Situated on the bottom floor of a swanky Washington D.C. hotel littered with Nittany Lions logos as part of the Penn State caravan, former Terrapins coach-in-waiting James Franklin said the Maryland football team still holds a special place in his heart.
“I still follow the program because I care about the program,” Franklin said. “Maryland was my first big break professionally.”
An offensive coordinator for Maryland and once the presumed successor to Ralph Friedgen, Franklin has instead carved his own path into the Big Ten, first rebuilding a struggling Vanderbilt program before accepting the head job at Penn State. He credited former Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden with offering his “first big break professionally,” when Franklin came to College Park as the new wide receivers coach in 2000, fresh off one season at Idaho State.
After stops with the Green Bay Packers and later Kansas State, Franklin returned to the Terps under Friedgen, now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers. Three of his aunts live in the area, including two who worked at Howard University and a third who worked in admissions at Maryland. A cousin, he said, is a local high school coach, and several current Terps were recruited by Franklin during the Friedgen regime. But that was before Friedgen got fired, current athletics director Kevin Anderson declined to promise Franklin the job and Franklin bolted for Vanderbilt.
“Had a great experience there, learned a lot of football, met a lot of friends, high school coaches … the fifth-year seniors there, we were a part of recruiting them,” Franklin said. “I’ll be rooting for Maryland every game but one.”
With his strong recruiting ties to the area, Franklin has begun a concerted effort to attract local prospects to Penn State. His upcoming recruiting class of 2015 currently ranks second nationally, according to 247sports.com, and features defensive tackle Adam McLean, Maryland’s top-ranked high school junior according to the same website.
The Nittany Lions have also scored oral commitments from Kamonte Carter (Gaithersburg), wide receiver Brandon Polk (Briar Woods), defensive end Jonathan Holland (The Bullis School) and defensive end Ryan Buchholz, the younger brother of Maryland walk-on fullback Carl Buchholz.
“I think it’s very important,” Franklin said, responding to a question about local recruiting. “I made a comment earlier, and I think people took it out of context, but we’re going to treat New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, D.C. and northern Virginia as in-state areas for us in terms of the attention that we put on it. You take a six-hour radius of campus, that’s what we’re going to treat as in-state, then we’ll go other places to recruit nationally to do what we have to do to put our roster together. We’re going to approach it as in-state.”
This was certainly more measured than what emerged from Baltimore, an earlier destination for the caravan, when according to reports Franklin said, “I know there are other schools around here, but you might as well shut them down.”
Asked how excited he was to play Maryland in Happy Valley on Nov. 1, Franklin refused to bite.
“I’m looking forward to playing Central Florida,” he said, “which is the only game that exists for us, the first game of the year.”