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VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Competition has been the name of the game for the Nittany Lions as they work through week two of spring practice. Head coach James Franklin noted during his pre-spring press conference that with it being year two for the team in the coaching staff's system, he expects a competitive atmosphere every time the team sets foot on the field. With three practices complete, including one in full pads, the Nittany Lions are living by the program's No. 1 core value - compete in everything you do.

"We're making an emphasis on our four core values, which you have heard over and over again," Franklin said. "Last year there was some memorizing the positive attitude, great work ethic, compete in everything you do, willing to sacrifice, but we weren't really living them. I want to make sure that we're living the core values, not just reciting them, [and] thinking what they mean to you and the program. That's been an emphasis for us."

During the next three weeks, we will take you inside practice with sights and sounds from spring ball. Today, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop gives the fans a taste of what it's like to work through a drill on the practice field with the Nittany Lions.

Penn State will practice in full pads on Wednesday afternoon and again on Saturday morning.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - March 21

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's second of 15 spring practices on Saturday. The Nittany Lions practiced in Holuba Hall on Friday and Saturday. The team will return to the field on Monday, which marks the first full padded practice of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday with the first of 15 spring practices. Leading up to the start spring drills, talked with head coach James Franklin to preview what is ahead between now and the Blue-White Game presented by AAA on April 18 (4 p.m.).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Depth Key as Nittany Lions Set to Begin Spring Practice

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10901770.jpegJames Franklin Press Conference Transcript - March 17

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday afternoon when the Nittany Lions take the field for their first of 15 spring practices.

With the Blue-White Game 32 days away (April 18 at 4 p.m.), head coach James Franklin previewed the start of spring drills on Tuesday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.

Following a strong winter conditioning period, the Nittany Lions are primed to take another significant step forward during spring practice.

"It's amazing to think just year two in general how much different it is in every aspect," said Franklin. "From last year where they haven't even done that yet to now, going out on the field and having a foundation laid on offense, defense and special teams, expectations, how we do things, morning workouts, Coach (Dwight) Galt's program. We got the majority of our team now that have been through these things. That experience counts and is important."

Franklin detailed a number of areas during Tuesday's press conference. Take a look below at a few highlights as the Nittany Lions kick off spring practice.

Legitimate Two-Deep
What a difference a year makes for Penn State's depth heading into spring drills. The Nittany Lions will enter the first practice of 2015 with a two-deep of scholarship players at virtually every position. The benefits of added depth are plentiful, but added depth means added competition for every spot across each position. Added competition circles back to core value No. 1 for the program - Compete in everything. Franklin wants to see the team live by that motto each time it steps on the field.

"We just had much more depth across the board," said Franklin. "That's in general. Offense, defense and special teams. We have pretty much a legitimate two deep at every position, which we did not have last year."

Depth Up Front
No spot will reap the benefits of increased depth more than the offensive line. The Nittany Lions could not fill a legitimate depth chart at all five offensive line positions at this time last year. This spring, Penn State enters spring ball with a two deep at each position up front.

"The fact that we're going to have two deep of scholarship players is exciting," Franklin said. "We had a bunch of guys that have had some experience. Last year I think at this point we had two returning starters in the beginning of spring ball... We have five or six guys now that started a game."

Increased depth will play a paramount role in quarterback Christian Hackenberg's growth this spring, but the impact a deep offensive line can have on a team stretches far beyond one position. As Franklin noted on Tuesday, a strong group up front helps the other units on offense, in addition to the defensive line.

"It stunts everybody's development when you're struggling up front, let alone with a second team and first team as well," Franklin said. "We're real pleased. Those guys have been awesome. I could go on and on about a number of these guys, the improvement they've made, how dramatic it has been, almost to a man, to every single guy there that has really made some really good strides in so many different areas."

One starting spot the Nittany Lions will be looking to replace when the season begins is at left tackle. Donovan Smith will be playing football on Sundays come the fall, which leaves a void at a critical spot on the offensive line. Franklin noted junior Albert Hall, freshman Sterling Jenkins, junior Paris Palmer and redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell as candidates to replace Smith. Additionally starting right tackle Andrew Nelson could move to the left side if it is necessary.

