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Franklin, players react to lifting of NCAA sanctions

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Coach James Franklin and players talk about new mood of team

STATE COLLEGE, PA - On Monday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m., word broke that the NCAA had lifted the sanctions it had placed on the Penn State football program in 2012.

The postseason ban and scholarship restrictions that had hampered the Nittany Lions in the past were now just that — in the past.

When coach James Franklin and the players actually heard the news, it wasn’t from a NCAA, or Penn State Athletics release. It was from social media.

The coach’s first move was to get a mass text out to all the players, calling for a team meeting to get the facts straight.

“I was eating lunch actually — Chick-fil-A — when we found out on twitter,” fifth-year linebacker Mike Hull said. “Literally 30 seconds later, coach sent out a text message to come in for a team meeting.”

When the team showed up, Franklin said he just reinforced what the team already knew, adding the players were very excited.

Hull, who was a sophomore when the sanctions were imposed in 2011 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, said the news was a positive in what’s been an emotional roller coaster of a career.

“A lot of ups and downs,” Hull said of his past four years at Penn State. “Whenever it first initially happened it was kind of tough. Yesterday kind of brought the whole thing back around full circle.”

The team co-captain also mentioned that he wasn’t expecting the sanctions to be lifted, forcing him to play out his final season without the hope of a bowl game at the end of the year.

“I was expecting to ride it out just as it was,” he said. “Just play for each other, play for the Penn State community and fortunately [the sanctions] were reduced and a lot of the guys, especially the seniors, are really excited about that.”

In the meeting, Franklin said he had Hull and the 48 other players who made the decision to stay the course after the NCAA’s rulings in 2012 stand up at the front of the room.

The coach said that the 49 players will forever be remembered as the foundation for the team’s present and the foundation for its future.

“The rest of the team gave them a standing ovation and told them how much they mean to them and how much we are all in debt to them,” Franklin said. “...They didn’t take a short cut, which is what we are talking to our guys about all the time.”

From then on, both Hull and senior center Angelo Mangiro said it was back to business.

“I embraced my teammates and I embraced the guys I was with when [the sanctions] happened,” Mangiro said. “If I had to put a time on it, I’d say ten minutes, then myself and the other offensive linemen, we watched film on Rutgers.

Franklin also said he went right back to work as well and when the student rally broke out both on campus at Old Main and Beaver Stadium, as well as downtown on Beaver Avenue, all the coaches were watching film together, but they knew what was going on.

He added that the school has never lost its image even through the trying times of the past few years and that it’s ok to celebrate that as long as it’s done safely.

“There is enthusiasm and there is excitement and there is tremendous pride in this school,” he said. “...I have worked at nine different institutions and the one thing that really jumps out to me is the pride of Penn State is unbelievable.”

Franklin also mentioned that he texted former Penn State coach and now Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien on Monday night to thank him for the work that he did over the past two seasons.

Under O’Brien, the Lions went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013 and the former coach was able to hold the program together when the initial bans and limitations were handed out.

Now, just two games into the 2014-15 season, the Lions are 2-0, seemingly four wins away from becoming bowl eligible.

Wide receiver Geno Lewis said even with a possible bowl game at the end of the road, the team’s mindset has not changed one bit.

“Our mindset is always winning,” Lewis said. “That’s it. Having bowl games or not having bowl games, you don’t go into a game thinking ‘whatever happens, happens.’ We want to win.”

As for Franklin, his message to the team was that the lifting of the sanctions is great, but the Lions still need to stick to the same mentality in every game, starting with Rutgers on Saturday.

“There’s nothing being held back from them in terms of opportunities,” Franklin said. “They have the ability to chase their dreams now. But, we’re going to back to our same approach which is: one play at a time, one game at a time.”

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