Franklin feels ‘vibe of BG and the area

James Franklin apologized to Bishop Guilfoyle’s Marauder Club for taking four years to make an appearance at the club’s annual spring luncheon.

While he may not have gotten to the Marauders’ event that in the past couple of years brought former Georgia football coaching legend Vince Dooley and current Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers to town, Franklin has not been a stranger to BG, Altoona or Blair County.

“This community is very important to us,” he said after speaking to a packed banquet room of about 100 at the Park Hills Country Club on Thursday. “When you look from a historical perspective, this area has been big supporters of Penn State. There have been a number of players, both from a historical perspective and our current roster that have had significant roles.”

Blair County will be represented by four players on the Nittany Lions’ roster this fall.

Defensive tackle Kevin Givens of Altoona Area High School enters his fourth season. He’s a two-year letterman who started the last five games of the 2017 season.

“Obviously, Kevin has played a lot of football for us already,” Franklin said. “We think he’s got a bright future. We need for him to have a significant role, especially when we graduated three defensive tackles who are all in NFL camps.”

Givens has shown enough versatility to play both end and tackle while racking up 11 tackles for loss, including eight sacks, in 28 games.

Altoona has a rich football history, but Givens is actually the first Mountain Lion player to receive a Division I scholarship from Penn State in 42 years — since Brad Benson in 1973.

Three other local products arrived at PSU as invited walk-ons.

Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson, also entering his fourth season, has been a valuable lineman, contributing at guard and center and on special teams.

“Simpson is one of these guys who probably doesn’t get the credit he should,” Franklin said. “You talk about a guy who’s been very productive, very responsible, high production-low maintenance and has been in the two-deep now for multiple years.”

Central High School’s Alex Hoenstine redshirted as a freshman receiver and is a candidate to work into the special teams mix.

“At this point, it’s still early in his career,” Franklin said of Hoenstine. “He’s only been on campus for one year. He did a really good job on scout team. He obviously was a highly productive high school player, and we’re excited to see him develop over the years.”

Incoming freshman Vlad Hilling of Hollidaysburg will be in the placekicker competition. The Lions graduate Tyler Davis, who handled the duties for the past three seasons.

“Vlad, I just saw yesterday,” Franklin said. “He was just on campus for orientation with his mom. He has an opportunity. We don’t have a returning kicker in terms of a starter, and we’re going to have a competition with probably four guys, and he’s going to be right there in the thick of it.”

Penn State recruited BG senior-to-be Colton McGhee, but he ended up taking a scholarship to West Virginia.

“We had a kicker (McGhee) who we’d have loved to go to Penn State, (my) alma mater,” Marauder coach Justin Wheeler, a walk-on tight end on the Lions’ 1994 Rose Bowl team who guided BG to three PIAA titles and 59 straight wins, said Thursday. “Football in this area is extremely strong — from Single-A on up through, and it’s nice to see some of those guys being successful on some of the biggest stages.”

Franklin praised the job Wheeler has done and the “excellent vibe” he gets at BG.

“Your school is as impressive as it gets,” Franklin said, noting the school’s new weight room. “It is first class, from top to bottom — administration, faculty. What you’re building and what you’ve done, I congratulate you.”

He’s also pleased with the Lions’ extraordinary progress. After going 14-12 in his first two seasons, Franklin has led Penn State to a pair of Top-10 finishes, a 22-5 two-year record with Big Ten and Fiesta Bowl championships, and the Nits are poised to be ranked in the preseason Top 10 again this year.

He drew a comparison to BG, just what the purple and gold faithful wanted to hear.

“When Penn State was rolling, we dominated the region,” Franklin said. “That’s what I see going on right now. I’m proud of what we’ve done. I walk with my chest out, and you should be, too.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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