A personal(ity) touch
Franklin says he’s ‘good with’ his players being themselves on field
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]
Penn State running back Journey Brown, a member of the group nicknamed the “LawnBoyz,” celebrates a touchdown against Idaho earlier this season.