STATE COLLEGE — James Franklin’s young daughters weaved their way through the traffic. It wasn’t easy.
Addy and Shola Franklin, escorted by cornerback Jordan Lucas, had to navigate around staffers, boosters and a handful of reporters just to grab a doughnut.
It may have been the most people ever packed into the second-floor lobby of Penn State’s Lasch Building headquarters.
The room was transformed Wednesday morning for national signing day. Five flatscreen TVs at one end. Balloons and a buffet at the other.
And in the center of it, Franklin, the Nittany Lions’ new coach, seemed to make sense out of all of the chaos. When he wasn’t crosschecking recruiting lists for what finished up as a consensus top-25 signing class, he was chatting with assistants and players. He greeted every last person to enter the room with a handshake and a grin.
He joked around as his daughters climbed up to his lap and as offensive line coach Herb Hand began flipping omelets in the back.
There was only one thing that could bring the place to a halt. A cell phone would be passed to Franklin and all of the commotion would calm down.
On this occasion it was Virginia running back Nick Scott on the other end. Scott’s letter of intent had arrived at a fax machine tucked away back in the offices behind a blue curtain and Franklin was happy to take the call, confirming that Penn State had received it.
Franklin tapped the phone’s screen to put the call on speaker mode before passing it to the front corner of the room where a podium stood. All morning, Penn State luminaries took turns stepping to the microphone there to make the signing official.
This time it was Richard Bundy, director of Penn State’s Blue Band who announced, “With the 14th pick, Penn State selects — running back from Fairfax, Nick Scott!”
Franklin led the coaches in a loud roar. Nine band members with trumpets belted out “Hail to the Lion” to serenade Scott over the speaker as a staffer placed a magnet with Scott’s name and picture on a signing board.
Down to the last detail, Franklin wants signing day at Penn State to become a celebration.
“We want,” Franklin said, “to make it an experience. Make it as similar to the NFL draft as possible.”
Franklin had everyone from assistant coaches to athletic director Dave Joyner to former standout Michael Mauti announcing the new recruits as the faxes came in.
By 11 a.m., the class was complete. Twenty signees to join the five recruits who had already enrolled last month for the spring semester. Enough to lift the Lions to the country’s No. 23 class and third in the Big Ten, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, which factor in ratings from four major services.
Plenty of room for improvement in Franklin’s mind. Sanctions or no.
Unlike his two predecessors, Franklin is very much aware of national recruiting rankings and the ubiquitous star system for rating prospects. He cited both in his news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“We finished third in the Big Ten, which I’m not real happy about,” Franklin said later in the day. “But we’ll get that fixed here in the near future.”
The day’s lone surprise came during the 9 o’clock hour when the Lions got a letter of intent from Alabama defensive lineman Torrence Brown, a last-minute flip from Southern Miss. Brown came aboard when a previous verbal commitment, Lloyd Tubman, opted to sign with Kentucky instead of Penn State, opening up a spot.
For Franklin, using every scholarship available under the cap set by NCAA sanctions was important to begin rebuilding a roster fighting attrition.
Because of that, Franklin said he will play as many of his new recruits as possible in 2014.
“We have holes in the roster that aren’t going to get solved overnight,” Franklin said. “But we’re able to solve some and improve on our athleticism and size.”
Franklin wanted to get the competition started a little early. He pushed his recruits to see who could get their letter of intent sent to Penn State first when the signing period began at 7 a.m.
The winner was New Jersey linebacker Jason Cabinda, credited by Penn State with an official arrival of 7:05 a.m. Maryland safety Marcus Allen closed things out when his letter arrived at 10:25 a.m., freeing up Franklin for national and local interviews before the festivities concluded in the evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“Today is the day that shows all the fruits of your labor,” said cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, who also serves as the Lions’ recruiting coordinator on defense. “It’s a top-25 group, it’s an exciting class and this is going to set the tone for years to come.”