You often hear college football coaches talk about how much they love one of their players who was just drafted by an NFL team, how much they respect them, and so on and so on.
But when you hear Penn State Coach James Franklin talk about tight end Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, you know he is speaking from the heart.
Franklin has a relationship with Freiermuth, one that extends beyond the way the two interact on the football field, flowing over to their families, including his wife Fumi and daughters, Shola and Addison. He smiled and laughed as he shared a story of the Franklin family teasing Freiermuth after his new touchdown pose, even giving me a look at what it was like as he sat in his office in State College, Pa. while talking via zoom.
"We have a really close relationship," said a smiling Franklin. "My wife and daughters have a great relationship with Pat. He kind of started doing this silly touchdown thing when he scored and crossed his arms. His grandparents didn't like it at all. My wife and kids knew that, and they took a picture of them all doing the Pat Freiermuth pose and we sent it to his mom and dad and grandparents, and they weren't happy."
All joking aside, Franklin truly has the utmost respect for Freiermuth, who has a love of football that isn't found in every player.
"Pat loves football," said Franklin. "There are a lot of people nowadays that like football, and the things that come from football, but Pat loves the game. They either like the things that come from football, but they don't necessarily like doing the dirty, gritty, monotonous work they need that makes them be special in any craft or endeavor.
"It's like if you go to any basketball court in America, any kid is out there trying to dunk or shoot the three, but nobody is out there shooting foul shots anymore. Pat is that type of guy. He is going to go out and work on all of the details, fundamentals, that allow highly successful athletes to be consistent and productive."
It's that love, that attitude, that work ethic that made Freiermuth a perfect choice for a two-time team captain, and someone his teammates couldn't say enough about during his time there.
"He has a really good perspective," said Franklin. "He can get along with anybody in the locker room. He views things and looks at the game from a leadership standpoint, similar to how coaches do. He is what I call a culture driver. You can't have enough guys like Pat in the locker room. He instantly, without making plays on the field, makes your organization better just by how he goes about his business."
Last year there were rumors that Freiermuth was going to opt out of his final season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten initially announcing they were going to delay the 2020 season until the following spring. But that was nothing but rumors. His parents fought tooth and nail, along with many others, to get the Big Ten to reverse direction, starting the season late, but playing nonetheless.
The only disappointment for Freiermuth last season was it ended early for him due to an injury, even though he played through it for several weeks.
"Halfway through our season he injured his shoulder and played in multiple games with an injury that would keep most guys out," said Franklin. "I think that shows Pat's toughness. That shows Pat playing for our team and what that meant for our program.
"It also impacted Pat's legacy here. We talk about leaving a legacy. The tight tends we have in our program now, there are a lot of conversations on the field, in the meeting room, how Pat went about his business. I think he is just a guy that understands he is going to put the organization first.
"Pat is self-aware, he understood what he had in front of him. Pat is going to be about the Steelers organization first and foremost. He understands winning, and what winning takes, and the sacrifices that need to be made. I think that is why I think the Steelers got a great one.
"Coach (Mike) Tomlin hit me up right before it got announced and told me we just took your guy. I told him the same thing. Your locker room just got better. Your culture and your team just got better. Not that the Steelers culture needs help, but guys like Pat they continue to build on the foundation that is there. He fits the culture. Not just the current Steelers culture, but when you look at the history, legacy and consistency, in terms of ownership, leadership in the general manager and head coaches, they have had so much consistency, and I would say that is why the identity has been so consistent. Blue-collar, hard-nosed, tough steel town and that still exists today, and you see that when the Steelers play."
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick Pat Freiermuth
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Freiermuth isn't the only Penn State player that was added to the Steelers roster around the draft. The team also signed Penn State safety Lamont Wade, who is from Clairton, Pa., and played at Clairton High School, just outside of Pittsburgh. Wade played in 47 career games for the Nittany Lions, starting 22.
He was named Associated Press All-Big Ten second team, All-Big Ten third team by the media and honorable mention by the coaches. He recorded 37 tackles, 18 of them solo stops, two fumble recoveries, an interception and two pass defenses in 2020. He also had five kick returns for 192 yards, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown vs. Illinois.
"What a great story for Lamont," said Franklin. "Growing up not far from the stadium (Heinz Field). He has an unbelievably supportive family. One of the highest recruited guys in the country coming out of high school. The knock on Lamont out of high school and going into NFL is he is a little undersized.
"He has beat the odds and overcome adversity his entire life. He is a survivor. He is going to find a way to be successful. He did it in high school, he did it at Penn State and I won't be surprised if he does it at the Steelers. What a great opportunity for him and what a great story for him to be able to put on the black and gold and play in the stadium, which he played in a lot because the WPIAL played there."
Wade is one of those feel-good stories, a young man whose two-year old son Roman has changed his life and matured him.
"When that happens to a young man or woman, it changes your perspective," said Franklin. "He has always been a big picture guy, a thoughtful person. He was active here on our team in leadership roles, his music, the social issues going on in our country. He is a thoughtful young man and mature and has tremendous perspective. It is a great story, and it won't surprise me at all if Lamont finds a way to have a significant role with the Steelers and makes a significant impact on the community. I think that is really important to Lamont. If Lamont could not only make the team but use that platform to make a difference in his community, there isn't anybody that is more passionate about his community and where he is from and being able to make a difference than Lamont Wade."