Make Way for the James Gang

Make Way for the James Gang

This weekend, one by one, they will find their way to Happy Valley. No more visits, no more quick stopovers, and no more weekend excursions. Nope, this time it’s permanent; at least for the next four years. I’m speaking of Penn State football’s Class of 2016. Five of the men entering have been on campus since January. The rest of their comrades are set to join them this week. A year ago, names like Saquon Barkley, John Reid, and Tommy Stevens made this journey to the valley. The year before, names like Trace McSorley, Jason Cabinda, and Mike Gesicki rumbled into State College. All names that have already left an indelible impression on Penn State football and that’s just scratching the surface, as they are all poised to leave even more of a legacy down the road.

This weekend, it’s Miles Sanders, Michael Menet, Shane Simmons and Co. saying their final goodbyes to Mom and Pop. The one common denominator between this crew and the two that proceeded them: James Franklin, the head Lion of the pride that he’s created in his third season. The man with two daughters and over 100 sons as he has claimed time and time again. The word ‘family’ has been used ever since his arrival. On the cusp of his third full year as head coach of the Nittany Lions, along with a small handful of holdovers from the previous regime, FrankLion has finally assembled his family. Make way for the James Gang folks, it may only be the end of June but they’re coming faster than a speeding bullet!

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Last weekend the aforementioned Sanders dazzled his way to MVP honors in the Big 33 Classic, an annual all-star game that pits the best of Pennsylvania versus the best from the state of Maryland. Maryland’s MVP, you ask? Cam Brown, another Nittany Lion coming in as a linebacker. A week later they officially go from foe to teammate. A week later and they are all officially bleeding blue and white. Yesterday, James Franklin had a get-together in the Lasch Building for members of the media. During the informal gathering, Franklin informed the media that all of his assistants were given contract extensions and that everyone on his staff, including the new hires, were now firmly rooted in Happy Valley, families included. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that two of the three assistants that left after last season never bought a home in the area or brought their families with them to Pennsylvania. I’m beginning to think that when the man says that this is a family, he really means it.

As I started writing this piece, I found myself reminiscing about players I only know as legends. Players that I never had the privilege to watch in person, but ones that represent the foundation of what makes Penn State football, Penn State football. Names like Smear and Onkontz, Reid, and Kwalick. Names that eventually turned a first season 5-5 record into back-to-back undefeated seasons for our beloved Joe Paterno. Only a fool would expect the same of Franklin, and I would never be a part of saddling him with that burden of undefeated records. Not yet anyway. But, as this weekend approaches and as we watch these freshmen acclimate themselves to their new surroundings, their new teammates, and their new family which includes all of us, I’m starting to get a special feeling about what the head Lion of this Pride has assembled. Make way for the James Gang folks and buckle your seatbelt, I have a hunch that things are about to get back to normal around here!