STATE COLLEGE — Set to leave the podium, James Franklin added one more note at the end of his press conference on Wednesday.
“Journey Brown is going to start the Blue-White Game,” the Penn State coach joked to a reporter, referencing the ongoing drama of the Nittany Lions’ running back rotation in 2019. “Probably.”
And there may be one less contender for the job.
Former five-star recruit Ricky Slade entered his name into the NCAA’s online transfer portal on Wednesday, allowing other schools to contact him about a possible move. 247Sports first reported the development.
Slade looked to be the heir apparent to the coveted job held by Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders and entered the 2019 season as the starter in a four-man group along with Brown and true freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford.
But Brown supplanted him by the third game and Slade finished the year fifth on the team in rushing behind the other three rushers and quarterback Sean Clifford. He had 47 carries — four less than backup quarterback Will Levis — for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Given that the other running backs are returning and Penn State has added two more blue-chip recruits from Florida in Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee, Slade will have a chance to look at other options to finish his college career.
Should Slade elect to transfer, he still has a redshirt available to use, as he would likely have to sit out a year to move to another FBS program. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
And if he leaves, it means two of the three five-star recruits from Penn State’s heralded 2018 recruiting class would be gone after just two years.
Wide receiver Justin Shorter left the team in late November and made it official on Wednesday that he had signed papers with Florida to play for the Gators. All-America linebacker Micah Parsons was the other five-star from the class.
With Shorter now with another team, Penn State currently has three scholarship players in the portal — Slade, defensive end Daniel Joseph and cornerback DJ Brown. Joseph and Brown would be grad transfers who could play immediately at a new school.
Finalizing Franklin’s contract: Those awaiting to hear terms of Franklin’s new six-year contract will have to hold out a bit longer.
Lawyers for both sides are still hammering out the language of the deal, so it has yet to be signed. Penn State and Franklin reached a verbal agreement in early December and announced it ahead of a major recruiting weekend for the program.
“It takes lawyers that get involved and make sure everything is ironed out and both parties are protected, and then it’s signed,” Franklin said. “I think that’s going to happen soon. But I also know there’s some things kind of within Penn State and things like that that I don’t kind of know the process, so I don’t want to sit here and say a time or a date. But it’s agreed upon, and I think it should be here very soon.
“But that’s why. There really was no hold-ups or concerns or issues on either party. It was just kind of going through all the red tape and the verbiage of contracts like that.”
Quiet signing day: For the first time since the NCAA institued an early signing period for football, Penn State did not add any more scholarship players on the traditional February date.
Not from a lack of interest.
“We had some people calling us late that you would have loved to have had a few more scholarships,” Franklin said. “But not necessarily holding any, just you wish you had more scholarships available.”
Penn State signed a whopping 27 players during the early December window and had fewer defections than expected to the NFL, as only defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and wide receiver KJ Hamler left early.
As it is, even if all three players in the portal do transfer, more will have to leave for the Lions to reach the 85-scholarship limit.
“We’re close,” Franklin said. “I think that’s probably the biggest challenge now more than ever is trying to guesstimate what your roster is going to be” because of the advent of the portal.
“The hard part is we want to be as aggressive as we possibly can to give us the best chance to get to the 85, which very rarely is anybody at the 85. So that’s always the challenge.”
Penn State was able to confirm two new players to the roster on Wednesday in a pair of preferred walk-ons in Nazareth defensive end Jake Wilson and Virginia punter Levi Forrest.
“We were able to announce those two guys because they have been accepted to school and paid their acceptance fee, which changes how we can deal with them by NCAA rule,” Franklin said. “There’s a bunch of other walk-ons that we would have liked to announce, as well, but they’re not in that category.”