Penn State players react to hiring of Franklin


Penn State players react to hiring of Franklin

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin is the third football coach in what for many Penn State football players will be four seasons and already has left a good first impression.

The 41-year-old Franklin, who spent three years resurrecting Vanderbilt's program and guided the Commodores to a 24-15 record, has been labeled a players' coach by a group of Nittany Lion players who have had an oversized dash of change and more than a pinch of adversity on their Penn State plate.

Franklin became Penn State's 16th coach on Saturday, replacing Bill O'Brien, who took over the NFL's Houston Texans after replacing the late Joe Paterno in 2012.

Franklin wasted no time getting acclimated. He lured in four recruits, glad-handed with fans at three Penn State winter sporting events and ultimately met his new football family on Sunday night.

"I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't a little crazy, watching it on TV and being home over break," offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said Tuesday. "There was nothing we could do about it and we knew (athletic director) Dave Joyner would pick someone great. Coach Franklin is a real players' coach. He cares a lot about the team. That's something I really look forward to, building a relationship with him."

Penn State's roster remains relatively young, but players have survived more than one passing storm.

They dealt with the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal from which came harsh NCAA sanctions, the firing and then death of the legendary Paterno, the coming and going of O'Brien and Monday's announcement by veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson that, according to various news reports, he was going to go to work for Big Ten rival Ohio State.

"Looking back on it we really have been through a whole lot," Dieffenbach said. "It builds character and builds strength. We want to win some games and we think Coach Franklin is the coach to help us do that."

Franklin has yet to officially name a coaching staff or training personnel, something the players are waiting on.

"We have a good group of guys and should be able to transition pretty easily," linebacker Mike Hull said. "You have to take everything with a grain of salt and keep moving forward. We've been through a lot, we don't have to change who we are. The thing you really need to do is establish yourself as a hard worker and just let your coaches know you're 100 percent dedicated to the team."

Maintaining that strong work ethic was part of Franklin's initial speech, according to defensive back Jordan Lucas.

"He (Franklin) introduced himself and said what an honor it was to be the coach here at Penn State," Lucas said. "The message he gave us is that we're going to outwork everybody and everybody is on board with it. We see his vision and we're going to work really hard to make that happen."

Sunday's team meeting was a welcome reunion, according to Dieffenbach.

"We walked in there and it was really like nothing had changed," he said. "Guys were having a great time. We joked about it. We missed each other. We couldn't wait to get back and be together. It's the sign of a tight-knit team. Team morale has never been higher. You have to build new relationships. Your job as a team is to buy in completely, 100 percent as team, and that's what we're going to do."

Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

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Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A former Penn State football player will serve five years' probation and register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to indecent assault.

Twenty-two-year-old Brent Wilkerson was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in connection with a February outing to several bars with a young woman and others.

Police say Wilkerson was drunk but the woman was sober when he insisted on making sure she got home safe.

The woman tells police Wilkerson pushed her upstairs to her bedroom where he fell asleep. The woman says she went to bed later and woke up to find Wilkerson kissing and fondling her and fondling himself. He later apologized in a text message.

Wilkerson was kicked off the team in March. Court records say he lives in Clinton, Maryland.

Villanova's new task: Dealing with distraction of being the reigning champ

Villanova's new task: Dealing with distraction of being the reigning champ

VILLANOVA, Pa. — No matter how hard they guard against it, the Villanova Wildcats always end up finding themselves talking about April. Talking about the magical shot from the hands of Kris Jenkins. Talking about finally getting over the second-round demons and winning a national championship.

They deal with it on campus, off campus and in the media.

It comes with the territory.

“Very few teams right now are talking about last year,” coach Jay Wright said. 

Very few teams had the storybook ending Wright’s team had.

“Every time we talk to somebody, the first thing we talk about is last year,” Wright said. “We’ve talked about it as a team that’s something we’re going to have to deal with. The last couple years we’ve dealt with talking about losing in the second round, too. So we have a little bit of practice. But it is a great challenge and something we address every day.”

Villanova basketball held its annual media day Tuesday, and naturally, many of the conversations with Wright and his players started with the last six months and how their lives have changed.

Jenkins, whose three-pointer beat the buzzer to win the national title, was immediately surrounded by cameras and microphones.

How many times have you watched the shot?

“Recently, I haven’t really watched it,” Jenkins said. 

“It’s already behind me. We’re focused and ready to go this year.”

Long gone are the days when Wright and Co. could go unnoticed in the Philadelphia area. 

“It’s one of the great things about the Villanova job,” Wright said. “We get a lot of great media attention being in Philadelphia. It’s a great college basketball town. But you always can go wherever you want. ... For right now, it’s a little different. I have a feeling as the season wears on it will settle down. It’s worse for Kris Jenkins, I’ve seen that. ... Josh Hart, too.”

“Life changed a little bit,” Jenkins said. “But as far as basketball, coming to work, trying to get better, that part hasn’t changed.”

That sentiment, and the laser-like focus Jenkins and others talked about Tuesday, is the same day-to-day approach Wright’s teams have become synonymous with lately. 

Leave it to a Wright-coached player to find a negative in the attention and diversions.

Hart, a senior like Jenkins, spoke Tuesday about the difficulties of preparing for this year with all the distractions. Surely it’s a problem 300-plus other basketball teams would love to deal with.

But Hart said a Villanova summer — like many others around the college basketball world — is about staying conditioned, working out as a team and getting used to the new faces on the roster. He described how he’d see a few good days of work get halted by going to the ESPYs. A few more good days of work were put on hold to go to the White House, where each champion shook hands and spoke with president Barack Obama.

“Don’t get me wrong, I would not change it for anything, but it’s been tough,” Hart said. “Every time we’re focused on this year, in some shape we’ll be brought back to the national championship.”

Just a hunch, Hart and the others don’t mind it all that much.