. Every single person, they’re motivated by their love of the institution. So I can think a lot of conflicts that sometimes can be managed if you don’t have that foundation at all. I’m optimistic that we will make improvements but I’m not going to give you a time schedule or a process.”

 

  • On the status of the athletic director’s position (Penn State awkwardly removed the “acting” from Dave Joyner’s title in January 2013… but at the same time stated that when a new university president took over in mid-2014 that a “national search” would be conducted for the position):

“I know what president Erickson announced, including that when the new president comes in, that’ll be time for a search. And we have other positions that are also an interim basis, and so I’m busy doing my assessment, and I tell people I would have to be convinced not to follow through on what president Erickson said.”

 

  • Finally, Barron was asked what his reaction was to the Freeh Report:

“Anybody who’s been at Penn State or near Penn State or certainly graduated from Penn State felt just an incredible amount of pain and sadness. It’s awful. And obviously I wasn’t here as the institution went through that, so I just saw from afar in terms of that level of pain. And I saw a lot of alumni because one of the things you realize even though you’re a dean and people look at you and you’re fundraising and I’m talking about you and about giving back – and then I leave and some people that will sit there and say, ‘OK, so he was fundraising for them, but he didn’t care about me as a person.’ I think one of the things about the Penn State family is you really do care about people as people, and so even though I was at a completely different institution, I’d go visit Penn State alumni and go have dinner with them and sometimes stay at their homes because these are friends – and this hurt. So wherever you look there was that pain because nobody sees Penn State that way.

But beyond that, I came in 2 ½ years later and, so what is my reaction to the Freeh Report? Well, my reaction is there were 119 different recommendations and I’m looking at a spreadsheet that says, ‘We’ve done this, we’ve done this, we’ve gone beyond on this one, we’ve created this, these four are pending but the following actions have already taken.’ And I’m looking at it and saying, ‘How on earth could an institution manage that in such a deliberate, aggressive fashion to make sure this doesn’t happen?’ And not an instance that is focused on this event, but rather focusing on an institution in which this ethical standing is extraordinarily important.

So truthfully my reaction to the Freeh Report was, ‘This institution has just become a model institution for addressing issues like them.’ Because what I saw first was all the steps that they had taken.”

 

 

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May 27, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Uplifting Athletes: An example of the good coming from Penn State football

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Penn State football, of course, has had its share of negative publicity over the past 2 ½ years. But it shouldn’t be forgotten there’s plenty of good to come out of the program and the school.

 

There’s THON, a wonderful and highly-successful university-at-large student-run philanthropic endeavor that’s not football program-centric. For a nationwide program that was started at Penn State by Penn State football players and is administrated today by current Penn State players, check out the work being done by Uplifting Athletes.

 

Penn State football players have raised more than $825,000 for kidney cancer patients over the past 11 years, dating back to the forerunner of Uplifting Athletes (which has chapters at 22 universities – including Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame – listed on its website).

 

According to the site, the vision of the Uplifting Athletes multi-university organization dated back to Penn State’s Lift For Life, which began in 2003 after then-PSU wide receiver Scott Shirley was informed that his father, Don, was diagnosed with incurable kidney cancer.

 

The Lift For Life has endured since, raising increasing amounts of money for raising awareness and research opportunities for those affected by kidney cancer, which is classified as a “rare disease.” Each school’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes aligns a college football team with a different rare disease, which UA defines as a disease that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans and consequently lacks financial incentive to make and market new treatments (combined, almost 30 million Americans are affected by rare diseases). Shirley serves as Uplifting Athletes’ full-time executive director.

 

The organization has moved past just Penn State, but the Nittany Lions’ chapter is thriving. Linebacker Ben Kline serves as president, with running back Deron Thompson the vice president, tight end Adam Breneman secretary, tight end (and South Allegheny HS alum) Jessse James the director of marketing, running back Akeel Lynch the compliance manager, among other officers.

 

“It’s something that’s been kind of passed on here for the last 12 years, and it’s been something that a lot of guys put a lot of time into and done a really good job with it,” Kline said. “And the guys who did it while I was here – (former PSU offensive linemen Mike) Farrell and (Eric) Shrive and (Adam) Gress and Ty (Howle) and (linebacker) Glenn (Carson) – those are some of my best friends, so to see the time they put into it, my group of friends that’s kind of doing it now wants to do a good job with it and make sure that they everything that the guys put into it before us kind of got carried on. And that’s kind of how we see our responsibility with it and that’s why we are trying to do as good a job as we can with it.”

 

Kline deflects any credit for any of Uplifting Athletes’ accomplishments, saying being president “is just a title” and that “everyone on the team is really into it… we do a good job of sharing the responsibilities.” He was asked to serve as president by this past season’s outgoing officers, and Kline got his circle of friends within the team on board.

 

“They said, ‘Would this be something you’d be interested in and your crew would be interested in?’” Kline said. “And I said, ‘yeah,’ and kind of one thing led to another and then I was a president. And the rest of our crew kind of rounds out the board and the rest of the team does an awesome job of doing everything we can to help out people who are affected by kidney cancer.”

 

Lynch, for example, said Kline, a redshirt senior, approached him about joining the board. “I said, ‘Sure,’ because Ben’s a good guy and I’ll definitely follow his leadership.”

 

Penn State linebacker Mike Hull remembers the meeting that Shrive and others called to recruit their successors as the officers/caretakers of Uplifting Athletes before Shrive and others graduated. Hull, the defense’s 2014 captain and a Canon-McMillan alum, said he noticed Kline quickly – and wholeheartedly – bought into the organization’s mission.

 

“He’s been doing a really good job fundraising and raising money ever since,” Hull said. “He’s into that kind of stuff; he’s really smart and he takes it really seriously. It’s for a great cause.

 

It didn’t take long for Kline’s community-service efforts to catch the eye of his new head coach.

 

“Every time we’re doing some type of community service activity, he’s all over it,” James Franklin said earlier this spring. “He’s involved in everything.”

 

The Lift for Life and Uplifting Athletes, Kline insists, is a full team-wide venture.

 

“Guys are really, really helpful, coming to events and things like that, doing everything they can to get involved,” he said. “We do a great job of making sure that everybody is involved and everybody really wants to be involved which is awesome. The guys who maybe have the important titles, it makes our jobs a lot easier because everybody wants to be involved and everybody wants to help.”

 

To pledge to the Lift For Life at Penn State, click here. To donate to the Uplifting Athletes organization, click here.

 

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