Spring Football Press Conference – Head Coach James Franklin

Opening Statement: Obviously, this is our first Spring ball since March 2019. We can’t take anything for granted. It’s kind of strange that we have some staff members that have been here going on two years and this is their first spring ball. Same thing as a player’s first spring ball. So, we can’t take anything for granted. That really was somewhat, or fairly, inconsistent across college football last year as well as in our own conference. We’ve just got to make sure that we go through everything in detail so we’re all on the same page about expectations and standards.
Some things that we want to get accomplished are competence, chemistry and leadership, probably big picture deals, offensive ball security, defensive ball disruption. You always want to take time to teach situational football and go through that in detail so we’re all on the same page. Then, we really want to create, you know, the way I describe it is a two-and-a-half on defense, a two-and-a-half people on offense and a two-and-a-half on special teams.
What I mean there is, say at defensive end, you’ve got two positions. You really want to feel confident that you have five players that you feel really good about. A first team, a second team, and then a fifth swing-guy. That’s really at the minimum of what you want, pretty much at every position, especially you know what you’re talking about a two-and-a-half deep, just to make sure everyone understood what I was talking about there and that’s offense, defense and special teams.
Academically, we’ve done some really good things. We have 29 student-athletes on Academic All-Big Ten in 2020. Had a team GPA of 3.37 and 86 guys with a 3.0 or higher and 37 guys with a 3.5 or higher and five guys at a 4.0. So, we want to continue building on that.
From a physical standpoint, this is the biggest team that we have had. We’re four pounds heavier than both the 2016 team and the 2020 team. Our team average weight is 241 pounds.
We have some positional changes I wanted to make you guys aware of. Sebastian Costantini from cornerback to safety. He’s a guy that’s really, you know, doing some nice things for us. He’s got tremendous testing numbers. We feel like that is going to get him more reps in practice and hopefully a role on special teams as well. Zuriah Fisher from linebacker to defensive end. We recruited Zariah knowing that he could play linebacker but also defensive end. He’s excited about that. We’re excited about that. Alex Furmanek had a great offseason. Came in as a linebacker, has moved to defensive end and now has moved to defensive tackle. He put up some crazy numbers in the weight room testing last week and continues to do well. We’re really excited about him. Then, Dominic DeLuca, from safety to linebacker. Some of these positional changes could be short term. We’ll revisit them after spring and summer camp. But again, this was an opportunity for Dom, a guy that we’re excited about. He was Mr. PA in the state last year, but an opportunity for him to get more reps in practice as well.
Obviously, the hires of Mike Yurcich, Ty Howle and Anthony Poindexter. Feel really good about all three of those moves that we made in the offseason. Feel like not only have they jumped in with both feet from a football perspective, but also culturally have been great fits as well. I’ve known Anthony Poindexter for a long time and tried to hire him on several occasions, so this worked out really well. Mike Yurcich, I think you guys know we’ve been involved with Mike for the last couple of years. Then, obviously, you know we were able to interview Ty Howle for over a year on our staff and have been really impressed with him.
Ty leads me into the next point. It’s pretty cool right now that we’ve got six Penn State football lettermen on our staff with Terry Smith, Ty Howle, Deion Barnes, Wendy Laurent, Alan Zemaitis and Todd Kulka. So really cool we have six of those guys in our program that can provide tremendous information and insight from a historical, tradition perspective. Excited about having those guys.
Appreciate everybody’s time, again. Excited about getting out there for the first day today. The weather’s a little deceiving, because the sun is bright and beautiful, but it’s still a little bit chilly. But we’re really looking forward to getting out there.
Q: A big part of hiring Mike Yurcich was elevating your quarterback room. What have you seen through a couple months here? What is your anticipation for what can be accomplished on the practice field? What’s the challenges and obstacles of having only three scholarship quarterbacks at this moment?
A: Mike’s done a nice job, obviously. You look at his history, not only on offense, but to your question, specifically the quarterback position. That was a big part of that.
Obviously, two years ago, we won a lot of games with Sean [Clifford]. A lot of buzz and excitement about what he was doing. We want to build on that and then obviously being able to evaluate, coach and develop [Christian] Veilleux and Ta’quon [Roberson] is important.