Position Changes

Senior Jordan Lucas headlines a list of position changes for Penn State this spring. Lucas will move from corner to safety. Additionally, redshirt freshman Amani Oruwariye will move from corner to safety. With the team's depth at corner, Franklin and the coaching staff feel like Lucas has the chance to be special at the safety position with his skillset and number of experienced players at corner.

In addition to the two moves at safety, Franklin noted that running backs Adam Geiger and Jack Haffner are moving to the defensive side of the ball (Geiger at safety and Haffner at linebacker). Geiger and Haffner are two team-first student-athletes with a desire to be special teams aces in 2015. Moving to the defensive side of the ball grants the duo opportunities to tackle every day at practice, while staying at the running back position would not.

Strength at Special Teams
Building on season one, Franklin is expecting big things from the special teams units in 2015. The team's overall depth increase will pay big dividends for the special teams units (kicking, punting and kickoff).

"Really excited about special teams and what we're going to be able to do there," Franklin said. "I think it can become a strength for us."

Despite the added depth across the board, Penn State will enter spring practice without a player at a specialist position on scholarship. However, that does not mean there is a lack of talent or competition for starting spots. Sophomore Daniel Pasquariello and redshirt freshman Robby Liebel will compete for the punting spot this spring.

Joey Julius and Chris Gulla (who moves from punter) headline the list of candidates working towards handling the kicking duties. Both spots will be an open competition this spring.

"One of the things we're talking about doing with the spring game is opening the spring game with a kicking competition before the spring game gets started just so I can make sure that these guys have got enough kicks in front of a crowd," Franklin said.

"We're thinking about doing the same thing at halftime with the punters.  Do a competition with those guys, because you just don't know through the spring game if you're going to get enough live reps and see how they're going to react in that environment."

Development at Quarterback
No one is happier to see Penn State's growth and development at each position on the offense than junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Following a record-breaking effort in the Pinstripe Bowl, the veteran signal caller is eager to take another step forward.

"I want Christian to be able to work on his development and his role in this offense, fundamentals, technique, understanding of the schemes, being demonstrative with other offensive players about how specifically he wants a route run, what we're doing in protection and why, checking out a runs into passes or passes into runs," said Franklin. "Not just during spring, but during spring and then being able to do that all offseason."

Press Conference Quote Book
- Expectations for the Defense
"Defensively, much more competitive depth across the board. Excited about that. Our focus this spring is going to be about techniques, not tactics. Really try to get to our fundamentals, things like that. It's our goal to identify playmakers and put them in position to be successful...Although you guys know we have base philosophies, we want to find our playmakers and put them in position to be successful, then develop our schemes around that. Our challenge is replacing Mike Hull. I think that's clearly our challenge on defense, not just because of the football player Mike Hull was, but also his leadership and also the position he played, being the quarterback of the defense, making all those calls."

- Expectations for the Offense
"Offensively, improve on our fundamentals and techniques. Same thing. Back to the basics. Gain a better understanding of concepts, not just the plays themselves, understanding the big picture. Cultivate depth. Competition with redshirt players I think is really going to help us. Our challenge, continue to develop the offensive line. You have heard me say this before. You really should not play defensive tackle or offensive line until your redshirt sophomore year. We have way too many redshirt freshmen in our two deep still, but I think we have a chance for great improvement."

- Expectations for Special Teams
"All our specialists are a year older. If you look from 2013 to 2014, we actually improved in punt return average, kickoff return average, touchbacks on kickoffs, kickoff, touchdowns allowed and punting average. Although we have to get better in that area, there were some improvements made. We played nine true freshmen and we had 12 true freshmen and first-year players combined play on special teams."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Powering Through Testing Week

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Max Out Photo Gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Nittany Lion football team is just 15 days from returning to the practice field for the start of spring drills, the group is not thinking about putting helmets back on quite yet.

Led be Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt and his strength staff, the football squad is in the midst of its annual three-day physical testing period to measure the progress it has made since winter conditioning began in January and to set a baseline leading into the summer workout season.

