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July 25, 2017

James Franklin

Chicago, Illinois

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Penn State head coach James Franklin.

JAMES FRANKLIN: Really, really appreciate the opportunity to be here and visit with you. Always look forward to this time of the year. That last week of summer you kind of flip the switch and kind of get into football mode.

I know our players and coaches are really excited about this opportunity this season and what it brings. Obviously last year was a special season for us, and we're really, really pleased with the positive step that we took in the right direction. But it's really just that. It's a step in the right direction.

And we still have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas. I think we've made significant strides in a fairly short period of time in three years. And the exciting part is really we just continue to grow in every area, from a facility standpoint, from an infrastructure standpoint, from a support standpoint, from recruiting, from a development standpoint in terms of our players on and off the field. Coaching staff, we were able to keep our entire coaching staff intact. Those things are really, really important for you to continue growing and evolving.

A lot of good things going on now. There's an excitement in our community that I think -- I think we all realize Penn State has an unbelievable fan base and tremendous support, but there's a buzz and excitement from the people that I've talked to that have been around for a long time that I haven't seen in a while.

So we're really looking forward to this season, and we think we have a lot of pieces of the puzzle in place. We only had one senior on offense last year and only two seniors on defense, so we were one of the youngest teams in college football.

And the Big Ten Championship Game experience was important. I was concerned about that game last year. This was our first time playing in it, for anybody in our building. And we were playing a Wisconsin team that seems like they've played in it every single year. We found a way that was successful for us.

The Rose Bowl, playing on that type of stage was important for us from a growth perspective as well. But it obviously didn't end the way we wanted it to end. I think we ended up ending the season where our guys were really hungry and able to do some pretty good things last year. I think it ended in a way where our guys are wanting more.

So we're excited about this season and everything that it's going to bring and all the story lines that are going to go with it.

We appreciate all the support and how you guys cover our team, and our players and really, really appreciate that.

And open up to questions.

Q. You recruited a very good athlete receiver out of Snyder High School, the Hippenhammer kid, and you've got a lot of offensive weapons back. Down the road, how do you see him fitting into your program, and do you think he can make an impact?
JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, it's hard to say that at this point because I haven't had a chance to work with him on campus yet. We'll open camp here in a little bit.

I've heard great reviews on him. We felt very, very strongly about him in the recruiting process. I think a lot of people get caught up in stars and those types of things, and I get it.

But we had him in camp and worked him out live and felt like he had a chance to be special. All the reports I'm getting from the players and things like that, they've been impressed with him, how competitive he is. Natural receiver, great feet. Great change of direction.

He's got to get bigger and stronger and developing in that area. He's also a guy that's considering playing baseball as well, and me and Coach Cooper have talked about that and talk about that in a little more detail here soon.

But we're excited about him. That's a state that's been good to us. We want to continue to be able to recruit there, and there's a lot of good options in the Big Ten and obviously within that state as well.

But we think Penn State is a good option as well.

Q. James, how are your players handling the increased expectations for this season as they go about their business?
JAMES FRANKLIN: What I would say, and, Rich, you know this better than me, you know, I think the expectations are always pretty big at Penn State. I think where it's probably changed is nationally. I think there's more people nationally talking about Penn State right now than probably in years past. But one of the reasons why we came here is because we love the expectations. We embrace those expectations as coaches.

And I think the players, the same thing. They came to Penn State to be a part of this type of program that is working really, really hard to have a chance to compete for Big Ten Championships and have an opportunity to be a part of playoff conversations and hopefully make some strides there as well.

To be honest with you, I think our guys embrace it. They embrace those type of things. It challenges them and motivates them. But for us we don't spend a whole lot of time talking about those things. We believe in kind of how we run our program and our process of doing things and focus on the fundamentals of the game and making sure all our guys are really detailed and specific and thorough in all the things we do from a preparation standpoint, both physically and mentally.

And the more days you put together like that, where you have maximized your day from the time you've got up to the time you've gone to bed, as an individual and as a group and as an organization, then you have a chance to be successful.

So we focus on that and not on the expectations, the outside noise. We're concerned about ourselves. Although we are aware of it.

Q. That nine-game segment last year between the Michigan game and before the Rose Bowl loss, I know it's last year, but how much focus do you put on with Trace and Saquon to know that's kind of the feeling -- or not the feeling, but that's where the potential is and how to carry it over? How much of a discussion is that?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I'm not sure if I'm following what you're specifically asking.

Q. How much do you reference that nine-game stretch last year between the Michigan game and the Rose Bowl to where that's where you guys were kind of peak performance, where you guys were getting a lot of attention, how much do you reference that, carrying into this year, specifically with Trace and Saquon?
JAMES FRANKLIN: We're not going to spend a whole lot of time at all talking about last year. We spent all offseason talking about last year. They understand it, they get it. We appreciate it.

