There was a time not long ago when Penn State football fans hoped that the program would one day return to national relevance. After several years of diligent hard work that day has come and it seems as though there wasn’t much time spent celebrating the achievement.
During the season James Franklin will remind his team and the media that his focus is on one opponent at a time. Not wanting to get caught up on the big-picture implications of each individual game, Franklin keeps his focus on the one tree in front of his team. Within a couple of weeks that single object in focus will be Appalachian State, Penn State’s first game of the season.
With the off-season complete and the team currently in preseason camp, there is a brief and rare opportunity to think about the overall status of the Penn State football program. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the forest before our focus turns to each individual tree.
- Recruiting: For years the program was hampered by the restrictions placed on the program, facing diminished scholarship totals. Once the team was allowed to field a full 85-scholarship roster, just a few years ago, it still faced the challenge of filling out the two-deep depth chart with B1G-caliber players. Now when we look at the roster there are high-quality players filling out the three-deep depth chart, with others waiting in the wings. The team has the talent, from top to bottom, to make a run at a Big Ten and National title. And the recruiting pipeline is primed and full of future prospects as well.
- Success on the field: With a Rose Bowl appearance, Fiesta Bowl win, and Big Ten Championship all coming in the past two years, it is easy to forget the outlook that the fans had as recently as September 24, 2016. That was the day that the team lost to Michigan, 49-10. Since then, Franklin’s team has put together an impressive 20-3 record. Two of the losses came as time expired and the game-winning field goal was still in the air; the three losses were by a combined seven points, all on the road. The team has put its recruiting and the development of talent to work on the field, and has come back with results over the past 23 games that rival any team in the country.
- Harmony within the fan base: There will always be a place for disagreement and passionate discourse concerning the Penn State football team within the ranks of its supporters. That is true of every team in the country. What is missing from recent discussions within the Penn State community are the calls for drastic changes. Coach Franklin and his staff have the support of the fan base and for the moment we should appreciate that the program is firing on all cylinders, with very few people voicing dissatisfaction. During the off-season there were rumors, which turned out to be unsubstantiated, that athletic director Sandy Barbour was not fundraising at a high enough level. The numbers recently came in and it appears that the athletic department is doing its job to keep the money flowing. It seems like there is almost nothing to complain about, from top to bottom, within the program.
With the season just a few weeks away, our attention and that of coach Franklin will turn to each opponent, one week at a time. There will be less time spent discussing the overall progress that the program has made over the past few years. We should keep the memories from just a couple of seasons ago, when the Lions were on the way back from Ann Arbor with a horrible loss in the rear-view mirror, fresh enough to appreciate the gains that we have seen since.
With preseason camp underway for just a few days, there is not a great deal of news available at this time to report. The big news on media day was the return of Manny Bowen to the team.
The other big news was the revelation that the team ganged up on coach James Franklin during their paintball excursion. Franklin went full Forrest Gump, pulling up his shorts to reveal his injury to the cameras.
In university news, Penn State astrophysicist Chad Hanna talks about the capturing of sound from gravitational waves. While this is mostly review for many of us, we thought that there might be a couple of football fans out there that hadn’t heard about this remarkable discovery.
Lamar Stevens will be taking his talent to the Nike Academy which starts on August 8. Tony Carr was given the chance to attend in 2017, and he used the opportunity to turn heads, eventually becoming the first Penn State basketball player drafted by the NBA this century.
Take a look at Stevens, who has been working hard to get bigger and stronger during the off-season.