In James Franklin’s opening press conference as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lion football team, he uttered a phrase that left many fans excited.
Franklin said he wanted to “dominate the state.”
His plan was to do this both on the field and in recruiting. And while it is still open to debate as to whether he’s seen through that promise of dominance with regards to in-state recruiting, one thing is certain; Franklin has improved the brand strength of Penn State football immeasurably across the country.
On-field results play a role in his ability to garner attention from a nationwide audience, but the smooth-talking Langhorne, Pennsylvania native has found additional ways to do so as well. Franklin basks in the limelight in a way that varies from previous Penn State coaches. His impressive persona on the football field is topped only by that which he displays when placed in front a microphone.
Franklin has done more television appearances and interviews in a span of three years than I can remember Bill O’Brien and Joe Paterno doing in decades. While that’s not a knock on either of his predecessors, Franklin’s approach to branding the program is a welcome change.
While the approach was subject to criticism over the first two years of Franklin’s tenure — which is understandable when you consider the results — it has without a doubt paid dividends with regards to media coverage of the program and perception among perhaps his most important audience; high school prospects.
Penn State currently sits fourth in 247Sports.com’s 2018 Team Recruiting Rankings, and while that success is partially a product of the staff’s ability to recruit the traditional strongholds of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, they’ve also succeeded in areas that are uncommon ground for the Nittany Lions.
Take a look at the 2018 class and you’ll see names like Jordan Miner and Judge Culpepper from the Tampa, Florida area. You see Isaiah Humphries (who is admittedly a legacy player) and Trent Gordon from Texas. Uncommitted prospects like JaKorey Hawkins from Alabama and Solomon Enis from Arizona have also shown interest in the Nittany Lions. Recruiting successes such as these not only lead to success on the field, but they also create pipelines and avenues in fertile recruiting ground.
If Penn State and James Franklin want to make the next step and compete regularly with current powerhouses like Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson, they’ll need to be able to recruit nationally. The class of 2019 247Sports Composite Top 247 lists just two players from the state of Pennsylvania and two from Maryland. Pennsylvania has no players rated as a five-star prospects, none in the top 100 and just three rated with four stars.
Another strong season and a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game would work wonders in helping Franklin and his staff continue to branch out in the recruiting world. As the saying goes, perception is reality. The stronger that Penn State is received nationwide, the better the reality of its future will be.
As Penn State continues its ascent back toward the top of the college football landscape, it’s James Franklin’s ability to spread the program’s reach that makes that future so bright.