New coach plans to dominate recruiting

There was one word that dominated new Penn State football coach James Franklin’s comments when he discussed his recruiting plans with the media at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

That word was “dominate.”

“Our recruiting philosophy, we are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region,” Franklin said.

Later in the press conference, Franklin offered a reminder.

“I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before,” he said, “but we’re going to dominate the state. That is the first thing that we’re going to do.”

Franklin helped turn around Vanderbilt recruiting by landing a level of prospect the Nashville campus had rarely seen before in its football program’s history. At Penn State, Franklin is poised to do more.

“I’ve worked a lot of different institutions that tried to compete in recruiting against Penn State University, and it was always an unbelievable challenge because this school has everything that young men are looking for; this school has everything that families are looking for,” Franklin said. “That is going to be our plan.”

With his boundless energy and vitality combined with the track record of his accomplishments at Vanderbilt and the reputation as one of the bright up-and-coming coaches in the country, Franklin seems to be in a position to make good on his promise. Bill O’Brien’s staff had received 19 verbal commitments before he left for the Houston Texans, and it looks like most of those players are planning to stay on despite the staff turnover.

In fact, five recruits already are on campus and set to start classes on Monday. That number includes North Carolina receiver DeAndre Thompkins, who cited the presence of now-gone receivers coach Stan Hixon as a reason he committed to Penn State in the first place, and Canadian four-star quarterback Michael O’Connor. O’Connor seemed likely to wait to enroll if not choose another school, but he was recruited by Franklin before choosing Penn State, came to University Park with all his stuff and decided to stick by his decision to enroll after meeting the Lions’ new coach, according to BlueWhite Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder.

“It’s pretty solid. All these kids are appeased by it. They’re happy with it. They know what he did at Vanderbilt,” said Greg Pickel, who handles recruiting for “Most importantly, they know he can coach both offense and defense.”

With O’Connor and Thompkins in the fold, it looks like Penn State’s weakest threads now are with New York defensive tackle Thomas Holley and New Jersey tight end Mike Gesicki.

Both Holley and Gesicki are four-star prospects and might be the two highest-ranked players in the 2014 recruiting class. Holley’s commitment seems to hinge upon interim head coach/defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s future with the program. According to an interview during the coaching search, Gesicki had been enamored with another candidate, Miami’s Al Golden, although Gesicki did make a positive comment on social media Saturday night.

“Finally talked to the new boss at Penn State, Coach Franklin. Went well. #WEARE,” Gesicki wrote on Twitter.

Although Penn State might only have four more scholarships to give out in this class, Franklin seemed to indicate he was prepared to honor all the previous staff’s commitments.

“We’re going to reach out to those guys right away,” Franklin said. “One of the things that’s kind of unique and interesting is a lot of those guys that we had recruited in the past, so I have a relationship with some of those guys already.”

Among uncommitted players, Penn State has been high on the list of Florida safety Shawn Boone, Maryland guard Jared Cohen and Virginia defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Both Boone and Cohen have indicated they are still very interested in the Nittany Lions even with the coaching change.

In addition, Vanderbilt commits Trent Sherfield, a defensive back, and K.J. Carta-Samuels, a four-star quarterback recruit from California, have said they’d be open to Penn State if Franklin recruited them. Late Saturday, Ohio offensive lineman Chance Sorrell and Kentucky defensive end Lloyd Tubman announced they were switching from Vandy to Penn State, becoming the Lions’ 20th and 21st recruits.

With ties in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and plenty of coaching connections from his time at East Stroudsburg, Franklin has made locking down Pennsylvania his first priority and said the Lions also would continue to work its traditional base of New Jersey, New York, New England, Virginia, Delaware, and, presumably, Maryland very heavily. But, in what must have been golden words to those who followed Penn State recruiting over the last couple of decades, he didn’t intend to stop there.

“We’ll recruit nationally as well,” Franklin said, “because I think you sell yourself short when you don’t do that.”

Franklin said he was looking to maximize the few remaining available scholarships for 2014 and seemed eager for the future.

“I really wish that we had 35 scholarships in this class, because I think we can put together one of the top recruiting classes in the country,” Franklin said. “But I guarantee you those are coming. Those are coming.”