- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brennan Franklin, a linebacker with scholarship offers this past winter from the likes of Wofford College, Eastern Kentucky and Robert Morris, leaves home Friday for State College, Pa., a journey that casts him as a symbolic figure in the worst college football scandal ever.
For however great an impact Franklin makes at Penn State, history likely will remember him as the program's first new piece after the July 23 announcement of devastating sanctions that include the loss of 40 scholarships and a four-year postseason ban.
Less than three weeks ago, Franklin was just another kid from Peoria, Ariz., who slipped through the cracks in recruiting.
Today, he represents the near future at Penn State, built upon hope that coach Bill O'Brien can find enough overlooked but enthusiastic players to plow through difficult times and minimize the effects of NCAA-imposed probation.
"I just want to play," Franklin said. "People say they might be doing this for publicity. They're not. And I'm going out there to do everything I can to become a starter within the next year."
This addition of one more body to Penn State's class of incoming freshmen illustrates the creativity necessary for it to stay afloat between now and 2016. And the more prospects like Franklin it can uncover, the better for Penn State -- because an attitude like his might just turn contagious.
Franklin's flight from Phoenix leaves Friday afternoon for Pittsburgh. Then, Brennan and his father, Brandon, will drive the final 150 miles through the hills of western Pennsylvania.
But this is how he really got to Penn State:
Let's start in 2008, when Franklin went out for football at St. Mary's, a prestigious private high school in central Phoenix.
He started on the freshman squad and totaled 34 tackles in his first game, according to Brandon. A week later, Brennan had 19 tackles and knocked three players silly in the first half, at which time the school's opponent refused to continue unless Brennan left the field.
"So they moved him to the varsity," Brandon Franklin said.
Brennan Franklin performed well for three years, and earned recruiting interest from Army, Air Force, San Diego State and, yes, Penn State, among others. The attention excited Franklin, who grew up with a dream to play at Georgia -- in his dad's home state -- or Linebacker U, Penn State.
But the football program around Franklin fell into disarray. Players began to transfer after his freshman year. The sagging Arizona economy took a toll at St. Mary's, which relies solely on tuition and donations for financial support.
In his junior year, Franklin played 162 snaps one night at nine positions, his dad said. Franklin had to change jerseys midgame so he could move from the offensive line to running back. He required hospitalization on three occasions to administer IV fluids.
By the time he transferred to Peoria Centennial last summer before his senior year, St. Mary's, amid coaching upheaval, had failed to package his film for recruiters.
He no longer heard from Penn State.
"They lost track of me, basically," Franklin said.
Before the first practice last August at powerful Centennial, coach Richard Taylor asked Franklin about his style of play.
"I'd rather not say anything, Coach," Franklin said. "I'd rather just show you on the field."
Taylor knew after one practice.
As college coaches visited Centennial last fall to recruit safety Zach Hoffpauir, who signed in February with Stanford, the coach often mentioned Franklin. Taylor said Franklin had outperformed linebackers Centennial sent to UNLV and Air Force in recent years. But early in the season, he had no film of Franklin.
"They need film if they're going to recommend someone to their head coach," Taylor said.
By late in the fall, the big programs filled up on linebackers. Arizona asked him to walk on, with the chance to earn a scholarship after one semester. So did other schools.
Franklin said no, opting for junior college at Eastern Arizona, where he hoped to stay one semester and transfer to a big school.
Eastern Arizona coach John O'Mera told Brandon Franklin he wanted Brennan. But O'Mera said he did not expect the 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker, with 4.7-second speed over 40 yards, to remain available until EAC's first practice next week.
Then around July 20, as Penn State braced for the sanctions, Brandon Franklin got word that the Nittany Lions wanted to talk. Their coaches had received a tip from a Penn State fan in the Phoenix area.
Brandon Franklin called PSU recruiting coordinator Bill Kavanaugh. The Franklins chatted with defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Within days, Brennan had a scholarship offer. He accepted July 26, three days after NCAA president Mark Emmert levied the sanctions.
"It doesn't change anything," Brennan Franklin said. "I mean, sure, bowl games would be nice to play in, but let's be honest, it's still Penn State. They're still selling out their stadium. It's 107,000 people. It's basically like playing a bowl game every week."
He signed a tender letter. One Penn State fan sent him a message on Facebook, telling Franklin he would name his first son after the newest Nittany Lion. People recognized Franklin at Walgreens and an electronics store in Arizona.
"That's pretty weird," Franklin said, "but it's exciting at the same time."
From adversity springs opportunity.
You see, he's no ordinary figure in this Penn State saga. As players transfer from the school -- the total reached eight Thursday -- and O'Brien fights to keep together the 2013 recruiting class, Franklin represents hope for Penn State.
This week, Brandon Franklin visited his doctor for an annual physical. The elder Franklin's blood pressure registered a bit high. Had he been under any stress lately, the doctor asked.
Brandon laughed Thursday, recalling the past 10 days of planning for his son: SAT scores, transcripts, housing, travel, the mental preparation. It's normally a six-month process.
"I think he'll be fine," said Taylor, the Centennial coach. "He had his dad talked through every scenario -- the good and the bad, and I think they could not have made a better decision.
"He has a great work ethic. The kid is fearless."
These days around State College, no attribute might rate as more important.
Much of the focus in the wake of the NCAA sanctions has centered on players leaving. But the first player to sign with the Nittany Lions since the announcement -- linebacker Brennan Franklin -- represents the future of the program.