The Nittany Lions kicked off the testing week on Monday by running the 40-yard dash, broad jump and triple jump inside Holuba Hall and maxing out on the bench press in the weight room.  Tuesday's testing featured the vertical jump and the power clean max out in the weight room.  Following a snow day on the University Park campus on Wednesday, the testing culminated on Thursday with the shuttle run in Holuba Hall and a squatting max out session in the weight room.

When Galt addressed the media one year ago this week, he talked about how pleased he had been with the team's effort. This year, he said the growth has elevated to a different level.

"What a difference a year makes. It has been unbelievable," Galt said. "Fifty-six of the guys in here are guys we had last January...It's been a phenomenal difference. They did a great job last year, but they know the expectations and they are really excited about the 2015 season....It has been a noticeable change."

Roughly eight weeks into the winter conditioning program, Galt is confident in where the team is at during the final week of strength and conditioning before the student-athletes are off for spring break next week.  The team has lifted three days a week and conditioned during the early-morning hours the other two days.

While Galt still has some numbers to analyze once the week is over, he has seen a big jump in the team's testing results when comparing this year to last year.

"I went back and looked at some of the records I'd had at previous places where we had older, more established teams," Galt said. "We actually had 56 guys (power) clean 300 or more pounds. The highest I've had in the last five years was 43. This is a young team that is basically one of the stronger team's I've ever had."

Galt said the power clean results translated well into the 40-yard dash testing, which puts explosiveness at a premium. Last year, nine players ran a 4.59 or lower in the 40. This year, 19 players ran 4.59 or lower. Of the 93 guys who tested in the 40-yard dash, 74 ran 4.99 or lower.

On the bench press, the team's max out average jumped from 312 pounds last year to 323 pounds this year. Additionally, seven players topped 35 inches in the vertical test. Galt said the team's overall speed and explosiveness have taken a big step forward in the past year.

"All of those things work hand in hand with one another," Galt said. "The numbers, especially in the explosive moment, have been great."

A few position groups have jumped out at Galt during the winter workout period. He highlighted the defensive ends, which is a unit that had four players power clean 350 pounds or more. Galt also said the offensive line has done a superb job improving its strength and movement capabilities. The third group he singled out for their efforts this winter was the wide receivers.

With the media in attendance at Thursday's workout, junior offensive lineman Derek Dowrey put on a show in the final squat of the team's first lifting group of the day. Dowrey squatted 545 pounds five times with his fellow teammates cheering him.

Now, the Nittany Lions are counting down the days before the start of spring practice, but they have an eye on the bigger picture. The 2015 season is just around the corner, and they have one thing in mind.

"Everybody is so excited about getting back on the field," Galt said. "They want to get better on the field."

"We have a great week going. We are really excited about how much improvement we have made," Galt said. "A lot of that has to do with the work ethic. There's no doubt about. But we have talent here."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: THON 2015 Pep Rally Dance - Football

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Check out the Nittany Lions dancing on stage during the THON 2015 Pep Rally on Saturday night.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Nittany Lions Host THON Explorers Event

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly 50 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special tour of the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year.  The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

"This is a huge event, for not only the current Penn Staters, but for those coming in the future," sophomore Christian Hackenberg said. "It's great for us to give our hand. This is the kind of stuff we look forward to. Saturdays are fun, but this is what is important and this is what we look forward to. It feels good to be able to give back on a day like today."

"It's great to give back to kids whose wish it was to come here," junior Akeel Lynch said. "It's really great to spend time with the families and just see the impact we have on these lives."

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility.  Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony


Football Completes More than 1,900 Hours of Community Service in 2014

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pumpkin_carving.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin frequently talks about being successful in all facets of a football program.

Simply put, he wants each member of the program to have the entire package - athletically, academically, spiritually and in the community.

On the heels of ending Franklin's first season with a thrilling 31-30 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl and a stellar fall semester academically, the Nittany Lion football program set the benchmark for success off the field during the summer and fall of 2014, completing a program-record of more than 1,900 total hours of community service.

Beginning with volunteer hours at the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Summer Games on June 6 and ending on Dec. 26 with a visit to Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York, members of the football program participated in more than 30 different community service events during the summer and fall semesters in 2014.

A pre-season highlight was a trip to Hershey Medical Center on July 23. The entire team boarded buses for a drive to Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital just before the start of training camp. The team visited with patients and their families in different sections of the hospital.