I think there’s opportunities as well for us to still kind of look into the transfer market, from a competition standpoint, depth standpoint, from a lot of different perspectives, but it’s got to be the right fit. It’s got to make sense from a lot of different levels. But I know Mike’s really excited about it. I know our student-athletes are really excited about it. We’ve taken a very aggressive approach to this whole offseason from what we’re allowed to do from an NCAA and from a Big Ten perspective.
I expect us to go out and practice like a veteran team. We’ve been able to keep a lot of the terminology the same, you know in Penn State’s offense and what we want to do moving forward and that’s helped us. So you know, we’re in a good place. I think I expect us to practice really well. But coming to end of spring, we’d like to have a pretty good idea of who our first team, second team and third team quarterbacks are. Then also what do we need to do, whether it’s a transfer or whatever it may be, do we need to go out and bring another guy in, because you’d like to be at five scholarship quarterbacks all the time. I think you can get away with four. Three is just a little dicey. We’ll see how that goes and we’ll communicate all those things throughout our program.
Q: What are your plans for the Spring game, if you’ll have one? If not, what will you be able to get out of that 15th practice if it’s not a scrimmage?
A: There’s some discussions right now going on with that at the university level, with our administration as well as the administration on campus in Old Main and just making sure we’re all on the same page.
I think for us, you know, our entire focus is on what can we do to best position us for next year. We want to try to be able to get back as close to normal as we possible can. For next season, I think a lot of things are trending in that direction, nationally as well as within our state. So that’s kind of our focus.
From a football-strictly perspective, the things that I’m most comfortable speaking on, we will on our Friday and Saturday practices, we will scrimmage. We will get those opportunities in some way. A final practice or final scrimmage, however you want to put it, a lot of times those things in such a public setting like that are pretty vanilla. This would allow us to have a true 15th practice where we’re putting everything out there from an evaluation standpoint, as well. But there’s still some conversations that are still being worked through. We hope to make an announcement here sooner rather than later. From a football perspective, from an athletic department perspective and then, obviously, always aligned with President [Eric] Barron and Old Main. We’ll wait until that’s announced.
Q: You have six guys on staff that are either in their first or second year with you. Coming off the season you had, how do you balance having your finger on the pulse of all those rooms without over-managing at the same time?
A: Yeah, I think for me, I’ve always been upfront that I’m going to have my fingers all over things and be a micro-manager early on. I don’t want to be. So once I’m comfortable that those rooms are being run or those areas are being run the way we need them to be run, then I step away. Early on, I want to make sure that I understand what’s going on and that they understand, you know, my perspective as well. Then also, culturally, do we do things here at Penn State. Hopefully, through all those conversations and discussions and dialogue that we can speed up the adjustment time and adjustment process here.
That’s kind of the nature of college football now. We’ll embrace it. Fortunately, you know, we’ve been able to make some hires that either have some understanding of what Penn State’s about, have been around me and my staff or just people that we’ve had relationships with for a long period of time. All those things help, but I think you’re exactly right that we can’t take anything for granted, especially when you magnify the fact that again, even the guys that we hired last year, this is their first time going through Spring ball here.
Q: Last week, Dwight Galt III said that he was pleased with winter conditioning and that players had made up a lot of the ground that they had lost last year. Do you think spring ball can do that for you on the football side of things? How do you quantify something like that, making up for lost ground or making up for lost instructional time?
A: I think it has to, you have no other choice. If you look, again, nationally and not only in our own conference, you look at the teams who had either all of spring ball or some of spring ball, there’s a pretty strong correlation with last year. So yeah, I think we’re definitely approaching it that way. Same thing with camp. We’re gonna have to take a similar approach when we get to summer camp, because we did not have a traditional summer camp last year, as well.
We’re approaching it as this is a tremendous opportunity to build our team from the ground up, like we always do. It’s more of a normal kind of routine in a normal calendar model. But again, to your point, there are some differences there and we really should of took last year as what an unbelievable opportunity to learn under very challenging circumstances but also an opportunity to learn to get better.
Q: The Board of Trustees approved substantial improvements to Lasch Building. Can you describe in general the support you feel that you’re getting?
A: Yeah, I’m really excited about practice today. You know, for spring ball. We’re excited about that.
We continue to make strides from a facility standpoint and all the things that we feel like we need to do to continue building Penn State football and what Penn State football means to the community, what Penn State football means to the athletic department and the university as a whole. The support has been great.
I think the other thing is this was voted and approved I think over a year ago. So, it’s great that we can continue making progress.
