Penn State's Franklin recalled by Bucks County

After seeing its former coach take flight to the NFL after only two seasons, Penn State wanted to make sure it had the right man for the job this time around.

Now everyone thinks the Nittany Lions have nailed it, including many in lower Bucks County who are ecstatic to have one of their own — Langhorne native James Franklin — at the helm in Happy Valley.

“He’s a hero. The magnitude of him getting the Penn State job is beyond belief. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. The text messages keep coming,” said John Chaump, Franklin’s head coach at Neshaminy High. “People are thrilled.”

Even former classmate Traci (Massielo) Curtis is delighted with the news of Franklin’s hire — and she’s a graduate of Ohio State. Massielo was captain of the Neshaminy field hockey team while Franklin played quarterback. Curtis remembers Franklin well.


“He’s a real person with real passion and real traditions and real relationships,” she said. “That’s why he was so successful at Vanderbilt: he forged real bonds among the players and they responded.

“He’s going to do that at Penn State. He’s going to make them into a real team.”

If Franklin’s record at Vanderbilt is any indication, Curtis’ words could ring true. After inheriting a team that went 2-10 the previous two seasons, Franklin guided the Commodores to a 24-15 mark and three consecutive bowl appearances.

The Neshaminy head coach from 1987-1992, Chaump remembers the time Franklin spent on Old Lincoln Highway.

“He was a super nice kid. Everybody loved him,” he said. “He had friends in every facet of the school, not just on the football team. He had a great personality and made friends easily — kids liked him.”

Not that he needed to be kept in check, but Franklin couldn’t have acted up at Neshaminy even if he wanted to, Chaump said. Franklin’s mother worked as a hall monitor at the high school.

“His mom was right outside the door,” Chaump said.

In 1988, Franklin helped lead the Redskins to an 11-0 record in the regular season. It was the first year of Pennsylvania state playoffs, and Neshaminy was the first team from lower Bucks to participate.

After high school, Franklin went on to play quarterback at East Stroudsburg, setting new records for total offense (3,128), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19). But he was never too big to return to Bucks County and share in his success, Chaump said.

The coach recalls one time Franklin returned to the high school to share a play-action pass he used at ESU. Chaump added it to the Skins’ offense and it worked well, Chaump said.

Franklin’s ability to forge relationships with coaches and players made him an attractive recruiting director at Maryland in 2003.

On recruiting trips, Chaump says, Franklin would sit down with coaches and pick their brains and exchange ideas.

“He didn’t just come in and talk to the players and leave,” Chaump said. “He spent time at every school. I think that’s why he was so successful.”

Franklin has held coaching posts at Kutztown, Washington State, Idaho State and Kansas State. At Maryland, he ran the offense until taking the job at Vanderbilt in 2010.

At Vandy, Franklin took over a program that won only 13 SEC contests in its previous 10 seasons and built it into one that finished in the AP top 25 the past two seasons.

In his opening statement at Penn State last week, Franklin said the Lions plan on dominating the state in the recruiting process.

“I believe in the high school coaches in this state,” Franklin said. “I know how well [players are] coached and developed. I know how talented this state is, as well, and I know how important football is here.”

While Penn State is banned from postseason play through the 2015 season, the school has already received some relief from NCAA sanctions on scholarships handed down in 2012 as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

The NCAA recently announced the addition of five scholarships to the incoming class, and Penn State will have a full 85 players on scholarship in time for the 2016 season. That’s two years ahead of time.

Franklin has already flipped a pair of Vanderbilt recruits, and various national sporting news outlets predict more to come.

Bucks County residents are excited to see how much more success Franklin will enjoy in Happy Valley.

“Can you believe it?” Chaump said. “It is hard to believe that he’s at this pinnacle in his career, but he certainly has worked his way up and earned every bit of it.”