In his 15-minute allotment at the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Monday, James Franklin fielded three questions before his time was up. One of them happened to be about the growing buzz around Connor McGovern.
The junior looks to figure prominently in 2018 for Penn State as Franklin said the offensive line has the chance to “be a strength” for the first time in his tenure with the Nittany Lions.
“Connor started for us since he was a true freshman on the offensive line, which is somewhat unusual in college football,” the Lions coach said in his televised address from Chicago. “Specifically with our circumstances we walked into at Penn State, we’re very fortunate (to have) him. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s smart, he’s been very productive. We expect him to take the next step as an offensive lineman in our program. He has the flexibility and the size that he can play all the positions, center, guard and tackle as well. We’ll see.”
That’s a line of thinking Franklin has expressed a few times since the end of spring practice.
During his visit to Lackawanna County in May, Franklin mentioned that McGovern, who has been named to the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list for the nation’s top center, isn’t a guarantee to line up there when the season opens in September.
He reiterated that point on Monday about McGovern, who started nine games at right guard in 2016 and all 13 games at center last fall.
“We want to get our best five guys on the field, whether with Connor that’s him at center or guard, there’s some flexibility there,” Franklin said. “That’s why he’s attractive to people — we’re talking about a 6-5, 300-pound young man who’s playing center and has flexibility.”
Those people would include pro scouts as McGovern heads into his third college season, making him eligible for the NFL draft as early as next spring. The Lake-Lehman grad’s name has popped up on some top underclassman draft lists in the past few months.
Not that the Lions are looking that far ahead yet.
“We’re excited about him, but anything further than that, I’ll sit down with Connor and his family when the time comes,” Franklin said. “The fact that his father is a superintendent, I know how important education is to them as well.”
The Big Ten itself does little prognosticating these days, releasing only a tame “players to watch” list for both divisions — Lions quarterback Trace McSorley was the lone player to be a unanimous choice on the ballots.
Cleveland.com has traditionally stepped in, however, to provide team predictions. The site recently polled 28 writers throughout the conference.
Defending Big Ten champion Ohio State was picked to win the East, garnering 191.5 points. Penn State was edged out by the narrowest margin for second place behind Michigan State (142-141.5), and the Lions were just ahead of Michigan (140.5). Penn State received one first-place vote.
Wisconsin was the unanimous choice to repeat as West champion.
In a separate poll by the website, McSorley and Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa were voted as Big Ten preseason players of the year for offense and defense.
Lions add a new recruit
Monday was Saleem Wormley’s birthday. Penn State coaches got to celebrate, too.
Wormley, a four-star offensive lineman and the top-rated player in Delaware for the 2019 cycle, announced his verbal commitment to the Lions, becoming the 12th member of their upcoming recruiting class.
He made his decision public on Twitter, writing that he was “1000% committed” to the Lions.
The 6-foot-3, 318-pounder chose Penn State over his other finalists, Notre Dame and Rutgers. He checks in as the nation’s No. 287 overall recruit and the No. 13 guard in the 247Sports Composite rankings and also holds scholarship offers from Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Pitt, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, among others.
Wormley is the second offensive lineman in the class, joining top-100 recruit Caedan Wallace of New Jersey.
As a junior in 2017, Wormley helped lead Smyrna High School to its third straight Delaware Division I state championship, shaking off an 0-2 start to win eight straight, including a rally from 12 points down in the second half of the DIAA title game.
“This is one happy OL coach right now!” Penn State’s Matt Limegrover wrote on Twitter. “Elite addition! Bigtime Player!”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse