UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returned to spotlight Friday morning as the Nittany Lions hosted a media day session ahead of the upcoming Fiesta Bowl matchup.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for head coach James Franklin, the staff and the team. While the Nittany Lions are focused on closing out the semester academically, the staff is busy on the road recruiting as well as adjusting to a few coaching staff adjustments.
"A lot of moving parts with graduations and grades," Franklin said. "A lot of moving parts with recruiting and the ups and downs of that and also from a staff perspective. I like where we're at. I'm glad to be back in town, see my family, have a practice here a little bit later on today and can get back to some form of normalcy or whatever you would call that, in college football."
New to their roles but not to Penn State, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and special teams coordinator Phil Galiano joined defensive coordinator Brent Pry for their first media sessions as coordinators.
For Rahne, it's an exciting opportunity, one he's been working toward for a long time and one Franklin noted, he'd also be interviewing for a long time too.
"It's funny, because I tell our guys and I tell our coaches, I'm not a big believer in resumes," Franklin said. "I'm not a big believer in interviews. I get it, especially with people you don't know, but the reality is, Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State. Ricky was the offensive graduate assistant and Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant on our staff at Kansas State so he has been preparing and interviewing for this responsibility for a long time."
For Galiano, it's an exciting opportunity as well, having mentioned turning other full time opportunities down opting to stay at Penn State in his former role as a defensive consultant.
"It was in a time where last season I was looking to try to find a place and had a couple of full time job opportunities that I wound up turning down, choosing to come here to Penn State because this is where I wanted to be and where I would like to be for a very long time," Galiano said. "I knew one year I might just have to go and prove myself and try to do the best job I could and hopefully get rewarded for it. I appreciate Coach for seeing the job I did and rewarding me for it."
Winning in the
The push to the end of the semester can range from stressful to relatively stress free depending on the individual with managing practices, lifts and early bowl preparations.
"I only had one final but still it was pretty tough dealing with football and studying and trying to manage other things can get pretty hard," senior corner back Christian Campbell said.
Come Saturday, a total of 15 new Penn State football graduates will earn their degrees with 17 total graduates brining Penn State's total to 23 Nittany Lions with 26 degrees ahead of the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
Going out on Top
Certainly for Franklin, the goal every week is to go 1-0, and that mentality is no different as the Fiesta Bowl draws closer. Looking to send out a special senior class with a win as well as generate some momentum ahead of 2018, Franklin made note that there's no doubt in the importance of taking advantage of the extra time together.
"I think it's important that you end the season on a positive note so everybody feels good and there's good mojo and obviously I do think it has an impact of going into the following season based on all of the things I just mentioned - the extra practices, the last time people have seen you, how they view you, they start talking about your returning players, the previous season and the bowl game and how it ended," Franklin said.
Contending with Pettis
Penn State's punt coverage team will be tested against the nation's leader in punt returns (20.4 avg) in Washington's Dante Pettis. Having returned four punts for touchdowns this season to break an NCAA record for career punt return touchdowns (9), he's a focus for second team All-Big Ten true sophomore punter Blake Gillikin.
When asked about true sophomore running back Miles Sanders and his development, Franklin noted that he has seen improvement in a variety of areas from ball security and protect to more physical changes in overall strength.
"I look at it a little bit like when I was in Green Bay, we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers," Franklin said. "Aaron was able to come in there and sit behind Brett for a couple years, learn and take it all in. How many times do you see in that league, a guy get drafted in the first round and they are forced to play, and sometimes they are not ready."
Fiesta Bowl Excitement
For most if not all of the Nittany Lions, hearing the Sunday selection of Penn State and Washington matched up the Fiesta Bowl only brought excitement.
"I was just excited," Oruwariye said. "I was kind of thinking about Arizona, what we're going to do out there. I was quick to find the hotel we're going to stay in, which is really nice. I'm just excited for another big game, a New Year's Six bowl and just more time with this family."
Perhaps nobody has been more impacted by Rahne than tight end Mike Gesicki, who has spoken throughout the season about the level of confidence he's gained from Rahne.
"I am really happy for coach Rahne, he honestly deserves this more than anybody," Gesicki said. "He puts so much time into the preparation and everything that goes into our game plan each and every week. He is one of the smartest coaches on our staff and I think he is going to do a great job for us. I think he has had a huge impact on me and the player that I have become and I am really excited. When he first got the job, I called him and I said, "Hey man, congrats." I am obviously disappointed that he is not going to be coaching the tight ends anymore, but I told him, "if you are not going to be able to coach me, I still want 10 touches in the bowl game if you are out there calling plays. I want the ball a little bit.' I am excited for him."