Now with a coaching staff full of successful college quarterbacks, James Franklin is still claiming the title of the best small-school signal-caller in the group.
“Well, yeah, it’s clear that James Franklin is the best small college quarterback on the staff,” Franklin deadpanned Wednesday. “I mean, there’s no argument there. But that’s because I’m really the only small college quarterback on the staff.”
Franklin played at Division II East Stroudsburg, while his two newest assistants — running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and receivers coach David Corley — finished their careers at Division I schools Florida A&M and William & Mary, respectively. Seider also started out at West Virginia.
“I-AA and I-A, which is what those two guys played, clearly beats a Division II guy,” Franklin said. “Although, the Division II guy was a badass.”
Though he didn’t necessarily plan it out this way, Franklin likes having fellow quarterbacks round out his offensive staff, which is now led by coordinator Ricky Rahne, who himself starred under center at Cornell.
“I think typically, quarterbacks are taught different than other positions,” Franklin said. “Quarterbacks, from the time you’re a freshman, you’re taught to try to see the big picture and understand what every position is doing. Other positions, for the most part, you learn that position and try to become a master of that craft. And then maybe as you get to become an upperclassman, you start to see more of the big picture.
“I think when you’re able to hire a coach that has got a quarterback background, they just typically see the world and see the game a little bit differently. So that came off in the interview process.”
Franklin knew Corley personally from his time as head coach at Vanderbilt looking to hire a new receivers coach heading into his second season with the Commodores. The job ultimately went to Josh Gattis, who work for six seasons with Franklin before moving on to Alabama last month.
Now Corley has Gattis’ former role with the Nittany Lions.
As for Seider, this winter was the first time Franklin had met with him. But he left a big impression himself.
“Ja’Juan is a guy that I knew more about his reputation, and then there was some guys on our staff that he had a relationship with,” Franklin said. “We went through the interview process and guys had done a good job, but Ja’Juan kind of blew us away.”
It didn’t hurt that Seider, a Florida native who had most recently coached for the Gators, could open things up on the recruiting trail for the Lions in the Sunshine State.
“You don’t hire Ja’Juan unless you’re going to make a recruiting shift, and you don’t hire Ja’Juan and not recruit Florida,” Franklin said. “It doesn’t make any sense.
“We have recruited Florida in the past, but obviously, once you make this decision, you’re going to recruit it harder. He’s going to get us into some doors because of his relationships and his reputation that maybe we weren’t involved in before.”
Reid ready to go
Penn State must replace all four starters in the secondary in 2018, but the Lions are still looking strong at cornerback in particular.
The biggest boost will come from the return of John Reid, who redshirted last season after suffering a serious knee injury.
Franklin said on Wednesday, however, that Reid will be “full-go” for spring practice next month, putting him well on track to reclaim a starting job for the fall.
“He’s participating in the morning workouts right now,” Franklin said. “Obviously there’s no rush to bring him back. He’s played a lot of football for us. But I know the coaches are excited about working with him. I know John is excited about getting back on the field.
“But yeah, so far, so good. We’re expecting him to have a huge role on our team, not only as a player but also as a leader.”
A much bigger question mark comes at kicker, where the Lions must find a successor to two-year starter Tyler Davis.
The just-completed recruiting class brings help in the form of new scholarship kicker Jake Pinegar.
But Penn State also has some other kickers who have announced their intention to walk on — Maryland’s Rafael Checa and Hollidaysburg’s Vlad Hilling — who could factor in. But NCAA rules prohibit Franklin from discussing them publicly until they reach campus.
“We’re going to have really good competition at that position,” Franklin said. “Carson Landis is a guy who is returning, that’s got a strong leg and we’re excited about. Blake Gillikin kicked in high school, but I’d prefer to leave him focused on being the best punter in the country.
“You’ve got Jake Pinegar coming in who is long and athletic and got a strong leg. And then we’ve got some other guys that I’m not allowed to talk about that we’re really excited about coming in as well. It’s going to be an open competition.”