Signing day a celebration at Penn State

JUAN LAINEZ / MARIN MEDIA Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, a Penn State signee from Manalapan, N.J., warms up before an all-star game last month in Carson, Calif.
JUAN LAINEZ / MARIN MEDIA Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, a Penn State signee from Manalapan, N.J., warms up before an all-star game last month in Carson, Calif.
Posted: February 07, 2014

STATE COLLEGE -The usual markings of national signing day were there - the faxed letters, the onslaught of phone calls and the press conference. But there were also scenes foreign to Penn State on the day high school players can officially commit to a collegiate program.

There was the signing-day "war room" filled with balloons and cheers when commitments were announced; the trumpet section of the Blue Band even played a fight song after one player's letter was officially received. And then there was the head coach seated next to a program legend breaking down film of commits in front of a few thousand fans.

James Franklin introduced 20 new names, including three from the Philadelphia area, to the Penn State football program yesterday, but he also brought about something new for Penn State on signing day: fanfare.

"We didn't do anything like this," said Terry Smith, a former Penn State wide receiver who Franklin hired to coach defensive backs. "You signed the sheet, mailed it away, and that was about it."

At what Penn State called "The Signature Event," Franklin, who sat alongside former All-Ameria linebacker LaVar Arrington, gave the Nittany Lions faithful a preview of what the future could hold as he analyzed film of the 20 players who signed national letters of intent, as well as five early enrollees from the 2014 class. It was a scene previously unheard of in Happy Valley, but the coach who was hired less than a month ago and was able to bring in eight recruits in about 3 weeks said it was a celebration for the class and his staff.

"I think that's very, very important from a morale standpoint when you work so hard at something that you take time to take it all in, and that's what [it's] about," Franklin said. "For us, we didn't have a lot of drama. The guys that we expected to sign in the last 2 days signed. Most of the letters were in by 7:45, so it went well."

As Franklin attested, almost all the Lions' 2014 class was verbally committed before signing day, and there were no cold feet when the time came to make it official. Nineteen players had verbally committed before yesterday, with defensive lineman Torrence Brown (6-4, 240, from Tuscaloosa, Ala.) filling out the allotted 20 scholarships. Penn State has just 20 scholarships to work with for this class because of NCAA sanctions, and the five early enrollees do not count toward this class.

Despite going through a coaching switch the month before signing day, Penn State was able to haul in the 24th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Linebacker Troy Reeder (Salesianum, in Delaware), defensive lineman Antoine White (Millville, N.J.) and defensive back Daquan Worley (Coatesville) all hail from the area and are all ranked as three-star prospects by Rivals.

One area Penn State's class is said to be especially strong in is pass catchers. The Lions welcomed four-star tight end Mike Gesicki, and De'Andre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall highlight a class with four wideouts. Franklin said "playmaker" was something he and his staff were looking for in the class to complement quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

"It would be a shame if we didn't find some talent to surround him with," Franklin said. "Not saying that we don't have that in the program already but building more depth and more playmakers at the tight end position and wide receiver, I think we helped ourselves there."

Blacknall, a four-star wide receiver from Manalapan, N.J., was one of the last recruits to fill out the class, and Franklin got him to switch his commitment from Rutgers. Franklin also got five high schoolers who were committed to Vanderbilt (where he spent the last three seasons as head coach) to flip their commitments.

Franklin received some backlash from the Commodore community for taking recruits with him, but when asked about it yesterday, Franklin said he goes to bed at night feeling really good about how his staff "conducts its business."

"We all know the school is a huge factor," Franklin said. "But once the guys narrow it down to a number of schools, it's no different than anybody else in this room, it comes down to relationships, it comes down to who you're most comfortable with."

Franklin is still 7 months away from coaching his first game at Penn State, but he got thousands to go out in the snow to hear him casually break down film. It seems a lot of people in the Penn State community already are comfortable with the new coach.

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