Recruiting is the most important thing a college football coach does, and the part of the job James Franklin does best.
It might also be a part that’s changing fastest. Franklin seems to recognize that, and accept the challenge it presents. For example:
Casting a wider net: Pennsylvania has historically been known as a high school football hotbed. But is it no longer among the top 10 states in producing major-college players, and Franklin pointed out Wednesday, as he has repeatedly that, “over the last 30 years, the numbers have been dwindling.’’
Penn State has mostly adjusted. The hiring of Ja’Juan Seider as running backs coach, and connected recruiter in talent-rich Florida, has paid off. The program has somehow made inroads in Michigan, from which it signed four players Wednesday.
It also pulled kids from Alabama and Indiana, as well as a typical haul from Maryland, three prospects including the top-ranked player in the state, OT Landon Tengwall.
Problem: Pennsylvania’s class of 2021 was strong and deep, and Penn State didn’t get any of the state’s top six ranked players. As Franklin acknowledged Wednesday he lost a battle for five-star OT Nolan Rucci to Wisconsin after not offering Rucci’s older brother, Hayden, now a TE at Wisconsin.
Will Franklin have to offer Pa. players, once in a while, to keep priming the pump and maintaining relationships within the state’s high school community?
Using the alumni network: “Good Morning America,’’ co-anchor Lara Spencer and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, both Penn State alumni, were employed to send messages to recruits as part of Wednesday’s National Signing Day ceremonies.
Kalen and Kobe King, brothers from Detroit who signed with Penn State Wednesday, got an introductory video from ex-Lion WR Allen Robinson, now with the Chicago Bears and also a Detroit native.
Penn State has the world’s largest alumni organization. It can be a recruiting tool in ways that haven’t been tapped yet.
College athletes are soon going to be allowed, by the NCAA, to market their images. The details and limitations haven’t been determined, but the future may involve using the alumni network to help the players sell themselves. Showing recruits how the athletic department can facilitate that may become part of recruiting.
“The alumni network, and the number of people who care about Penn State football, surpasses nearly everybody in the country,’’ Andy Frank, Penn State’s Director of Player Personnel, said Wednesday. “How do we leverage that strength?’’
It could be as small-bore as having alumni following and promote players via social media, or as big and overt as having players do ads for alumni-owned businesses if, as Frank said, “the NCAA is going to allow that.’’
Could Penn State help make those connections? Could it help produce the ads? Not yet, but, Frank said part of his job is likely to eventually be, “making sure all players know what those avenues are, and who’s out there to facilitate that for them in the future.’’
Working the transfer portal: At least for the next year, current senior players are allowed to return and not count toward the 85-scholarship limit. The NCAA Division One council voted Thursday to allow all transfer players to play immediately in 2021.
That means something like free agency in college football. Even if immediate transfer eligibility is only a one-year thing, the transfer portal has become a bigger part of roster management and team-building than ever.
“In the past, transfers were not a big part of our recruiting process,’’ Frank said. “That will change. We're going to be active is in the transfer portal looking for guys that can help us fill gaps.’’
To that end, Franklin addressed a portion of his signing-day comments Wednesday to, “any high school coaches or prospects that may be listening to this.’’
“We have typically signed a full class to try to get to 85 (scholarships),’’ he said. “A lot of programs have saved some scholarships for the transfer market. (From now on) we’re also going to be involved in that.’’