Again, we’re excited about getting out for spring practice today. That’s where our focus is. Looking forward to continue to make progress in really every area, academically, athletically and socially. We need every single area, we need to continue to compete.
Q: Will Noah Cain be able to practice this Spring? How motivated are you after last season?
A: With Noah, we think probably the second half of spring ball, we’ll get some work out of him. It’s hard to predict how much, you know. Obviously a lot can change over a three or four week period of time. So, we’ll see. I was out there doing my old man workout, walking around the campus and then around the practice facility and saw him out there with our trainers doing rehab and things like that that. We fully expect him back. When that is, it’s hard to say.
I think, in general, I’m always raring to go and really motivated. I think last year was an unbelievable opportunity to grow and learn and be challenged in a way we’ve never been challenged before, with how the season went with some of the off-the-field things that we were dealing with, from a flexibility standpoint, just the change of a normal routine. So in any situation, whether it’s positive or whether there’s adversity, you’ve got to grow from it and you’ve got to learn from it. For me, I probably grew as much both personally and professionally as I have in 26 years of doing this. That’s how to me you should approach every year. There’s tremendous lessons to be learned from last year. You have to think about them and study them and be very honest with yourself and transparent. Same thing with the coaches and the staff and players, we all have.
I think people are really motivated. But for me, I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on the shoulder or anything like that. But there were tremendous lessons to be learned. I look forward to taking all the success that we’ve had over the nine previous years and then also the challenges and adversity that was brought forth last year and taking all those experiences and holistically getting better and using them to take the next step here at Penn State. Today’s one of those steps.
Q: What do you need to see out of Christian [Veilleux] and Ta’quon [Roberson] this spring? You mentioned earlier finding the position in the transfer portal. How difficult is it to find that fit at the quarterback spot?
A: It’s challenging. First of all, we want to see Ta’quon and Christian. We want to feel like that we can put those guys in a game and win with them based on what they do in practice. There’s still a lot of time between now and next season for them to do that. So that’s going to be the emphasis in meetings and practice and scrimmages and those types of things. Just want to see them taking steps every single day. How they go about their business.
From a transfer portal standpoint, again, it’s about going out and finding the guy that can come in and compete and has some experience and, again, we’ll see how that goes. But we’re open to the topic and we’re open to discussing it, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re bringing the right person in here not only from an academic and cultural fit, but also from a competitive perspective as well. So, we’re not just going to bring somebody in to bring somebody in. We’ve got to make sure that it all makes sense and everything’s been communicated and understood.
Q: Do you anticipate Ta’quon getting any first team reps this Spring? How do you envision that playing out in the Spring?
A: We want to get, you know, all those guys reps. It’s all going to be based on how practice goes. If somebody puts themselves in a position to earn more reps with whatever group it is, then we’ll look at that. But right now, just want those guys all to go out there and have a chance to get better and build their own confidence, but also building confidence in the coaching staff and your teammates. Know that they’re ready for whenever their number is called.
We’ll see how that plays out. For me to sit here and say who’s going to get reps with what group, we’ll just see how that plays out. It’s all going to be based on production and progress that guys are making on the field and in meetings.
Q: Football obviously brings in a great deal of money for Penn State. What are the challenges of making sure that football gets all the resources that it needs, while also maybe making sure that men’s basketball can get the resources it needs to succeed at a high level? 
A: I can’t speak on other sports and those types of things, but obviously, at Penn State, and specifically Penn State football, we understand the responsibility that Penn State football has on campus, in the community and within the athletic department. Obviously, other sports and the magnitude of success the other sports have had here, you can go on and on about the success that other sports have had on the field. We’re all in this thing together.
Obviously, the more programs that have an opportunity to be successful at Penn State, we want to feel like that we help in that and that we play our role and play our part in that. Those questions probably aren’t specifically for me, but I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can for Penn State football to be successful for our program for our players. But I also understand there’s also a responsibility to the rest of the athletic department for the community and campus as well.
Q: You lost some very good talent at defensive end and talked about getting back up to five deep. What kind of role will Nick Tarburton play in that competition? How have you seen his progress in the first few years of your program?  
A: I’m a big Nick Tarburton fan for a lot of different reasons and with how he’s gone about his business. The whole family, mom and dad, have been unbelievably supportive. The kid has really faced a decent amount of adversity. He has not been healthy, knock on wood, consistently, since he’s been here. He’s had an unbelievable offseason.
