At Penn State, a polished freshman class is ready to bring the ‘juice’
When they were freshmen, Penn State ’s Nick Scott and Mark Allen made their impact on the team by distributing “juice.” Basically, they never shut up, during practice or games.
“Everybody on the sideline should be hooting and hollering like Nick and Mark,” Penn State coach James Franklin told his team.
Scott, a starting safety, and Allen, a running back, are fifth-year seniors now and still more than willing to “bring it,” as Scott said recently. But Scott quickly added that this year’s freshman class is going to make itself heard as well -- likely more than his did four years ago.
“We have a lot of it,” Scott said when asked about the personality among freshmen. “I’m excited to see the kind of juice they add to this game and to our team, because they are really phenomenal.”
Penn State will introduce several of those freshmen in the season-opener Saturday against Appalachian State, providing the first look at a class that Franklin has championed for more than a year.
Fourteen of Penn State’s 21 scholarship true freshmen made the season’s first depth chart, appearing at positions such as receiver, running back, linebacker and offensive line. The starting kicker is expected to be a freshman and, by the Big Ten season, several more could be starting at other positions.
And that doesn’t include the 12 redshirt freshmen, including projected starter KJ Hamler at wide receiver, who made the three-deep. In all, 34 players with freshman eligibility appear on the depth chart, a prospect that is both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking.
“The guys, they are all over the map,” Franklin said. “From Monday, Friday, it’s going to be different. But they are maturing and growing up every single day, and I’m really proud of them.”
Penn State’s 2018 freshman class, ranked fifth nationally by Rivals.com, made an upbeat first impression, bringing together a level of football training and confidence on the high end for rookies.
Dwight Galt, Penn State’s director of performance enhancement, said their transition from high school to college has been the smoothest he has seen among first-year players at Penn State.
“These kids are serious,” Galt said this summer. “They’ve been well-prepared, not only physically and in the weight room but also for what it’s going to take to be successful here.”
With freshmen newly eligible this season to play four games and maintain their redshirts, more first-year players will get onto the field than ever before. Penn State played three true freshmen last season. That number could quadruple in 2018.
Franklin on Tuesday said that he has given the “green light” to seven freshmen to play significant roles with the team. Among them are linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa, running back Ricky Slade and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher.
Receiver Justin Shorter, a five-star recruit and the top offensive player in the class, was injured during preseason but still is expected to challenge for significant snaps.
In addition, freshman receiver Jahan Dotson, a Nazareth High graduate, continued his preseason pursuit of a major role. Dotson, whom Franklin raved about during camp, led the offense in touchdowns and will “factor in” this season.
“He’s got to get bigger and stronger in the weight room, but football comes very naturally to him,” Franklin said. “Things make sense to him. He’s able to take things from meetings to the field. ... The coaches would be very comfortable and confident with playing him.”