The FoxSports1 cameras focused on Penn State’s running back Ricky Slade after he scored a touchdown last week during the Nittany Lions’ rout of Maryland. Around his neck was a chain that said “Lawnboyz,” the name that the team’s running backs and their position coach gave themselves before the season.
The shot delighted some Lions fans on social media but disappointed others. One person went on Twitter and protested, “Joe Paterno is spinning in his grave.”
A little overblown? Perhaps. But Paterno was known in his nearly 46 years as Penn State’s head coach as one who wanted his players to toe the line when it came to respecting their opponent, frowning on any attempts to celebrate individual achievements on the field. His motto was “Success with Honor.”
Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin understands the traditions at the university. He heard plenty about them from loyalists who had wanted someone who played for Paterno leading Penn State on the sideline after Bill O’Brien’s two seasons.
This is the 21st century, after all, and Franklin doesn’t think it’s wrong for his players to enjoy themselves as long as they’re conducting themselves the right way on-and-off the football field.
“They are having fun with it,” Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly media teleconference. “For me, like anything, there’s a fine line with it. But ultimately, I want to make sure that we’re playing a brand of football that people can really respect, and a brand of football that our fans and our lettermen and our community can feel good about.
“I think you’ve got to allow them to have a little personality and some other things as well and kind of embrace that. But ultimately, I’m concerned with how our guys are in the classroom and how they are in the community and then the style of play and how we conduct ourselves on the field representing our fan base and representing this community. So a little personality that may be different here, I’m good with.”
Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and his players came up with “Lawnboyz” together. As freshman Devyn Ford told a reporter for the program’s website after the Pittsburgh game, “Coach Seider says obviously we’re running backs so we eat up grass. When we eat up grass, we score touchdowns. So that makes us the ‘Lawnboyz.’ ”
Defensive line coach Sean Spencer was the first to give his unit a name, the “Wild Dogs,” and he later added an oversized dog bone to be given out for a special achievement. Franklin said he didn’t sign off on the chain or the dog bone, saying he had “things that are probably more important on my list than that.”
Penn State players like the “Lawnboyz” name. Safety Lamont Wade, one of the team’s more outspoken social media participants, wrote Saturday on Twitter:
“This is how we doing stuff now either rock (with) it or become a Temple, Pitt, Villanova fan. Respect tradition dearly that’s why my name not on the back of my jersey & my cleats are black every weekend … but this a new generation.”
Franklin, who took over as head coach in 2014, said he hopes that his time leading the program has “built up some credit with our fans, that they know that we’re putting a priority on academics … and on community service and development these young people to be leaders and tremendous husbands and fathers one day.
“I think most importantly, it’s the overall culture. Our guys know what’s acceptable within our program and what’s not.”
The Nittany Lions have an opportunity this week to push their brand nationally, having welcomed HBO cameras to practice for an inside look on preparations for Saturday’s game against Purdue. The show, 24/7 College Football, will air Oct. 9.
“To be able to peek behind the curtain and allow people maybe a more comprehensive review of how we do things, I think is important,” Franklin said. “What better opportunity to allow our story to be told on a national — really global — level. So we’ve embraced it.”