I think what we all have to understand is none of those points, none of those wins are going to transfer over. We have to start from the ground up and rebuild this thing. And what we have to do is we have to take all those experiences that we gained from last year, playing on those stages, against the competition we played against, and how we learned and how we grew from those things; that we're going to take with us.

But spending a lot of time talking about last year in the Big Ten Championship and certain games, and our guys know that. So for us, we're going to spend our time focused on the things that we need to do to continue to grow and evolve as an organization, as a program, individually, collectively, the whole package. And spending time talking about last year and those types of things is not going to do us any service.

Q. Are you ahead of schedule, or is this right where you thought you'd be?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that's probably better for you guys to talk about in terms of schedule. We didn't have a schedule. We don't go before the season and look at our schedule and kind of circle which games we think we should win or not. That's not in our DNA and how we do things. I'll allow the fans the media to do those types of things. That's probably better for you guys to do.

For us, I felt like the last three years we've been making really, really strong progress. I think everybody realizes we walked into a challenging situation, had a lot of work to do, and we just kept working. And I make the argument that our best probably years coaching were years one and two. Everybody is focused on this past season, but the groundwork and the foundation that we laid in year one and two, which is what allowed us to have the success that we had this year.

So we don't really kind of look at it. We don't have -- we're not really a goal-setting organization. Again, we just want to focus on how we do things as an organization, the things that we believe in and maximizing all those days in the offseason, all those days in preseason, and then all those days leading up to the games each week. And the more days that we win, you know, in the offseason and camp and those days leading up to the games, the games will take care of themselves.

We believe the same philosophy when it comes to academics. You've got an exam two weeks from now, and on Friday -- you study like crazy every single day leading up to that exam, and the exam will take care of itself.

Expectations, goals, ahead of schedule, behind schedule, we don't look at it like that. We just try to get better every single day in every single way possible.

Q. On the Pitt rivalry that was renewed last year, it's scheduled for a few more seasons. Do you have any expectation at this point of whether or not it will be extended beyond that, and would you like it to be?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Two things I'll say is we open the season against Akron, and I would love to talk about Akron and Akron and Akron and Akron and Akron and not get ahead towards any other games. The only thing I'll say is I think you guys know as well as we do the way scheduling works. I think our schedule is set through 2026 or something like that. We're excited about the teams we're going to play this year. It starts with Akron, and we'll go from there from that point after that.

Q. Some of the best high school football I think for many years has always been played in Pennsylvania, and particularly the western part of the state that's part of the culture of all the towns throughout that area, Friday night football, how do you feel and how does Penn State feel about the Big Ten now starting to play some of its games on Friday night?
JAMES FRANKLIN: We came out earlier when that discussion was going on, and what I loved was it was something that the Big Ten was discussing, but each school had their ability to kind of have their own opinion on how they would handle it as well.

So it's not something that we're looking to do. Friday is for high school and Saturday is for college and Sunday is for NFL. And it's worked out that way for a long time and it worked out really well. Each level complements the next. It's something we believe in strongly and it's sacred, and that's how we continue to see it going to the state of Pennsylvania and specifically Penn State.

Q. You returned a number of starters to the offensive side of the ball, particularly tight end, running back and quarterback. How important is that for your team generally and schematically as you get ready to open against Akron?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I would make the argument the thing we're most excited about on both sides of the ball but specifically on offense is the offensive line. I think you guys have heard when we got the job I think we had seven scholarship offensive linemen. We moved two defensive linemen over to get to nine. And that was a real challenge for us. And I think we all realized that it's hard to solve an O-line/D-line problem quickly because that position is so dependent on size and strength and maturity.

So Saquon Barkley has done some great things so far, but to think about him having a chance now this season to play behind what I make the argument we feel like has got a chance to be one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten, there's so much value in that.

The game of football has always been played up front. If you're good up front on the defensive line, you have a chance to build a good defense. Same thing on offense.

Obviously having some of the firepower we have to go with that offensive line helps. When you have wide receivers on outside that can win one-on-one matchups, that makes it difficult for them to overload the box to stop Saquon Barkley. When you've got Mike Gesicki who is 6'6", 250 pounds and can get up the field and make plays in the passing game, it's kind of like you'll pick your poison. We all realize everybody's game plan is going to be Saquon Barkley. But with the talent we're surrounding him with, it makes it difficult to do that.

So we're excited about it and the fact that a lot of those guys played a lot of football for us. I think DaeSean Hamilton is a great example, a guy people aren't talking about enough in my opinion, two years ago leads the Big Ten in receptions.

So we have so many guys that have played a lot of football for us, and I think that's why there's a lot of excitement and people talking about the direction of our program and specifically this season.


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