James Franklin’s push into SEC country has led to a new name on Penn State’s schedule.
The Nittany Lions’ new coach visited Georgia State last month as part of a camp, allowing the staff to interact with a crop of talent it normally wouldn’t get to see in person.
Now Georgia State is headed north.
Penn State added the fledgling program to its schedule for the 2017 season and also announced a non-conference game against Kent State for 2018 on Thursday.
Franklin and his assistant coaches helped run camps at Georgia State and Stetson University in Florida in June, boosting their recruiting efforts in the South.
“If we find one kid that ends up coming to Penn State and becomes an All-Big Ten player we might not have gotten without it, it’s a win,” Franklin said at the time. “Even if it’s just one.”
The Penn State and Georgia State contingents apparently hit it off well enough to schedule a game down the road, filling up the Lions’ 2017 schedule. The Panthers — who are entering their second season as an FBS program playing in the Sun Belt Conference and just their fifth season overall — will receive an undisclosed amount to make the trip to Happy Valley.
It will be Penn State’s first game against any of the 11 current members of the Sun Belt.
That contest will be Sept. 16, 2017, at Beaver Stadium. Penn State moved up its scheduled game against old rival Pitt to Sept. 9, 2017, in State College.
Kent State has been a semi-regular visitor to Penn State in recent years with the Golden Flashes already scheduled to play the Lions in 2016. They will now return for a contest on Sept. 15 in 2018.
Penn State’s non-conference schedule will shrink from four games to three beginning in 2016 when the Big Ten moves to a nine-game league schedule.
Aside from the single-game matchups, Penn State has a four-game set scheduled against Pitt from 2016-19. Another in-state foe, Temple, is back on the slate for three more games from 2014-16.
The Lions also have home-and-home series planned against Virginia Tech (2022-23) and West Virginia (2023-24) in the future.
Freshmen fitting in
Dwight Galt said he didn’t want to upset Franklin by piling on too much praise. But Penn State’s new strength coach had plenty of laurels to toss at the new freshmen class, which arrived in Happy Valley a few weeks ago.
Galt, who runs a rigorous offseason training program for the team, said he hasn’t had to slow things down too much for the high schoolers who are making the jump to major college football.
“It’s easily, in all my years, it’s the most athletic group that I’ve ever had as an incoming class,” said Galt, who has 30 seasons of experience in the field.
And he has the numbers to back it up.
“I mean, it’s unbelievable,” Galt said at Penn State’s Lift For Life fundraiser. “We had five guys run 4.4 or better. All but one of our scholarship kids broad-jumped 9 feet. So I mean, it’s just a very, very explosive, talented class.
“Being able to have something like that to work with is huge. All of us are going to have a lot of fun with these guys the next four years.”
Penn State brought in 25 total scholarship players in this recruiting class, with five of them enrolling this past January after graduating high school a semester early.
Galt said he has already seen improvement in those players seven months later. Defensive tackle Tarow Barney, a junior college transfer, tied for the team lead in the bench press at Lift For Life with 30 reps at 225 pounds.
While Barney is one of the biggest newcomers to the team, Galt said he’s also seen gains from one of the smallest rookies — 5-foot-10 receiver De’Andre Thompkins.
“De’Andre gained 16 pounds. He put 40 pounds on his bench, he put 35 pounds on his squat, he cleaned 275,” Galt said. “He couldn’t even (power) clean before. And right now he’s probably months, not years, away from 300.”
Both of Penn State’s senior tailbacks — Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak — were named to the Doak Walker Award watchlist on Thursday.
The trophy, which goes to the nation’s top running back, was last won by a Penn State player in 2002 when Larry Johnson topped 2,000 yards.