James Franklin dominating the state as he enters Year 4 at PSU

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James Franklin dominating the state as he enters Year 4 at PSU

After being introduced as Penn State’s head coach in January 2014, James Franklin said something that will either be etched on his tombstone or scrawled upon it by graffiti artists.

He said he wanted to “dominate the state.”

He was talking specifically about recruiting, which in truth is (and always has been) the goal of the guy heading the commonwealth's highest-profile Division I football program: You want to keep the best kids close to home.

The phrase was nonetheless used to mock him as his team struggled through consecutive 7-6 seasons his first two years on the job. The Lions broke out in 2016, going 11-3 and winning the Big Ten, and now it can be said with certainty that he has lived up to his vow — that while he and his staff have generally excelled on the recruiting trail, they have done particularly well in their backyard.

That very much includes the Delaware Valley, as stands to reason: Franklin is a Langhorne native.

Of the 120 players listed on the Nittany Lions’ preseason roster, 45 are Pennsylvanians. That’s 37.5 percent and includes a guy who is not only the best player on the team but also one of the best in the country, running back Saquon Barkley. While a native of the Bronx, he grew up near Allentown. 

With a couple New Jerseyans factored in, there are 14 from Philadelphia and its environs. They include left tackle Ryan Bates (Warrington/Archbishop Wood), the Lions’ best offensive lineman, starting defensive tackle Curtis Cothran (Newtown/Council Rock North) and starting defensive end Shareef Miller (Philadelphia/George Washington).

Also in that number are Miller’s two primary backups, Ryan Buchholz (Malvern/Great Valley) and Shaka Toney (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter), as well as starting wide receiver Juwan Johnson (Glassboro, New Jersey), who is widely viewed as a breakout candidate this season, his first as a regular.

(Not included on the season’s first depth chart, released Tuesday, was cornerback John Reid [Mount Laurel, New Jersey/St. Joe’s Prep]. A returning starter, he injured a knee during spring practice and is expected to miss much of the season, if not all of it.)

“Obviously for us to be the team we want to be and have the type of program that we want to have, we have to go a great job in the state of Pennsylvania,” Franklin said Tuesday, as he looked ahead to Saturday’s season opener against Akron.

He noted not only his ties to the Philadelphia area but also the fact that some of his former teammates at East Stroudsburg, where he played quarterback in the early 1990s, have gone into coaching.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” he said, “when you can walk into a high school office and you’ve got a relationship, and you kind of understand those schools and their backgrounds and their strengths and their weaknesses, all those types of things, it helps. It really does. They have a familiarity with you, you have a familiarity with them and there’s trust there. So I think all those relationships and those networks have been critical to what we’ve been able to do so far.”

Bates is a guy all the big schools wanted, after serving as a two-way tackle on a Wood club that won consecutive state titles in 2013 and 2014. He redshirted his first year at PSU while beginning the growth process from 275 pounds to his current 315. Last season, he started the first 10 games at left guard and the last four at left tackle, after injuries left the Lions threadbare at the latter position.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal for me,” he said. “I do feel more comfortable out at tackle, honestly. I feel better in space. I trust my feet.”

He wound up making a pair of freshman All-America teams, and line coach Matt Limegrover now regards the redshirt sophomore as a guy who is “going to be a cornerstone for us the next three years.”

The other locals have grown into their roles as well — in Cothran’s case, literally. He was a 230-pound defensive end when he arrived on campus in 2013. He is now listed at 295, and after starting eight games last year said Tuesday that he considers it “a blessing” to be listed as the regular heading into the opener.

“And,” he added, “it definitely just shows the amount of work that goes into it. I mean, nothing's ever easy, especially in college football. Through the years of grinding everything out, I'm thankful to be here.”

Same for Johnson, who last year recorded his first two career catches but is now filling the spot played in 2016 by Chris Godwin, a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Sleep on me if you want to,” it said on Johnson’s Twitter page at one point during spring practice. “I’ll wake you up soon.”

By then the 6-foot-4, 218-pound redshirt sophomore had awakened just about everybody. Admittedly inconsistent his first two seasons in the program, his strides were such that receivers coach Josh Gattis called him “one of the most improved players on the team” in an interview with the Big Ten Network.

Nothing appears to have changed since then.

“Eager season,” it now says on Johnson’s Twitter page.

The defensive end corps likewise oozes potential, despite the departures of the starters Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Miller and Buchholz both saw plenty of action last year — position coach Sean Spencer prefers to rotate fresh bodies — and redshirt freshmen like Shane Simmons and Toney are intriguing prospects.

Cothran, in fact, called Simmons “a freak of nature,” and Bates said much the same of Toney, who is unusually slight (6-3, 218) for his position.

“Shaka,” Bates said, “is probably one of the fastest guys I've ever gone against. I feel like I'm playing a corner at defensive end just because of his sheer speed and his quickness coming off the ball.”