For us right now, not only from a from a health perspective, but from a physical perspective and from a leadership perspective, as well, we’re expecting him to have a significant role on our defense and on our team. This spring ball will be really important for him, but he’s had a tremendous offseason. We’re really excited about it. He’s another one of those guys that we discussed earlier. Very similar to Zuriah Fisher, that he was recruited as a big linebacker that can grow into a defensive end. We’ll just see how the genetics work out once he gets on campus and how his body reacts to the strength and conditioning program and nutrition program and all those types of things. Here he is in a position to have a big year for us. We need him to, based on the points that you brought up earlier. But again, I think the biggest point for him is he’s as healthy as he’s been since he’s gotten on campus.
Q: When you were talking earlier about how much you learned from the last year, it reminded of how many times you shared with us about the situation being separated with your family and I wonder if to the extent that you’re comfortable you could kind of update us on where that stands and how you feel about that?
A: That was a big thing. I always knew I was a family guy. Obviously, going through last year, it magnified that. We’re in a better situation now. It’s still not what I would describe as ideal or more back to normal. My family is back in town, but we are separated. We have like an apartment over the garage and that’s where I’ve been. The most contact I have is when I’ll go over when I get home from work and I stand at a different window in the house with my hood up in my mask up until someone notices and I usually scare the heck out of them and they scream and then we laugh and then they slide my tray of food out that door. I say thank you through the glass and take my tray of food up over the garage and eat dinner.
But, they’re doing great. I think for them, it’s been really good to get back in town and get a little bit of the normalcy of being back in your own bedrooms and those types of things. But yeah, we’re still not back to normal and I’m not completely sure when that will happen based on my family’s circumstances. So, we’ll see how that goes. I appreciate you asking, but yeah, we’re still not back to what I would describe as normal. If anybody has any costumes or scary masks that you want to lend me, that’s been pretty fun scaring the heck out of my wife, specifically, but also the girls.” 
Q: As Penn State looks to hire a new men’s basketball coach, what would it mean to you to be a program with an African American head coach in basketball and football?
A: I won’t speak on the hire yet at this at this stage, but I think most importantly being able to hire the most qualified person for Penn State. Going through a broad search, and I’ve had some conversations with Sandy about it, and I know that what was important to them was to have a diverse, strong, comprehensive search and then at the end of the day, hire the best person available.
For me, if that person happens to be a person of color, then hopefully I can provide some perspective of what it’s going to be like for them and what the town is like and the school and being at Penn State. I want to be a resource, obviously. And then I think it’s great for the student athletes. I think it is great for the university as a whole. I know how important that diversity is to President Barron and the administration, so if that happens to play out that way, then great, but ultimately, it’s about it’s about hiring the best person for Penn State to help our basketball program take the next step. And back to the question that we had earlier about how great it is going to be to have winning in football and basketball and to have both compete at an extremely high level and have an opportunity to make a significant impact in the community, on the economy. Both in town, with the hotels and restaurants, and on our campus as well and specifically in our athletic department. Whoever is hired, I look forward to partnering with them and helping them in any way I possibly can. No different than Russ Rose has done with me or Erica [Dambach] has done with me, or Cael [Sanderson], and so on and so forth. We try to support all of us.
Q: The progress of the development of last year’s true freshman class, where you kind of feel like they are? You expressed concerns about their experience being under these circumstances. Anything that you’ve learned about how you’ve handled them has been applicable to the early enrollees?
A: Yeah, so I think I think we broke the school record last year with the percentage of offense that was attributed to freshmen, so we have to continue to build on that. Obviously, there was a lot of things that went into last season that affected that. We need to benefit from that experience this year. On top of that, we seem to be having more and more of these high school recruits that are planning on coming in mid-semester, so we have a large number of guys that came in mid-semester, whether they’re high school recruits or whether they’re transfers, or whatever. So, we have a youth-filled roster, but a much more experienced roster that we’re depending on this year compared to last year.
I think it’s going to be interesting to watch these guys take the next step in spring ball and then be able to get feedback from their coaches as well as me about what they need to do over the summer to continue to progress and grow. And for us again, figuring out how many of these guys that just got here came in earlier were returning for next year are going to factor into that discussion. And then there are going to be a couple guys this spring that are maybe a little bit overwhelmed in first time on campus. But it will still lay a foundation to allow them to compete during summer camp based on going through this experience. So, we’ll see. It should be interesting. It should be fun, and we look forward to evaluating.
