Penn St Football

Penn State coach James Franklin watches his players undergo testing with daughters Addison, middle, and Shola, right, at the Lasch Football Building Thursday.

During a Zoom call last month, I thanked James Franklin for saying he believes in science.

That ought to be like saying you believe in math or breathing, but of course it isn’t.

The pandemic has forced Franklin to prove he means it, and he has done that.

In an interview with HBO’s Bryant Gumbel that aired last week, Franklin said that he will spend most or all of this college football season, and possibly the rest of 2020, separated from his family because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Franklin’s daughter Addison, 12, has sickle cell disease, which compromises the immune system. So Addison, her mother Fumi and sister Shola will spend the season at the family’s home in Florida.

Franklin will be in State College, doing his job.

“There were a lot of tears,’’ he told Gumbel. “There was a lot of emotion having this conversation with my daughters. So a lot of heartache over it.”

In March, as the pandemic shutdown began, Franklin and his family stayed in Colorado to protect Addison. When they returned to State College, they didn’t leave their home for over a month.

"Because of my daughter's illness, we've been on lockdown from the beginning," Franklin said this spring. "It's not something we've messed around with at all."

Yes, Florida is currently a hot spot for COVID-19, with nearly 10,000 reported cases last Saturday. But the Franklins will be able to control the environment in and around their home, and obviously be able to minimize Addison’s contact with people outside their family.

The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America recommends sickle cell patients observe living restrictions that are more stringent than those for the general population. The difference mostly involves human interaction, which sickle cell patients should avoid to the extent reasonably possible.

That doesn’t jibe, obviously, with the endless human interaction of a college football coach.

What the workouts are like

Penn State just completed its second week of voluntary offseason workouts for the football players.

The workouts are taking place in Holuba Hall, the program’s indoor practice facility, which has been converted into a socially-distanced weight room and conditioning center.

The players have been divided into small groups, and it’s the same group every day. Plus, the entire facility is sanitized between each session, so there isn’t much chance for connection with teammates even during the transition from group to group.

“You’re only seeing the guys that you (work out) with each day,’’ kicker Jake Pinegar said during a Zoom call Tuesday. “You don’t really get to see anybody else.’’

The workouts do not include football skill work, like passing, catching and kicking. Penn State’s outdoor practice facility is not available, so players have been using State College High School’s practice field to work out on their own.

Drive by State High on an average weekday, and you might see quarterback Sean Clifford throwing to wide receivers, or Pinegar and fellow kicker Jordan Stout booting field goals.

Franklin said in his HBO interview last week that “a number’’ of players have chosen not to return to State College for the workouts. Penn State has not announced testing data on the players.

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More changes expected: In virtual town hall meetings last week, Penn State University President Eric Barron said the fact that athletes are on campus working out does not presume there will be seasons and games this fall.

Barron also said if there are Penn State football games, none of them, home or away, will be played before full-sized crowds.

“At most, (schools are) considering a very reduced number of students. So, for example, electronic ticketing, no cash, different sanitation procedures, social distancing.’’

Wally Richardson, Director of the Football Letterman’s Club, informed the lettermen last week that their customary sideline passes will not be given for home games in 2020. 

Parsons' ratings: Penn State LB Micah Parsons has been named the No. 2 player in the Big Ten Conference (behind Ohio State QB Justin Fields) by 24/7 Sports, the No. 3 defensive player in the country by Fox Sports’ Big Noon Kickoff crew, and the best LB prospect since Luke Keuchley in 2012 by Pro Football Focus.

Coming soon: As of Saturday, Penn State’s season opener with Kent State is 70 days away.