The Lions likewise appear to have turned a corner. And it is in large part because they have taken some familiar exits.

Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

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Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

This post appeared on College Football Talk on Saturday

Or will that be former Penn State recruit?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Isheem Young was one of three individuals arrested Friday in connection with the armed robbery of a Wawa convenience store in South Philadelphia this past summer. One of the two alleged accomplices is Young’s brother, the manager of the store that was robbed, while the other an unnamed getaway driver.

The Inquirer reports that the 18-year-old Young is facing charges of robbery, conspiracy, firearms violations and related offenses. He is currently being held in lieu of a $150,000 bond.

It’s alleged that Young and his partners in crime made off with $13,600 in cash from the store’s safe. A police report stated that Young entered the store armed with a black revolver and committed the robbery.

Young committed to play his college football at Penn State in mid-July; two weeks later is when he allegedly committed the crime. He was 17 years old when the incident happened.

A four-star 2018 recruit, he’s rated as the No. 12 safety in the country, the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania and the No. 151 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

The new early-signing period for college football, incidentally, kicks off in less than three weeks.

Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin

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Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The last 48 hours weren't easy for the Wisconsin Badgers who had all day Sunday plus a long flight into Happy Valley on Monday to stew over their worst home loss in nearly a decade.

Penn State nearly extended that misery, but a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Tony Carr bounced off the rim with two seconds to play and the Badgers held on for a 64-63 win.

"It's nice to see a bounce back and look like a Wisconsin team should look," Badgers coach Greg Gard said.

Khalil Iverson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Nate Reuvers added 11 points and Ethan Happ grabbed 10 rebounds for the Badgers (4-5, 1-1 Big Ten), who snapped a two-game losing streak.

Mike Watkins scored a career-high 22 points for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) who battled back from a 17-point deficit with 9:40 to play. Carr added 16 points and Shep Garner made 13 for the Nittany Lions who were trying for their first 2-0 start in conference play since 2007.

Penn State played its third game, and first at home, in six days and struggled to shoot the ball for most of the night. The Nittany Lions made just 9 of 26 field goals in the first half, trailed 31-25 at halftime and were just 3-for-21 over the final 1:50 of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second.

"We dug a little deeper because we looked very sluggish in the first half," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.

The Badgers led 51-36 with 9:40 to play, but Garner drained back-to-back jumpers shortly thereafter to spark a 21-9 run that cut Wisconsin's lead to 60-57 with 1:53 left.

A pair of Garner free throws with less than a minute to play made it a one-point game before the teams traded free throws over the final 43 seconds. D'Mitrik Trice closed it out at the line on 4-of-4 shooting for the Badgers.

"I knew we'd have to be really dialed-in and gritty and persevere," Gard said. "I expected the whole game to be like the last four minutes and fortunately we were able to make enough plays and get enough stops to hang on."

Built Ford tough
Carr got his shot after forward Aleem Ford bounced the game's final free throw off the rim on the other end of the floor. He didn't get another chance thanks in part to Ford's hustle to get back on defense.

When Carr's shot rang off the rim, it took a bounce toward a Penn State player in the corner. Ford grabbed hold of the ball to force a jump ball and prevent the Nittany Lions from getting any kind of chance.

Ford's late recovery came in the absence of usual post presences Happ and Davison, who both had fouled out.

"He really hustled for that loose ball," Gard said. "There were a lot of winning plays, so to speak that were made. "We need to make better decisions down the stretch so that it doesn't get to that point."

Trusting Carr
Chambers had no issue with Carr, who was just 5-for-22 from the field, pulling up for the final 3-pointer even though Penn State's crafty point guard might've had room toward the hoop.

The clock was ticking and Chambers trusts his leading scorer who entered the game with 20.6 points per game, 39 assists and 19-for-32 from 3-point range.

"Whatever Tony thought," Chambers said. "I'm not in his vision. I'm on the sideline. I don't know what he saw but he's a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions. So I'm going to trust that decision."

Tough stats to swallow
Wisconsin's bench chipped in 25 points to Penn State's one.

Meanwhile, of Penn State's 29 misses, 11 were layups that didn't fall.

The big picture
Wisconsin: The Badgers are the only team to have played four ranked opponents so far and were tied or within a basket with two minutes left in three of those games. They looked better than their record inside the Bryce Jordan Center, matching Penn State's physical play throughout and frustrating Penn State's shooters all night.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions continue to play solid defense, but those stingy efforts will be for nothing if Penn State's shooters continue to miss like they did early and midway through against the Badgers. Penn State finished 26 for 50 from the floor.

Up next
Wisconsin concludes a three-day trip through the Keystone State at Temple (4-2) on Wednesday.

Penn State hosts George Washington (4-4) on Saturday.