"There is nothing more important than taking the time to share a smile with somebody and making a positive impact on their life," Franklin said. "Having this type of visit, it puts things in perspective for us."

The list of events includes 23 community service engagements during the football regular season. Highlighting the list was the United Way's Day of Caring, which takes place each October in State College. Approximately 50 members of the team used an off day during a bye week to give back to the community by helping with the upkeep of Centre Furnace Mansion.

Additionally, nearly 25 members of the team
and LifeLink special education students carved and painted pumpkins on the patio of the Lasch Building on Oct. 16.  Approximately a dozen members of the team played games and participated in the Buddy Walk at Medlar Field to help raise awareness for children with special needs and support the Centre County Down Syndrome Society on Oct. 18.

In November, the football program adopted Noah Benner through Friends of Jaclyn foundation as an "official" member of the team. Members of the staff gave Noah and his family a tour of the football facility before meeting and speaking with the team at practice.

The Nittany Lions also gave Deven Jackson, a Perry County, Pennsylvania native, an opportunity to tour the football facility and visit with the team at practice. Jackson, who suffered from kidney failure and lost both of his legs to meningitis, inspired the team by competing in youth football with two prosthetic legs.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving was a big time period for community service. The Nittany Lions spent time participating in "Roar for Reading" at local elementary schools, visited The Village, a State College retirement community, spent time with children at the Bellefonte Youth Service Bureau and helped the State College Food bank move more than 2,000 pounds of food.

The long list of community service opportunities is met with tremendous enthusiasm from the student-athletes on the roster. The members of the team jump at the opportunity to lend a hand in the community.

"I absolutely love it," freshman linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It keeps you grounded. Obviously, you like to do it because you want to help the community as much as possible, but it helps me as a person. You grow and you get to see just how fortunate you are. It makes you appreciate all of the things around you."

Also in 2014, the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes set new heights with fundraising efforts surrounding the 12th Annual Penn State Uplifting Athletes "Lift For Life" held on July 12. The chapter raised a record $151,990 last year, bringing the cumulative total to more than $1 million to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association.

Looking ahead, the latter stages of February will be another busy time for the Nittany Lions in the community. The team and staff will again play a big role in the THON festivities beginning on Saturday. The Lions will host their annual THON 2015 Explorers Program (The Football Experience). Members of the team will provide a tour of the building and have an ice cream social with Four Diamonds children and their families.

The Lions will also participate during THON's "Athlete Hour" on Saturday afternoon, in addition to dancing on stage as part of the annual pep rally on Saturday night.

Penn State's community service activity adds to the program's outstanding semester off the field. The team produced a record-setting academic performance during the fall 2014 semester, with 51 squad members earning at least a 3.0 grade-point average, the second-highest total in program history.

The squad set program records with 25 student-athletes earning Dean's List (GPA of 3.5 or better) recognition, 57 players owning a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher after the fall semester and 21 true freshmen posting a 3.0 GPA or better last fall.

Additionally, a Big Ten Conference-high 16 members of the football team had earned their degrees prior to the Nittany Lions' win in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to rank in the top 10 percent among all Football Bowl Subdivision institutions.

Penn State returns 15 starters (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist), and 14 additional players who have started, for the 2015 season. The Blue-White Game is set for April 18 in Beaver Stadium at 4 p.m. and the season opener is Sept. 5 at Temple.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2015 Signing Day Highlights

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Franklin, Nittany Lions Celebrate 2015 Signing Class | Signing Day Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Take an inside look at 2015 National Signing Day from inside the Penn State Football war room in the Lasch Building.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Franklin, Nittany Lions Celebrate 2015 Class on Signing Day

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Signing Day Central - Complete Bios, Photos, Highlights & More

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin and the Penn State staff celebrated the signing of a top-15 recruiting class with the formal announcement of all 25 signees for 2015 inside the Lasch Football Building and at 'The Signature Event' in Rec Hall on Wednesday.

"We have had a great day," said Franklin. "Really excited about how this whole thing played out. A lot of hard work went into it by the coaching staff, the administration, the support staff, our players. And I think really for the most part we did a nice job. So I'm really pleased. We have added depth, we have added talent, and I think we got really good fits.  So I'm really proud."

