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James Franklin names team captains, talks leadership following Blue/White Game

If Penn State football is going to have a historic season, it needs new faces to lead the way.



James Franklin, Penn State Football, Penn State Football team captains
April 15, 2023. James Franklin looks on during the Penn State Blue-White Game. Credit: Gracie Carella // Basic Blues Nation.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As the confetti was cleared off the Rose Bowl turf in January, one thing became clear: if Penn State is going to have a historic season in 2023, it’ll do so with new faces leading the way. On Saturday, Penn State football held its annual Blue-White Game, concluding spring practice for the Nittany Lions. The scrimmage was the first and last time we’ll see Penn State’s young core of leaders in live game action between Pasadena and the time West Virginia rolls into town in September. Leadership has been a topic of discussion this entire off-season, but the picture got a little clearer on Saturday. In media availability following the Blue-White Game, James Franklin named the Penn State football team captains for 2023 and further discussed how leaders are developing on this year’s roster.

James Franklin discusses the leadership of a young Penn State football team

When a program is filled with fifth and sixth-year players, it’s safe to assume that veteran leadership will be in the locker room. That’s where Penn State was in 2022, but that’s not the case going into this season. James Franklin has noted that leadership will be one of the biggest challenges for this year’s football team since the start of winter workouts. Following the Blue-White Game on Saturday, Franklin shed more light on what that leadership will look like.

“…our leadership will be different this year. We just had [last year] veteran, strong leaders that have been around forever,” Franklin said after the scrimmage. “You know, we had guys that had been multiple-year captains. So, it’s obviously something that we need to be aware of.”

But Franklin highlighted how, even if the 2023 team looks different from the 2022 Rose Bowl champions, its leadership can be just as effective. “… it’s gonna be different than it was last year,” Franklin stated. “So, instead of there being four to six really strong voices in the locker room, there may be 12 to 16 that are as strong as those four to six but still has the same impact kind of spread out.”

Franklin names Penn State football team captains

A dozen or more players may step up as leaders this season, but we now know the first three to be the tip of the spear for Penn State football. During his postgame comments, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions had named their first 2023 captains on offense, defense, and special teams.

Keaton Ellis will be the defensive captain for the Penn State Nittany Lions this year. The State College native started in all 13 games for Penn State last year before deciding to return for a fifth season. On offense, Olu Fashanu will don the captain’s title in his second year as a starter. Fashanu shot up NFL Draft boards last season and was projected to be a top-10 pick before deciding to return for his junior season. On special teams, Dom DeLuca will pick up the mantle previously held by Jonathan Sutherland. A redshirt sophomore, DeLuca is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship spot in January.

Although he may look to add more captains this fall, Franklin expressed how Ellis, Fashanu, and DeLuca have already started to shape this young football team.

“…we will wait until we get through training camp and then possibly add three more on offense, defense, and special teams,” Franklin said. “But it gives us a really good understanding of who the team sees as leaders right now going into the summer…”

Penn State is a team with a lot of potential in 2023. But Saturday also showed that there is plenty to work on. By the time we see this team take the field again, we should have a good sense of how its leadership has grown and developed — or hasn’t — this offseason.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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