A per­sonal(ity) touch

Franklin says he’s ‘good with’ his play­ers be­ing them­selves on field

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Wo­gen­rich

On Satur­day at Beaver Sta­dium, a Penn State run­ning back likely will wear a “LawnBoyz” chain on a jersey with block num­bers and striped sleeves meant to re­call the 1960s.

For some fans, the jux­ta­po­si­tion of Penn State foot­ball’s past and present will be jar­ring. For the play­ers, it will be a chance to show­case their per­son­al­i­ties. Coach James Franklin must jug­gle both views, though he cer­tainly leans in a di­rec­tion.

“Ul­ti­mately I’m con­cerned with how our guys are in the class­room and how they are in the com­mu­nity and then the style of play and how we con­duct our­selves on the field rep­re­sent­ing our fan base and this com­mu­nity,” Franklin said. “So a lit­tle per­son­al­ity — that may be dif­fer­ent here — I’m good with.”

Penn State will wear its throw­back (or, as the pro­gram calls them, “Gen­er­a­tions of Great­ness”) uni­forms for the sec­ond time when it hosts Pur­due on Satur­day. Un­veiled in 2017, the uni­forms com­bine de­sign el­e­ments (num­bered hel­mets, pant stripes, white cleats) to cel­e­brate points in Penn State his­tory.

The jer­seys in­clude an im­age of the Nit­tany Lion shrine and the num­ber “1959” to com­mem­o­rate the pro­gram’s Lib­erty Bowl ap­pear­ance in Philadel­phia that year. The play­ers, though, re­late more to an­other com­po­nent.

“I just think ev­ery­one looks faster in white cleats,” quar­ter­back Will Le­vis said. “I know a lot of guys like the way the white cleats look.”

For Franklin, mar­ry­ing past and present isn’t with­out chal­lenge.

In his sixth year at Penn State, the coach has sought to rec­og­nize the pro­gram’s his­tory while al­low­ing his play­ers to breathe. With that comes new el­e­ments some fans aren’t quite

com­fort­able with yet.

Last Satur­day, run­ning back Jour­ney Brown wore a chain around his neck that read “LawnBoyz” after scor­ing a touch­down. The chain ref­er­ences the nick­name po­si­tion coach Ja’Juan Sei­der gave the backs, and each player has one of his own.

The backs love both the name and the chain.

“At first we were the ‘7-11 boys,’ be­cause we were al­ways open,” Brown said. “Then we switched to ‘LawnBoyz’ be­cause we tear up the field. That’s our field.

“When Coach Sei­der in­tro­duced it to us, we were like, ‘Yeah, we like that.’ We kept say­ing it, throw­ing up the ‘Ls’ and it just picked up after that.”

Ev­ery po­si­tion group has a nick­name, some go­ing back years. On of­fense, the “LawnBoyz” are joined by the “BankBoyz” (wide re­ceivers), “TrenchSet­ters” (of­fen­sive line), “Aces” (tight ends) and “Sav­ages” (quar­ter­backs).

The best-known name be­longs to the de­fen­sive line­men, who call them­selves the “Wild Dogs.” Po­si­tion coach Sean Spencer even had a bone made for his group.

This sea­son, Penn State in­tro­duced a disco ball to the locker room for its vic­tory cel­e­bra­tions (“It was a pretty cool ad­di­tion, for sure,” quar­ter­back Sean Clif­ford said), though the ball didn’t make the trip to Mary­land. And play­ers plan, dis­cuss and even com­pete for their on-field cel­e­bra­tions.

Be­fore Satur­day’s game at Mary­land, Le­vis watched “Avengers: In­fin­ity War” and wanted to re-cre­ate Thor’s “bring-me-Thanos” mo­ment as a touch­down cel­e­bra­tion. Linebacker Micah Par­sons liked the idea and said he wanted it, but Le­vis wielded “Storm­breaker” after scor­ing a sec­ond-half touch­down against the Terps.

“I haven’t seen Micah do it yet, so I think I did it first,” Le­vis said. “So hope­fully I get credit if he does try to take it from me.”

All that is be­ing cap­tured this week by HBO, which is film­ing an episode of its 24/7 COL­LEGE FOOT­BALL series at Penn State. Franklin said that one of the show’s ben­e­fits is al­low­ing fans a “peek be­hind the cur­tain” at the per­son­al­i­ties who share Penn State’s locker room.

The pro­gram will air Oct. 9. “Prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant piece of it is peo­ple get­ting to know our play­ers on a more sig­nif­i­cant level,” Franklin said. “I think some­times with foot­ball, there’s a dis­con­nect with the peo­ple that are in those hel­mets.”

For Penn State, the peo­ple in those hel­mets (and those who will wear them in the fu­ture) are the pro­gram’s lifeblood. So Franklin wants their per­son­al­i­ties to flour­ish within the “cul­ture” of the team.

Re­gard­ing some fans, who view all this skep­ti­cally, Franklin said that after six years he hopes the pro­gram has built credit for em­pha­siz­ing aca­demics and com­mu­nity ser­vice.

“I think we’ve earned that,” he said. Re­gard­ing his play­ers, Franklin wants them to find their voice.

“I want to make sure that we’re play­ing a brand of foot­ball that peo­ple can re­ally re­spect and a brand of foot­ball that our fans and our let­ter men and our com­mu­nity can feel good about,” Franklin said. “Those are the things that re­ally, re­ally mat­ter.

“And then I think you’ve got to al­low them to have a lit­tle per­son­al­ity and em­brace that. As a dad of my two daugh­ters, I can’t fight ev­ery bat­tle, and I want my daugh­ters to kind of have some per­son­al­ity and their own strengths and fig­ure out their weak­nesses as well.

“It’s the same thing with our team.”

Morning Call re­porter Mark Wo­gen­rich can be reached at 610-820-6588 or at mwogen­[email protected]

SCOTT TAETSCH/GETTY

Penn State run­ning back Jour­ney Brown, a mem­ber of the group nick­named the “LawnBoyz,” cel­e­brates a touch­down against Idaho ear­lier this sea­son.

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