Over two separate stints, James Franklin spent almost a decade as a Maryland assistant. While he was in College Park, he recruited a handful of current Maryland contributors. All of Franklin's Maryland recruits who remain are now seniors, and Franklin – after three years at Vanderbilt – is the head coach at Penn State. A winding road will come full circle when the Terrapins visit State College for Saturday's game against the Nittany Lions.
Franklin recruited Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown and, per Rivals, linebacker L.A. Goree, defensive end Andre Monroe and cornerback Jeremiah Johnson. All four have a significant role to play as Maryland (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) takes a stab at Penn State (4-3, 1-3) before what could be a crowd of more than 100,000.
At the Big Ten's football media days before the season, Brown said he and Franklin, who were together in College Park in 2009 and 2010, had a chance to catch up.
"He's still a great guy," Brown said. "I have a lot of respect for him."
Franklin recalled visiting with Brown years ago at his home outside Pittsburgh, trying to bring him to College Park.
"I love the kid, I love his family," Franklin said. "I remember the home visit. I remember being down in the basement and playing Ping Pong with them and pool. I remember going to his basketball practice in high school. He's a great kid."
Brown said Franklin recruited him to Maryland with the same vigor he's become nationally known for since taking the helm at Penn state earlier this year.
"Very enthusiastic guy. Full of passion," Brown said. "He's really committed to what he believes in. It's definitely someone that guys feed off of, and I'm sure his team rallies around him, just like we did when he was here."
At one time, Franklin was designated Maryland's head-coach-in-waiting during Ralph Friedgen's tenure as head coach. When Kevin Anderson became Maryland's athletic director in 2010, he chose not to honor the previous administration's promise to Franklin. Anderson conducted a deeper coaching search, and Franklin bolted for the head coaching job at Vanderbilt before Maryland hired Randy Edsall.
Maryland and Penn State have an odd history. They were ostensibly rivals for years, but only insofar as they're geographically close and played reasonably often. The Lions are 22-0 against the Terps in State College and 35-1-1 overall, with all 37 games coming between 1917 and 1993. The teams haven't played in 21 years, a longer span than the lifetime of most current players on either team.
"It's a group of guys here that have never played them before. The record against Penn State is in the past," running back Brandon Ross said. "I really don't feel much of a connection. We're in close proximity of each other as far as distance, but that's pretty much it."
Unlike Rutgers's obsession with selling a new rivalry against Penn State, Maryland hasn't pushed that narrative. It will take years of competitive games before any real back-and-forth develops within the current generation of the schools' students and players, though their comparatively close distance (along with Rutgers) to the rest of the conference might open up a natural lane for some intensity.
But the seeds for a longtime battle are in place on the recruiting trail, where Franklin has aggressively gone into territory Edsall would prefer to claim for himself. Franklin has grabbed high-end local prospects that Edsall surely wants, like 2015 Gaithersburg defensive tackle Adam McLean and 2016 Hyattsville defensive end Shane Simmons.
"Penn State has always recruited down here, and Penn State always pretty much had the guys who they wanted to get down here," Edsall said.
Edsall beat Franklin for blue-chip offensive tackle Damian Prince last spring, but Penn State remains a significant recruiting threat for local talent. Even if Maryland can't lock down the best players from the area, it's best for the program that Penn State doesn't, either.
"When you have the population that we have here," Edsall said, "there's going to be a lot of people, most especially your next-door neighbors, who are going to come in here and recruit."
Edsall embraced the idea that a win on Saturday could begin to turn a recruiting tide in Maryland's favor.
"What you have to do is go out and play to the best of your ability and win," Edsall said, "and that maybe can, probably, keep more of those guys here at home."
Franklin said Penn State, on the other hand, thought little about the recruiting ramifications of Saturday's game.
"We're excited about playing Maryland. It's another opportunity to play a team in the Big Ten, it's another opportunity to go out and compete. All those other factors, we don't get into those things," Franklin said. "We don't get into those things whatsoever."
For now, the teams' on-field relationship is green. Saturday marks Maryland's first chance in a long time to find the win column against Penn State and start to make this a series known for actual competition.
"If you're going to make any kind of a series a rivalry," Edsall said, "there's got to be wins on our side to be able to make that happen."
(Note: This story has been updated with more quotes from Penn State head coach James Franklin.)