From the outside, it's easy to look at James Franklin's brief tenure at Penn State and think really good thoughts.
Franklin has put an energetic, smiling face on a football program that desperately needed one. He's got everyone excited, and he's already got the recruiting resume to prove it.
But what about on the inside? Are the guys who are actually going to be making the plays for the Nittany Lions this season buying what Franklin is selling as eagerly as everyone else?
The answer seems to be a resounding yes.
“He’s done a great job so far getting all the trust from all the players," linebacker Mike Hull said last week at Big Ten Media Day. "He’s very energetic, outgoing, so that makes things easier. Everyone really likes playing for a coach that’s all in every single day.
“Everybody’s bought into his philosophy. He did a great job when he was at Vanderbilt. Everyone respects that. And he’s brought in a lot of good coaches.”
Franklin's influx of positivity surrounding the program has mostly stemmed from what the future can bring. It takes time for a new coach to build a program. It will take time for all the top-rated commits to show up. But what about this season? The shadow of sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal still reaches Beaver Stadium, and the eye on the future has sometimes come at the expense of the present. But Penn State, while not at powerhouse status like it used to be, has hardly been bad in the two years under former head coach Bill O'Brien. He compiled a somewhat shocking 15-9 record despite heavy scholarship losses.
Is Franklin all about what comes next, or can he also deliver with what comes now?
"Just talking to our guys, have had a great summer. They're excited," Franklin said. "This spring we're able to lay the foundation for what we're trying to do with mentality and culture and offensive and defensive and special teams philosophies, and our guys have kind of embraced that and they're excited.This spring we weren't able to really play at the type of speed that we want to play at because guys were thinking, and I think since then, over the summer, we've been able to really kind of gain some confidence, and guys are looking forward to it."
“We all liked coach O’Brien, obviously. He did what we wanted to do, personally. We all endorsed that," kicker Sam Ficken said. "And with coach Franklin coming in, he’s bringing a ton of excitement, the way he can recruit, his charisma, the passion for what he does. It’s been great.”
The Lions might surprise again, and there's reason to think this season can be a very good one. Franklin did plenty of surprising winning at Vanderbilt, and that ought to pair well with sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who might be one of the Big Ten's finest signal callers.
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But at the same time, that future is certainly worth getting excited about. It's even generating positive reviews from players who won't be around when the highly ranked recruiting class hits State College.
“It’s big for the program, it’s big for the future," Ficken said. "You want to see your program do well when you graduate, so I’m excited about it. Obviously the younger guys are excited about it because they’re getting an opportunity to play with good players when they come in. It’s very important for our program.”
“It’s very encouraging," Hull said. "I think Penn State’s going in the right direction again, especially with recruiting and getting top talent to the university. I think within the next five years or so, Penn State’s going to be back to being one of those top programs.”