Franklin connecting with region

STATE COLLEGE – Give new Penn State football coach James Franklin credit for one thing: If he makes a mistake, he’ll own up to it.

For instance, Franklin admitted that offering at the press conference introducing him to the Nittany Lion media to blow up balloons at birthday parties probably wasn’t the best of judgment.

“Honestly, this morning I was at the Nittany Lion Inn. I got a request on Twitter from somebody to go to the birthday party of a 90-year-old grandparent,” Franklin said. “I was at the Nittany Lion Inn this morning singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to somebody.

“I’m trying to live up to my promises.”

That, though, is all part of building relationships, something else for which Franklin deserves credit for doing in his first two months at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ first-year coach was at that again at the Penn Stater on Sunday afternoon, first meeting with the media again and then serving as the featured speaker at the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation’s 17th annual scholar-athlete banquet.

“It really meant a lot, coming from a guy in that position. It’s something good to live by, to build team chemistry and do the best that you can do,” said Juniata Valley quarterback Caleb Taylor, one of more than 50 scholastic and college seniors from regional schools who were honored.

Franklin spoke to the gathering about the importance of academics and getting a quality education. He also shared the four pillars he feels are essentially to a great program: a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, a desire to compete in all things and sacrifice.

The Nittany Lion football program, he said, can promote a worthwhile message.

“Our mission is to graduate our players. Our mission is to win a bunch of football games,” Franklin said. “But ultimately what we want to do is have a positive impact on this community. I’m talking about this community. I’m talking about this campus. I’m talking about this region. And I’m talking about the state.”

To that end, functions like Sunday’s are very important.

“[This is] another opportunity for us to get out in the community and interact, shake some hands and get a chance to meet some people,” Franklin said. “This is a marriage that makes a lot of sense. We look forward to working with them [the local chapter of the NFF] in the future in any way possible.

“It’s about relationships. When you’ve got great chemistry in any organization, you can do special things,” Franklin added.

Franklin has gotten high marks thus far on his ability to build bridges.

“He’s just an incredible guy,” said Philipsburg-Osceola’s Nick Boumerhi, who’ll be walking on at Penn State as a place-kicker. “When I went to visit, he was incredibly personable. He acted like he knew you for your whole life. It was like he was a relative. I’m a very big family guy, and for someone to do that in the sense he did meant a lot to me.”

Franklin said, though, that building that kind of chemistry with the current team – most of which was recruited by other coaches – still is a work in progress.

“I think the players have great chemistry,” Franklin said. “But the players had a bit of a wall up when we first got here, which was natural. For us to get where we want to go, they have to let us in. The players have tremendous chemistry because of everything they’ve been through. We’re still working to build that trust and that chemistry as an entire organization.”

Spring practice has given Franklin and his staff and chance to jumpstart that, although he openly wished he had more time to do it.

“I understand why the rules are in place in the NCAA on the amount of time we can be together. It’s really not an issue when you’ve been somewhere two or three years. At that point, [the players] want to get away from you. Right now, when you’re trying to build that chemistry and those relationships, you need as much time as you can possibly get with them,” Franklin said. “Now that we’ve been out on the field, it’s been great.”

Franklin’s hiring has been well-received by Nittany Lions football fans like Penn Cambria scholar-athlete award recipient Dante Delerme.

“He’s really enthusiastic. I think it’s good for Penn State. I think they need someone like this,” Delerme said. “Relationships are important. It’s more than about winning. I think he understands it.”

Delerme and Taylor were two out of nine scholastic players from the Mirror coverage area to be awarded special scholarships, joining Central’s Adam Frederick, Bellwood-Antis’ Casey Gray, Williamsburg’s Austin McMonagle, Moshannon Valley’s Kyle O’Donnell, Northern Bedford’s Blake Over, Cambria Heights’ Isaac Sclesky and Tyrone’s Erik Wagner. Altoona’s Jared Shope of Juniata and P-O’s Zack Czap of Lycoming were among the college scholar-athletes recognized, which also included Penn State’s Kyle Baublitz and St. Francis’ Kyle Harbridge.

Penn State guard John Urschel was one of two collegiate players to receive special recognition along with Harlon Hill Trophy winner Franklin Quiteh of Bloomsburg.

Former Bloomsburg University coach Danny Hale, Bald Eagle Area trainer Scott Devore and official Dan Leitzell were given the chapter’s respective lifetime achievement awards, while Lock Haven radio personality John Lipez was presented the Frank Fisher Award for excellence in sports journalism.