Caring Doesn’t Have to Be Creepy, A "Signature Event" Recap

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Bumped because we didn't have anyone there, so we really appreciate the recap! Thanks, Dawson. --CG

If you’re anything like me, and I suspect at least some of you are, when you heard the announcement about "The Signature Event 2014: The Penn State Football Signing Day" celebrating the incoming recruits on National Signing Day, it probably instilled some level of fear, repulsion, apprehension, or caring-is-creepy vibe. After just getting home from a three hour ride back from Happy Valley, I can say that those fears were, thankfully, largely unfounded.

Yes, it was stadium halfway full of people who were being "introduced" to 17/18 year olds they’ve never met and may never meet, including five freshmen that have been in class for a grand total of three weeks. And yes, a lot of the old ways with regards to recruiting being a behind the scenes thing are probably gone for good. We are very much in a new age for Penn State football, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The event started off like pretty much every Penn State pep rally you’ve ever been to: pump-up videos, Blue Band, cheerleaders, an insanely talented tap dancer (yes, really), singing, cheers, Lion, pushups, etc. etc. While it was a nice thing, it was probably unnecessary for this kind of event, but still fun and set the tone as a celebration of Penn State, and not so much the glorification of high school athletes.

The thing that really sealed the deal for me to drive all the way up was the announcement that Mike Mauti and LaVar Arrington would be there to talk. Mauti didn’t disappoint and came out to a standing ovation. He spoke about meeting Franklin earlier that day and praised his limitless energy and enthusiasm calling him "a shot of adrenaline" into the program. He then insisted that Franklin was the man to bring in our next national championship (to thunderous applause). He concluded with a "We Are" chant but instead of a "Thank You, You’re Welcome" he instead substituted a "WOOOOOO" a la Ric Flair at which point had he said we were all going skydiving without parachutes, the BJC would have emptied.


LaVar was also a fantastic speaker, and came out to be the emcee for the main event. The theme of the night was definitely one of unity and "bringing the family back together" and LaVar had clearly liked and embraced that and told the audience (to paraphrase) that nothing, and no man could break up this community and keep us from coming together and rallying behind Penn State and this team. LaVar then introduced the man himself next, and through dimmed lights and spotlight, James Franklin walked out flanked by his two daughters to a standing ovation.



The rest of the evening was focused on recruiting and the Class of 2014. Franklin announced that this "party" would be a yearly thing from now on, so mark your calendars for "The Signature Event 2015"! CJF started out by praising the guys that just signed their NLI and gave a quick speech about the kinds of players he wanted to recruit. He emphasized speed at every position, not just WRs, RBs and DBs, but also the O-line and D-line.



LaVar played host and joked that this was like a talk show and asked, "Should I cross my legs?" (Side note: I would watch that talk show) LaVar would start out reading out measurables and hometowns and high schools for each player. As they talked CJF even broke down a little film of each player from their HS highlights up on the jumbotron. They started going down the list of recruits with Franklin giving insight into what the staff liked about them, his plan for their roles on the team, often mentioning adding weight to big frames and also their possible positions. They started out with the five early enrollees who were in attendance and wearing jerseys: #15 O’Connor, #91 Barney, #3 Thompkins, #93 White, and #77 Wright (who is a massive human being, by the way). After they got through the intros the five of them came out to applause and said a few words about being here.



The dynamic between Franklin and LaVar was great and often hilarious. With Franklin going through football talk and LaVar riffing on highlight reel plays. Before I give the impression that Franklin was essentially praising slabs of meat while going through each player, let me say that one word that kept coming up again and again was "Family". I couldn’t tell you which players he specifically mentioned (except for Chance Sorrell who he said is one of five brothers and evidently during the visit he or the brothers started wrestling and breaking furniture), but he said, "comes from a great family" multiple times. Obviously I have no behind the scenes info or inside information, but it definitely seems like Franklin is also recruiting the families. He without a doubt wants the best players he can get, and flat out says so, but it’s clear that a relationship with the family is an important part of the recruiting process for him. I’m sure it’s common for every coach to develop a relationship to the player’s family during recruitment, but his emphasis of it stood out for me. I don’t hear too many other coaches mention that when they’re interviewed.

Hackenberg and Jordan Lucas came out half way through the list of commits to say how thankful they were for the fans’ support and to say how hard the team has been working and how much they’re looking forward to the season. Lucas mentioned the amount of defensive backfield players in the list of commits and joked with LaVar about Penn State becoming DBU as well as LBU. Both were really great behind a mic.



After that they finished going through the second half of the list, with LaVar at one point saying how impressed he was that CFJ could remember all of this stuff about these guys and he’s expecting to start hearing him give back story’s of people from the audience. Franklin, without missing a beat, picks a random older guy out of the crowd and improvises a recruit profile: "This guy here has a 42 inch vertical and a 3.9 GPA." Laughter ensues. When they got through the list Franklin gave another short little pump-up speech, saying he was very pleased at how this class turned out, that we were 3rd in the B1G, and he’s going to fix that soon. He praised the staff calling them "the best staff in the country" and said he and the team are looking forward to the Blue-White Game and spring ball. At one point Franklin mentioned 107,000 going to the BW Game, so clearly he hasn’t been to one before, nor has he experienced the crapshoot that is April weather in Happy Valley.

Overall it was an enjoyable thing they put together on relatively short notice. Instead of just endless praise and ego fanning of high school athletes, there was a lot more analysis than I was expecting. It was great to hear how he plans to implement these players into the system and what he liked about each of them. At first glance it seemed like this was going to be something I thought I was going to feel ashamed of, or at least sort of creeped out by, but it actually turned out to be interesting, informative and pretty fun. Right now I’m just hoping to hell that these guys can coach as well as they can talk the talk and recruit because I’m really liking them so far and can’t wait to see more.

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