Q: Sean Clifford, can you discuss anything from the offseason from how he handled the end of last year as to what you’re getting from him coming into this spring? How he has grown and anything different that stands out to you about his situation?
A: A couple things. I think, first of all, Sean’s always been extremely driven and extremely motivated and competitive. But, you’re exactly right. Where we were coming 
into last season and where we are coming into this season is different, but it also creates a tremendous opportunity.
I think that is how Sean has approached it, in a lot of different ways. And as we all know, there are a lot of factors. Losing Journey Brown from your roster, we knew wide receiver going into last year was going to be a big predictor in our success with the lack of experience that we had returning at the position. All those things factored in and change in offense, all those things. So, I think Sean is motivated, but he’s always motivated. He’s a guy that preparesat  an extremely high level. It’s very, very important. He’s extremely competitive. I know Coach Yurcich has been very impressed with those things so far. But now, it’s time to translate and transfer into the field. I do think the experience gained in the wide receiver position and experience gained at the tight end position and also the running back position is going to help. It’s going to help Sean.
Q: You mentioned having six lettermen on staff. Specifically with Alan Zemaitis, can you share anything about the conversations you had with Alan and how that came together? With respect to all the Letterman, what does it say about the program that they want to return to their alma mater and be actively involved in the future and success of the program? 
A: I think it’s really important. I think those guys can provide a unique experience to our players. They can have a conversation that is very different than anybody else because they lived it and there is tremendous value in that. It’s also a place that these guys are really passionate about. So, whether it’s with our current players, whether it’s with recruits, those are things that are going to be discussed and discussed in detail. It’s going to come from a unique perspective and it’s going to obviously come with a tremendous amount of passion for Penn State and what this place has meant to them. So, those things are really important to us and very important to me.
With Alan, he had worked a couple of camps in the past and we had gotten to know each other a little bit. Then obviously when these positions opened up, Alan was able to reach out and we were able to talk in more depth about some things and what might make sense for him and his family. The more I got to know him and then did my research and talked to a bunch of former players that were that were connected with him and that he played with how they felt about him and the type of player the type of leader he was. I talked to Wayne Sebastianelli about him as well as his experience with Alan. So there’s just this tremendous value in that. You can find guys that this is where they want to be passionate about it and can bring that unique lens to our program. It’s a win-win.
Q: You have some turnover on the interior of your offensive line. What are your options there specifically at center, where you have had [Michal] Menet for years? 
A: Yeah, we feel good about the guys that we’ve got to work with and the guys that have had some reps in there. We have some pretty experienced players. Although, to your point, obviously losing a great one like Michal Menet and Will Fries, who was in a role between tackle and guard. When you take Des Holmes, Anthony Whigan and Mike Miranda and even some guys, like [Ibrahim] Traore as a redshirt freshman and Nate Bruce as a true freshman,  who graduated early. [Blake] Zalar is a guy that we’ve been very impressed with. So, we got a good group of guys in there. Different experiences levels, different eligibility. But we’ve got a pretty healthy group of names in there to come in and compete this spring and try to give us a little bit clearer picture. Guys like [Will] Knutsson and [Kaleb] Konigus are guys who have earned a lot of respect around here about how they’ve gone about their business. So, it should be exciting. I think some of our tackles provide some swing opportunities as well. So, we’ll see how all of those things play out.  
Q: You added a couple of transfers along the defensive line this offseason. What was a priority when getting those guys and what do you like about those guys who you are bringing in there?  
A: Well, I think the biggest thing for us, and you guys brought up the quarterback position and a lot of positions. But really for us, it’s about creating as much competition as we can at the positions, whether it’s a starting position or whether it’s depth or whatever it may be and those guys provide that. So, we’re excited to see what they’re going to do.
Obviously, we’ve got that at defensive end and defensive tackle, and we’ll see what those guys are going to be able to do from a competitive standpoint, and both the d-tackle and defensive end and, with Johnny Dixon, obviously in the secondary as well. So far, so good.
Those guys have been extremely impressive in workouts in the weight room. It’s also interesting to talk to them about them comparing and contrasting to the programs that they’ve come from in terms of just how we do things, in terms of the winter workouts, in terms of strength and conditioning and all those types of things. We think all three of those guys are going to have an opportunity to compete and compete at a high level for us. And we’ll continue to look at that nationally across the board see if we can find some guys that make sense for us to bring in.

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