Signing day in State College used to be a non-event. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't even have a news conference. Just four years ago, the school sent out a release listing the new signees with no additional information.
Things have changed dramatically under James Franklin, who has completed his first full recruiting cycle as Penn State's coach. Franklin was all over ESPN and social media, and Wednesday night hosts "The Signature Event" for the second year at Penn State. The second-year coach, who pledged to "dominate the state" in recruiting at his introduction, signed a class that could end up in the top 15 of the final ESPN RecrutingNation rankings.
ESPN.com caught up with Franklin on Wednesday to discuss Penn State's class.
How critical were the weeks and months after your hiring to put this class together?
James Franklin: This is truly our first class. This staff has a lot of connections and a lot of us are from this part of the country, so that was helpful. And we were able to get all these guys from Day 1, had some momentum early on, which was really, really important, and then we were able to finish strong as well. We've already got four of the top players in the country committed for 2016, and that's when you're able to really make an impact, when you've been recruiting guys for two or three years. You're able to develop relationships with the young man, the high school coaches, the families, the guidance counselor. But I think we've done a nice job, considering we've only been on campus for just over a year. Very pleased with the class.
What areas of the roster were your biggest priorities, given the scholarship situation?
JF: We played Michigan State last year with 41 scholarship players, so being able to get a few back was huge. Everybody knows O-line was a major concern for us. We had one scholarship offensive tackle in the senior, junior and sophomore classes. No seniors on scholarships, one junior and he came out early [Donovan Smith], and no sophomores. So we walked into an interesting situation. We were able to redshirt all those guys we signed last year and we have a group coming in for this year. That's important, but it's not something you're able to fix overnight. Those guys typically don't play until their redshirt sophomore year.
We were able to sign the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country in Paris Palmer. He's already on campus. That's big. We were able to get at one time the No. 1-ranked player in the state in Sterling Jenkins, and he graduated early. So we've got two 6-foot-8, 300-pound tackles on campus already. That's helpful. And then all those redshirts. We'll be better, but we've still got a way to go in terms of depth. But that was priority No. 1.
Could Sterling help you this coming season?
JF: I don't know. He's got the physical tools and the size to do it, but you really shouldn't play at a place like Penn State until your redshirt sophomore year. I remember Miles Dieffenbach telling me about some of the changes from when he first got here, how he could barely make the scout team roster. He says the freshmen we signed last year are in the two-deep, and we're hoping to be able to redshirt them. That's a great example of how the program has changed in the last five years. That's what we're working to get back to.
You had some young wide receivers and defensive backs contribute last year. Who among this group do you see making an impact?
JF: We were fortunate. You think about all the young players who were able to make an impact for us as true freshmen this year. That was exciting. We're real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we've got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn't play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You've got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He's already asking for the playbook. And you look at the safeties we signed and I could make arguments for all of those guys. It's always easier to get on the field quicker at the receiver and DB position. You look at the wide receivers we signed, we've got speed and length, which is always important.
You picked up a quarterback with Tommy Stevens. Where does he fit in with your future?
JF: We love him. He's on campus as well, graduated early, and everybody has been so impressed with him. I talked to the strength staff, they love him. I talked to the academic people, they love him. Everybody I come in contact with is just raving about the guy in terms of how positive and appreciative and hard-working he is. He has the makeup that we're looking for, his demeanor, his attitude and his intelligence, so that's exciting. We want to have five quarterbacks on scholarship, one in every class, and we only have three, counting him. It's interesting but it also creates opportunity for guys to play early.
The class is definitely rooted in the state and the region. What struck you most about recruiting and competing here as opposed to the SEC?
JF: One of the big reasons we were so excited about coming here is you have some built-in advantages. You drive six hours in every direction and there's a lot of good players, a lot of good high school coaches. You have an opportunity to be strongly considered for any of those guys. There's not a whole lot of places similar to us in terms of the fan support with 107,000 people at games, with the academic reputation, the history and tradition and facilities. We have a lot of really good things going for us.
Do you sense how much signing day has changed in State College since you arrived?
JF: We want to have fun with it. This is a day for the staff to celebrate all the hard work, and to celebrate these young men and how excited they are about their futures. It's an opportunity to connect with the community and people on campus and allow people inside to see how we do things and get to know us. All of those things are really, really important. More than anything, it's just having fun. This is our future. You can be the best coach in the world. You need great players, great people to work with.