Franklin walked into the Lasch Building at 6:08 a.m. ready for the signing day festivities to begin.  The entire football staff congregated inside the building before 6:30 a.m. with an eye on the fax machine just outside the back door of Franklin's office.

The fax machine rang just after 7 a.m., and wide receiver Irvin Charles had the honor of sending the first approved national letter of intent. Signing day emcee Jevin Stone (video coordinator) emerged from behind a blue curtain, walked to a podium in the Penn State war room and introduced Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, who announced the signing of Charles to a rousing cheer from more than 75 staff members and supporters.

Charles's bio magnet was placed on the Penn State Signing Day "Big Board", with wide out Brandon Polk and tight end Nick Bowers following to begin the celebration on an exciting day for Nittany Lion football.

As the 22 letters of intent were approved on Wednesday, each signee had his own announcement.  The announcements frequently included the signees and their families, who called in via FaceTime and were then projected on big screens inside the war room to watch the festivities.

Representatives from across campus and the football staff participated in the announcement process on Wednesday morning. The list included Penn State President Dr. Eric Barron, former Nittany Lion Wally Richardson, coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey), Cael Sanderson (wrestling), Erica Walsh (women's soccer), Associate Athletic Director Rick Kaluza, legendary radio voice Fran Fisher, current radio voice Steve Jones, "Mike the Mailman", the Lionettes, Blue Band, cheerleaders, Nittanyville and THON representatives. The excitement surrounding the signing day festivities was infectious, and everyone in the room felt like a part of the football family.

Franklin and the staff could not have been prouder to make the announcement of all 25 signees (including the three early enrollees already on campus) in a stellar 2015 signing class rated among the nation's top 15.

Ranked as high as 12th by national recruiting outlets, the 2015 class features 16 signees ranked as a four-star prospect by at least one of the four major recruiting outlets. The class includes 22 signees from within a 350-mile radius of State College. Franklin and the staff set out to "Dominate the State" since the day they arrived, and the Nittany Lions did that emphatically with the 2015 class, signing 11 prospects from Pennsylvania (most from Pennsylvania since 10 in 2004). According to Scout, the Penn State class featured 10 out of the top 15 prospects out of Pennsylvania and seven out of the top 10. From 2011-'14, Penn State signed a cumulative total of four Pennsylvania top 10 prospects (Scout).

"We take great pride in the state of Pennsylvania, we take great pride in this region," Franklin said.  "We have tremendous respect for the teachers in this state and the teachers in this region and in preparing our guys and getting them ready to come to Penn State and be successful academically. We take great pride in the high school coaches and the players in this state.  We think we can be very, very successful with players from Pennsylvania and from this region. So I think that's very, very important for us moving forward."

The football staff put in a tremendous amount of effort to secure the class, seemingly since National Signing Day in February of 2014. Following a few days off, recruiting will continue almost immediately for next year's class. But for now, the Nittany Lions will celebrate the addition of 25 new members of the football family.

"You know, I think it's exciting, because there are so many things right now that are falling into place," Franklin said. "You look at the recruiting class, you look at the length and the athleticism and the size and the fit that we were able to, we were able to attract.  You look at ending the season in a really dramatic bowl win in New York City in front of a basically a home crowd.  You look at getting scholarships back.  You look at being able to go to a bowl.  You look at all the wonderful things that are going on here at Penn State."

One FaceTime call provided some comedic entertainment mid-way through the morning. While attempting to connect with defensive lineman Shareef Miller, Franklin suddenly became connected with Aleem Nedley, a lifelong Penn State fan, who was driving to work in Philadelphia. The phone numbers of Miller and Nedley were one digit apart, but it made Nedley's day when he realized who was on the other end of the FaceTime.

"'Coach, I think you have the wrong number, but this is awesome!'" Nedley said. "It's National Signing Day. Thanks for calling!"

The day culminated with the second-annual "Signature Event" in Rec Hall. Returning Nittany Lion starters signed autographs with fans before Franklin addressed the crowd about each member of the signing class while showing video highlights.

The Blue-White Game is 73 days away (April 18).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony