Big Ten: Troy Apke

Penn State coach James Franklin has been in the Big Ten for less than a month, but he's already making big news on the recruiting trail. At his introductory news conference Jan. 11, Franklin proclaimed: "We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region." He then went out and landed eight recruits in the three-plus weeks before signing day, flipping five who had pledged to Vanderbilt, his former team. Franklin upgraded Penn State's perimeter with players like wide receiver Saeed Blacknall. It's safe to say the Big Ten recruiting landscape is a little more interesting with Franklin in the mix.

ESPN.com caught up with the Penn State coach earlier Wednesday to discuss his first recruiting class with the Lions.

Where does today rank among your favorite days of the year?

James Franklin: Professionally, it's a really good day. You're talking about your future, you're talking about the possibilities of what these young men are going to bring to your program. So from that perspective, I enjoy it, there's no doubt about it. And I'm a guy who likes recruiting because I like being successful, and good players help.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeFrom the moment he took over as Penn State's coach James Franklin set out to make a big impact on the recruiting trail.
What were your main goals with this class, given the limited time you had to finish it off?

JF: Well, we had major holes in the roster from a scholarship reduction standpoint. We had to try to fill some needs, although we're not going to fill all of our needs in one class. The ones that were obvious, we only had two scholarship offensive tackles in the program, so that was important for us. When you've got a quarterback like [Christian] Hackenberg, you better have some weapons to throw the ball to, so wideouts were important. And then continue to work on depth in the D-line as well as the secondary. We still have a long way to go, but considering we had three weeks to finish this out, we did pretty well.

What stands out about the wide receivers you brought in?

JF: The combination of [Mike] Gesicki at tight end, who's really a big wideout, H-back type guy, and then at wideout, the size and speed combination that we have, I feel really good about that, with Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin and all the guys we have. [Troy] Apke as well, I think it's a nice class. When you have a quarterback like Hackenberg, it helps you recruit, but it's also a responsibility for us to surround that guy with as much talent as possible.

How much was speed an objective with this class?

JF: Speed always is an objective for us. We will have the fastest team in the Big Ten. When you say that, a lot of people think you're talking about DBs and wide receivers, but for us, it's kickers, it's offensive line, it's every position. We want speed throughout our team.

You've talked about players committing to coaches perhaps more than schools. Is too much made out of the school versus the coach? You obviously had relationships with several of these guys from your time at Vanderbilt.

JF: I don't know if that's exactly what I said. I said the school's a major factor and always will be, but with the recruiting process and teams and organizations, it's about the people. You're going to look at the schools and the rankings first, but once you narrow it down to a group of schools you're comfortable with, it comes down to how you feel about the people. It's not about the buildings; it's about the people inside the buildings. That comes down to relationships and trust and all those things. We've had guys we've been recruiting across the country for two years, and we were going to stick with those guys. The same thing with the recruits and families. They were comfortable with us and who we are as men and how we conduct ourselves. It also helped that we went from one school to another that has similar philosophies when it comes to academics.

Did you notice any differences being in the Big Ten or this region?

JF: It's too early to tell. We were just scrambling the last three weeks. I'll have a better idea next year or after spring. The biggest difference is that Nittany Lion logo on your shirt carries a lot of weight in this part of the country and nationally. This is a national brand. And I'm a Pennsylvania guy. I have a lot of connections in this part of the country. So does my staff. It's a big deal for the Penn State coaches to come by the school, to be in that community. This is a very, very proud, storied, historic program, and people are yearning to get back to that. That's what makes this place so special. There's just so many positive things to sell.

You mentioned the defensive line. What do you like about the guys you brought in there?

JF: They're all going to have to contribute. With our situation, all these guys were recruited to come in and play. Once they get here, if they're not ready to play, whether it's emotionally or physically, then we'll redshirt them. But with our scholarship numbers, our mentality is all these guys are going to have to come to play. Maybe they're playing special teams initially, but by the midpoint of the season, you hope these guys are getting significant reps. We're going to have to do that for the next couple of years. Both [Tarow] Barney and [Antoine] White are going to have to play. The fact that they're already here on campus gives them a much better chance, just learning how to practice and the mentality and how we do things. Culturally, our players are good because they've been winning for a long time.

You want to focus in Pennsylvania and the region, but how important is it for you to extend the reach, especially to the South?

JF: We've got to dominate the state and we've got to have a huge presence in this region. On top of that, we're going to recruit nationally by position. You better know where the top players are by position, and you never know. Maybe a kid grew up being a Penn State fan or has a relative that went to Penn State or played here. Now you've got an in and a chance to go pluck a guy from another part of the country that is a big-time player.

Did you send any message to the Big Ten with how you finished off this class?

JF: I don't know about all that. I'm proud of the staff, I'm proud of the players that helped us recruit these guys and be tremendous hosts. I'm just focused on Penn State and doing the best job we possibly can. The more days that we have like this, attack the day with everything we've got, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, the Saturdays will start taking care of themselves.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin hasn't even spent one night in Happy Valley, but Penn State's new head coach has already thrown down the recruiting gauntlet against Pittsburgh and other teams in the northeast.

"Our recruiting philosophy," Franklin said Saturday afternoon during his introductory press conference, "we are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.

"I'm going to call all the high school coaches. I'm calling all the people in the state that we need to come together like never before."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJames Franklin didn't mince words when talking about recruiting, say that it's his mission for the Nittany Lions to dominate within the state of Pennsylvania.
Franklin emphasized every line about recruiting and spoke passionately during his first-ever news conference as the Penn State head coach. He's been widely regarded as an incredible recruiter -- he reeled in 22 four-star commits during his time at Vanderbilt -- and he didn't hesitate when asked about his high recruiting hopes.

The new coach's bold statement comes after years of PSU routinely losing out in western Pennsylvania. Sure, Penn State has earned commitments of some prospects such as wideout Troy Apke, but it's missed more than it's hit. PSU fell out of favor with ESPN 300 targets such as WR Tyler Boyd (2013 commit; Pitt), ATH Dravon Henry (2014 commit; West Virginia) and DB Montae Nicholson (2014 commit; Michigan State).

Beating Pitt out for recruits in its own backyard is a daring statement. So, a few minutes after answering his first recruiting question, Franklin was given a chance to soften his words. This time, he was asked where his recruiting focus lay -- but he again wasted no time in reinforcing his original point.

"I don't know if I mentioned this before, but we're going to dominate the state," he said matter-of-factly. "That's the first thing we're going to do."

And after that? Well, Franklin said next comes the region, in such states and areas as New Jersey, New York, New England, Virginia and Delaware. And, then, comes the nation.

"I think you sell yourself short when you don't do that," said the coach who got three commitments from California in Vanderbilt's last class.

Of course, Franklin never specifically mentioned Pitt at that point in the press conference. Maybe he'd back down if that was spelled out to him, maybe he'd try to soften up all this talk of dominating and controlling. It was an interesting thing to say, after all, for his first day on the job.

But Franklin just doubled-down on those statements when Pitt was specifically mentioned in one reporter's question.

"When I say Pennsylvania, when I say Penn State, that's the whole state," he said. "That is the whole state. We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state.

"And when I say recruit, not only just the student-athletes. I mean the people of the great state of Pennsylvania. We will recruit everybody, and that is with tremendous respect for the University of Pittsburgh. But we are ... Penn State."
Each class within the Big Ten has its strengths and weaknesses, but there is a lot of talent joining the conference. Here is a look at the top classes in the Big Ten by position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Penn State


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES