STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State still has more than two weeks to go before its season opener against Central Florida in Ireland on Aug, 30, but coach James Franklin is raring to go.
During the end portion of practice Thursday, Franklin was energetic, bouncing around the field and barking instructions while praising and scolding his players and occasionally nodding along to blaring music.
Franklin likes the way his football team is shaping up before his first season as the Nittany Lions' coach, praising the energy he has seen on the practice field. Penn State's roster is heavy with freshmen and redshirt freshmen, and adjusting them to college life has been a focal point.
Franklin has brunch with the freshmen every Sunday, and he has planned special programming to get them adjusted to the various facets of school. He has brought in a variety of guest speakers, including university president Eric Barron.
Franklin is hoping for roster continuity after all the turnover Penn State has experienced in recent seasons. He used a freshman picture the team took this week as an example.
"I want to see that same picture four to five years from now, with those guys walking across the stage [to get their degrees] and playing some good football for us," Franklin said.
Because the team's roster is young, its leaders will also be young. Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg was named one of the team's seven captains on Wednesday. He will be the first sophomore captain in Penn State history.
Franklin said Hackenberg won election by his teammates in a landslide.
"I think that tells you that he's earned those guys' respect, not just on the football field but in the classroom and on campus and in the community," Franklin said. "Because that's what we talk about. Those guys are captains, they're not just captains on the football field, they're captains 24 hours a day.
"We need that leadership, and that's one of the reasons why we have seven, because I don't think you can ever have enough leadership on your team."
Hackenberg started every game his freshman season, passing for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while completing 58.9 percent of his passes.
Things won't get easier for Hackenberg. His offense already suffered a setback this week with reports that sophomore tight end Adam Breneman is out for the season. Franklin's policy is to not discuss the nature of injuries, but he said he doesn't expect Breneman's absence to be disastrous.
"You don't want to lose anybody, but that's the position [where] we probably have the most depth," Franklin said.
As a true freshman, Breneman had 15 receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns, and he improved late in the season.