Time at home now vital to PSU’s future

Penn State has a chance to enjoy a great football season this fall — if there actually is football — but a lot of what happens months from now on the field will depend on what the players do at home over the coming weeks and months.

There’s no spring practice, no Blue-White Game, no on-campus workouts with teammates and training staff pushing each guy to the max. There won’t be any organized team activities until at least mid-summer, all because of the coronavirus.

Football, right now, is an individual sport.

The individuals who maximize their work and focus during this time, rather than slack off because they’re stuck at home in unusual and trying circumstances, will be the ones who make the most progress and are most ready to play at a high level later this year.

The Nittany Lions will be a preseason top 10 team with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations this fall. There’s a lot on the line with those kinds of expectations, and perhaps most importantly for this team, the fact that the ceiling is so high gives every player working out at home extra incentive.

James Franklin said one of the first things he told his players during a recent online team meeting was a motivational quote by legendary businessman Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel.

“It says bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them,” Franklin recalled during an online press conference this past week.

One of Franklin’s four core values is “compete in everything you do,” and the bottom line is it’s just harder to compete at home by yourself than when you’re surrounded by teammates and coaches every day.

“Right now we’re in a challenging situation,” Franklin said. “The reality is the most successful people, the most successful organizations and the most successful teams are going to handle this challenge the best and come out of it the best. Are we going to be where we were before? No. But nobody else is, as well.

“So, how are we handling this situation? The self determination and drive to make sure we’re doing everything we can academically. Same thing, whether it’s body weight workouts on your own. Again, we’re still competing with all the other top programs in the country, and the best programs and the best individuals are going to handle this adversity the best.”

It’s a fine line, though — which Franklin mentioned — trying to focus on how important football is to a large group of young men whose lives have been upended in an unprecedented way.

“We want to be sensitive to what’s going on in our country,” Franklin said. “But we also want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure our guys are still getting a great education … that they’re still taking care of their bodies … and when it comes to football specific activities, we’ve got to come out of this and be able to hit the ground running.”

The coaches have prepared home body weight workouts for the players, but Franklin noted that, since they’re at home, the workouts are optional. Some players have good workout equipment at home, while others don’t, so there’s really no way to ensure consistent workouts across the board.

Along with the football work, Franklin said he’s been “adamant” about making sure he and his assistant coaches are talking about things other than football with the players when they hold video chats online.

“We should be spending some time making sure these guys are alright and their families are alright and having awareness of what’s going on in their lives,” the coach said.

Franklin gave some good insight — albeit with no specifics — when asked how the players are handling everything at home.

“There’s a lot of individual situations that are very challenging,” he said, “that are very difficult from a lot of different perspectives — whether it’s their home situation, whether it’s finances, whether it’s sleeping, whether they’re eating — all these things that are pretty much taken care of for them at Penn State. Those things are challenging.”

The football players are student-athletes — something many people seem to forget sometimes — so they’re also having to adjust to taking online classes. In that regard, there are even concerns about players who may not have internet in their homes, which is yet another obstacle.

“Early on, I think there was a lot of concern, there was a lot of uneasiness,” Franklin said. “People were unsettled, and I still think that’s there. But I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve been able to bring back some of the structure and been able to bring back some of the interactions that I think are helpful.

“Guys are starting to get back into this routine, which is strange, but they’re kind of figuring out what they have to do. We talked to them about they’ve still got to set their alarm and get up in the morning, kind of have a routine every single day.”

The football players didn’t have a choice in those matters when they were on campus. Now, it’s up to each of them as individuals to be making all the right choices at home during these troubling times to ensure that the team can live up to expectations half a year from now.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.


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