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New coach Franklin, Penn State celebrate newest recruiting class

| Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 11:57 a.m.
Penn State football coach James Franklin places the name of quarterback recruit Michael O'Connor on a board during national signing day at the Lasch building Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in State College, Pa.
Former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington, right, interviews football coach James Franklin about the new recruiting class Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/York Daily Record, Chris Dunn) YORK DISPATCH OUT

Penn State coach James Franklin was thinking big on signing day.

In just about every conceivable way.

“We like to recruit guys with massive heads, long arms and big feet,” Franklin said Wednesday for one of his most colorful quotes of a long day that he made sure took on a celebratory tone in University Park. “That shows growth potential.”

Franklin sees the same for the Nittany Lions' recruiting prowess.

“We finished third in the Big Ten, which I'm not really happy about,” Franklin said, referring to the consensus of national recruiting services.“But we'll get that fixed.”

Considering the circumstances — a class trimmed by five players because of NCAA sanctions, a coaching change a month prior to signing day — Penn State will take the class, which was rated 24th nationally by Rivals.com.

Twenty players faxed in signed letters of intent, joining five prospects who enrolled last month.

For all the buzz about Franklin “dominating the state,” the first recruiting class he assembled featured none of Pennsylvania's elite prospects and only three from the commonwealth. One, Mt. Lebanon receiver Troy Apke, is from the WPIAL.

Four players hail from New Jersey, three from Virginia and two each from Alabama, Maryland and Delaware. Consensus four-star quarterback Michael O'Connor, a January enrollee, is from Canada but spent the past year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

The Lions added high school players from California (defensive back Koa Farmer) and Illinois (offensive lineman Brendan Brosnan), and defensive end Tarow Barney was playing junior college football in Mississippi.

“We're going to go wherever we have to go,” Franklin said. Franklin told of one 36-hour period in which he visited prospects in California, Texas, Virginia, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

Assembling next year's class should prove easier — and not just because Franklin and company will have had time to settle into their jobs. This is the final year their recruiting classes will be restricted by scholarship reductions as a result of NCAA sanctions.

“We have holes in the roster, and we're not going to fill all the holes and needs in one year,” Franklin said. “It's probably going to take a couple years.”

The only slight surprise of the day was the addition of Torrence Brown. A 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive lineman, Brown took the place of Lloyd Tubman, who this week decommitted to commit to Kentucky.

Brown and Alabama defensive back Christian Campbell committed during the 48 hours leading to signing day, and Franklin said both did without visiting Penn State's campus.

Franklin identified offensive tackle and safety as positions of need and targets for quarterback Christian Hackenberg as positions to supplement.

Counting the five January enrollees, there are five defensive backs, four wide receivers and four offensive linemen in the class. Mike Gesicki is considered one of the top tight ends in the country.

Trace McSorley joins O'Connor as new quarterbacks. McSorley has been considered an “athlete” by some recruiting services.

Eight players, including five from Franklin's former school, Vanderbilt, backed out of commitments to other schools to join Penn State, including New Jersey wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Rutgers) and Farmer (Cal), both of whom are Rivals.com four-star prospects.

Some have criticized Franklin for flipping so many players. He countered by saying the former Vanderbilt commits “recruited us” after the staff reached out to them upon taking jobs at Penn State.

In a policy change, Penn State opened its “war room” to the media. Ex-players and prominent university employees “announced” players as faxes came through.

“We are going to stay true to who we are while also being respectful to the past,” Franklin said. “I know how hard this staff has worked … so today is a celebration of all the hard work put in.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reached him at cadamski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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