NEPA visit comes at a good time for Penn State coach James Franklin

By Derek Levarse - [email protected]
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DICKSON CITY — Even for James Franklin, the first part of Penn State’s recent recruiting surge was unexpected. Five verbal commitments in as many days.

“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did you plan this out this way?’ No. No,” the Nittany Lions coach said Wednesday at Genetti Manor. “We got a surprise phone call with the first one, and then they just kind of rolled from there. Five in five days.”

That “first one” would be Lackawanna College defensive back Jaquan Brisker, who kicked it all off by pledging to Franklin and the Lions Thursday night.

Fitting then, to talk a little recruiting during his trip to Northeastern Pennsylvania, as he served as the guest speaker for the 40th annual Penn State Night fundraiser, hosted by the Greater Scranton Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Brisker, the top-rated junior college safety in the country, got the ball rolling. By Monday, the Lions had also landed the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in Virginia — linebacker Brandon Smith and running back Devyn Ford — as well as the No. 2 and No. 3 recruits in Connecticut — defensive backs Marquis Wilson and Tyler Rudolph.

NCAA rules prohibit Franklin from mentioning any of them publicly until they sign in December. But he acknowledged it’s been a gratifying stretch for the Lions, who jumped up more than 30 spots in the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings.

“There’s momentum in football games, there’s momentum in recruiting,” Franklin said. “So yeah, I think as we started to get a few commitments (it took off). … Some big names. Young people and families that are excited about coming to Penn State. Continue to build on what we’re doing there and also be able to chase their own dreams. Pretty special.”

Brisker would be the third Lackawanna player to sign with Penn State since Franklin arrived. Beyond that, the Lions will have a handful of District 2 alumni on the 2018 roster, led by Lake-Lehman’s Connor McGovern.

McGovern accomplished the rare feat of starting on the offensive line as a true freshman in 2016, stepping in at right guard early in that Big Ten championship season. As a sophomore he started every game at center, where he played throughout high school.

That’s where he’s penciled in for this fall, though Franklin allowed that the coaches would put him back at guard if that’s what the team needed.

“He’s just been a class act,” Franklin said of McGovern. “He’s gotten big, he’s gotten strong. He’s done really well in school. Really well-liked and respected on our team. We’re excited about what he’s going to be able to do this year. … We’re going to see how it plays out in terms of getting our best five on the field, whether that means him at center or him at guard.

“But we’re excited about Connor. He’s just been a great example and a great representative of our program since he stepped on campus.”

Franklin was joined in Dickson City by Penn State radio play-by-play announcer Steve Jones. The event raises money toward awarding scholarships and various programs. This year, the chapter honored Sue Thomas as its “Alumna of the Year.”

Franklin had previously attended the annual dinner as part of Penn State’s Coaches Caravan, appearing in Peckville prior to his first season at the school in 2014.

His memories of that first trip were of the swarms of fans he interacted with throughout the night. On Wednesday, he stood and took a photo with every attendee who lined up for one.

“This place is passion, there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said. “The Scranton, Wilkes-Barre area is very passionate. I found that out four years ago at this event, and it was packed full of energy and enthusiasm.

“And then even recruiting Connor, I remember going to Connor’s games and the environment and the excitement and the amount of Penn State fans was crazy. I remember stopping at a Dunkin’ Donuts and we got assaulted at a Dunkin’ Donuts trying to get a coffee. There’s just so much enthusiasm. That’s what makes it special.”

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By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse