Franklin begins work of engaging Penn State community

James Franklin and Penn State athletic director David M. Joyner (left).
James Franklin and Penn State athletic director David M. Joyner (left). (JOE HERMITT /
Posted: January 13, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Bellefonte native Brent Kopcha's young daughters may have been the first community members that met new Penn State football coach James Franklin.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Kopcha, a huge Nittany Lions fan who graduated for Penn State in 1998, had nothing planned Saturday. His girls are 9 and 5, and one of them had been asking him all week who Penn State's next football coach would be. In addition to telling them, Kopcha decided to show them.

The father and his daughters waited for more than an hour. When they saw Franklin through the University Park airport fence, they said it was worth it. When Franklin came over and introduced himself to the girls, Kopcha said, it was priceless.

"I believe he asked them their names, and he said: 'Hi, I'm James Franklin. It's nice to meet you. Thanks for coming out today,' " Kopcha said. "My opinion was already pretty high of him, but it was an experience to remember for me and the girls."

Right away, Franklin began assimilating with the football-obsessed Penn State community. The 41-year-old head coach, formerly of Vanderbilt, spoke during his news conference Saturday about the importance of building a relationship with the town of State College and the region of Centre County.

"Me and my wife and my children will be out in this community," Franklin said. "People ask us to come speak at social events, we're going to be there. People who call to blow up balloons at their kid's birthday party in the backyard, we'll do that as well."

Franklin emphasized how seriously he believes in a family-oriented atmosphere, while his wife, Fumi, and two young daughters, Ava and Addison, sat off to his left in the front row. It's no surprise he was immediately drawn to Kopcha's daughters, who are about the same ages as Franklin's.

Franklin referred to Penn State as his "dream job" and appears eager to settle in for the long haul. State College Borough Council President Jim Rosenberger said that would be very helpful for this community that relates so closely with Penn State football.

"If he is accepted as well as Bill O'Brien was - Bill quickly won the hearts of football fans - I think he'll be an important icon as a football coach," Rosenberger said. "I'd like to see him really engage in the community for obvious reasons. Young people especially look up to the coach."

Penn State senior Allen Sheffield is already on the James Franklin bandwagon. Sheffield, a New Brighton native, is the president of Nittanyville, the Penn State student club that camps outside the entrance to Beaver Stadium for several days before each football game.

Sheffield said the organization will ask Franklin to stop by the camp next season, maybe even sleep over for one night.

"We'll throw that idea out there and see what he says," Sheffield said. "His energy and passion is contagious."

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