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Wartman-White Wants Nittany Lions To Set High Goals

July 27, 2016

CHICAGO — Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White asked a question this summer of his team’s Leadership Council: Why doesn’t anyone say the words “Big Ten championship” out loud? In four seasons at Penn State, the last on the sideline recuperating from a torn ACL, Wartman-White, a Valley View graduate, never really heard anyone give voice to that goal, and he figured it was about time. So this summer, the Lions started saying it out loud. They concluded workouts by saying “Big Ten champs.” And they came to the Big Ten’s annual football media days, saying it as well. “I feel like we have the pieces to go into the season thinking Big Ten championship,” Wartman-White said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a time since I’ve been at Penn State where I heard us say, ‘My goal is to win the Big Ten championship.’ I feel like that’s part of it. You’ve got to talk about it.” James Franklin begins his third season at Penn State with “very high expectations” and called this a pivotal year for his program. With Penn State having as close to a full 85-scholarship roster (it’s at 82 now) as it’s had since 2011, Franklin said his team deserves fair comparisons to division rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. The Lions return 40 letterwinners, 31 with starting experience, and bring back eight returning starters on offense. Though the roster remains unbalanced — just six of its starters likely will be seniors — Franklin is willing to accept elevated expectations for his 2016 team. “This is going to be a very important year for us, no doubt, to make progress, to show the direction that we’re going, and our players understand that,” Franklin said. “Our coaches understand that. Our fans and administration, I think everybody is aligned and understands that - and is excited about what this year is going to bring. And our guys have prepared as such.” Part of that, they said, comes from expressing themselves aloud. Linebacker Brandon Bell said that Wartman-White initially brought up the dynamic, wondering why no one ever specifically talked about winning a Big Ten championship. Though every team outwardly models a “next-game approach,” Wartman-White noticed other players and teams discussing championships aloud. Why couldn’t Penn State do the same? he asked. “We never really talked about where we wanted to go, speaking our goals into existence,” Bell said. “Nyeem said we should start doing that. Why be quiet about it? We should be just as confident as all the other teams.” Franklin isn’t one for goal-discussion in general and has spent the past two years delicately traversing the divide between excitement and reality. How to keep a fan base energized while also reminding them that his first two seasons still were affected by the 2012 NCAA sanctions? Because of that, Franklin has said several times that he considers the 2016 season “year one” of his time at Penn State. “I think everybody - the administration, the former coaching staff, as well as our coaching staff - knew that our year one and year two were probably going to be the most challenging years of the sanctions,” said Franklin, who signed a six-year contract in 2012. “So we kind of went into that understanding that. I think my contract represented that as well from the beginning. That was understood.” Penn State still has some bedrock to build, with three new coaches on this year’s staff, two of whom will install a new offense. But Franklin is encouraged by the stockpile of recruits he redshirted the past two seasons, resisting the urge to play them immediately, and the growing numbers across the program. In 2012, for instance, Penn State had nine offensive linemen on scholarship. Now it has 17. Back then, Penn State had five players who weighed 300 pounds. Now, it has 12. “We take every game one by one, but the end goal you’re aiming for is the Big Ten title,” center Brian Gaia said. “It’s not bad to talk about it. If you’re not confident, then why are you even playing?” Through his first two seasons, Franklin has an 0-6 record against division rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Penn State has been outscored in those games 204-89. Franklin called the record skewed, because it’s not an “apples-to-apples comparison.” This year, he said, it will be. “If Penn State is playing those other teams, and they all had 65 scholarships as well, then it’s a fair argument,” he said. “If they had 75 scholarships, it’s a fair argument. Buy we’re not comparing apples to apples. “I get it. Everybody is looking for that type of win and those types of signatures that they can focus on. That goes back to something I’ve said before: This is our first year in a similar situation to everybody else in the country. And I think it’s fair to start making those comparisons now.” —- ©2016 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Visit The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) at www.mcall.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. ————— Topics: t000002776,t000049144,t000143214,t000002786,t000008064,t000008056,t000003183,g000065571,g000362661,g000066164