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Franklin: Lions ‘hungry’ after tough year

Nittany Lions look to bounce back

Penn State head coach James Franklin speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, Thursday, July 22, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

INDIANAPOLIS — Coming off the 2020 season in which the Nittany Lions lost their first five games for the first time in their history before winding up 4-5 has refocused the entire program.

“We’re hungry,” James Franklin said Thursday at Big Ten media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I would say, obviously, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder. We’ve had a lot of success at Penn State and we’re excited to get back to that.”

Ohio State is the consensus Big Ten favorite, but the annual writers poll for Cleveland.com picked Penn State No. 2 in the East behind the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin has been predicted to win the Big Ten West. The Lions visit the Badgers on Sept. 4 for their season opener.

“I must admit,” Franklin, entering his eighth season, said, “having Wisconsin’s logo up there has raised the standard (for preseason preparation).”

Penn State was represented at Big Ten media days by wide receiver Jahan Dotson, defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher and cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields.

Dotson was one of top 10 players picked by the Big Ten for preseason recognition.

The Lions’ running back position was wrecked by injuries last year, losing Journey Brown to a heart condition and Noah Cain early in the season opener.

Cain’s recovery is on schedule, Franklin said.

“He seems to be in a great place from my conversations with him, my conversations with the training staff,” he said, “but I’ll know better after we get into a week of camp. We got a chance to have arguably one of the most talented and deepest running back rooms in the country, and I think last year proved you better have that.”

True freshman Keyvone Lee led the Lions in rushing in 2020.

Franklin said his team has more than a 70 percent vaccination rate. He has been united with his family, which spent most of the past year at their southern home as a precaution.

“The intention is to try to get as close to 100% as possible,” Franklin said. “I think we’re trending in a really good direction. For me, I’m going to have conversations, I’m going to try to educate.”

Franklin told the media he’s not sure whether incoming receiver Lonnie White Jr., who was also drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, will pick football over baseball.

“Hopefully, we’ll know here soon,” he said. “He essentially has up until training camp. At the end of the day, I want the kid and the family to be happy and make the right decision.”

Penn State opens fall practice on Friday, Aug. 6.

The quote of Big Ten media day came from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose struggles against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State are well documented.

On his motivation to beat both teams, Harbaugh said, “That’s what we want to do, and we’re going to do it or die trying.” 

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