New Penn State head football coach James Franklin directs his daughters Shola, 6, and Addy, 5, where they should sit during the National Signing Day event Wednesday. (Chris Dunn / Associated Press)
State College, Pa. — James Franklin welcomed his first recruiting class at Penn State on Wednesday in a festive atmosphere equivalent to an NFL Draft.
Coaches scurried around a war room setup with cellphones in their ears, welcoming each of the 20 recruits as soon as their faxed letters of intent had been received and their names posted on an NFL draft-style big board.
The class is ranked among the top 25 nationally.
Franklin was hired Jan. 11 to replace Bill O’Brien, who coached Penn State for two seasons but left for the NFL’s Houston Texans. He said he and his staff, most of whom accompanied him from Vanderbilt after a three-year stint there, had about two weeks to maintain recruits’ prior commitments to Penn State and attract more.
He signed 20 on Wednesday — 11 on offense and nine on defense — and five more had enrolled in classes two days after Franklin signed on with the Nittany Lions. The incoming class was ranked 24th and 25th by national recruiting services Rivals and Scout, respectively.
Each service listed Penn State at No. 21 earlier on Wednesday. Franklin said Penn State was ranked third in the Big Ten, something he said his staff would work to improve upon.
“Franklin did a good job of adding to the class, but many of those players were Vanderbilt commits,” said Brian Dohn, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “The question is, are the kids he was getting at Vanderbilt good enough to become a top-three team in the Big Ten? I don’t think so, but it is a good start.
“He did a good job with the class, but judging him on the last month isn’t fair. A bigger indicator is how he does in 2015 and can he make in-roads with the elite players in Pennsylvania.”
Franklin signed only three Pennsylvania players, but he brought in four wide receivers to be targets for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who led Penn State to a 7-5 record as a freshman.
Highly rated Saeed Blacknall of Manalapan, N.J., and De’Andre Thompkins of Swansboro, N.C., head that list.
“We have holes in our roster and we’re not going to fill all of our needs and our depths in one year,” Franklin said. “It will take a couple of years, probably, until we get through these rotations. We need to do a great job in the state and in this region.”
He said Penn State’s most glaring need was at offensive tackle; he brought in four offensive linemen. Franklin also cited safety and quarterback as team needs; he signed six defensive backs as well as highly rated quarterback Michael O’Connor.