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February 25, 2014

Column: Owning Pennsylvania more than meets eye

Forget for a moment, if you will, James Franklin's catchy, hashtag-ready proclamation that Penn State will dominate the state in recruiting.

No doubt, the part-rallying cry, part-shot across the bow is important for Franklin and his new Penn State coaching staff, but maybe for more reasons than initially meet the eye.

The verbal commitments on Monday afternoon of two of the day's unofficial visitors, Jake Cooper and Ryan Buchholz, built on top of an already-impressive list of committed prospects for Penn State's Class of 2015. That Cooper and Buchholz are from Warminster and Malvern, Pa., respectively, adds to a list of Pennsylvania-native commitments that also includes Saquon Barkley and Ryan Bates, combining for 14 total stars amongst Franklin's four in-state verbal commitments.

With as many as 25 scholarships available for the Nittany Lions' Class of 2015, to have secured the verbal commitments of four of the state's top prospects at this early stage in the game is an achievement in itself.

(And, to have hosted Andre Robinson at Penn State on Monday afternoon as well, and to have come away making such a positive impression on the four-star running back out of Bishop McDevitt, is equally important and impressive.)

With Penn State also in the mix for the likes of Sterling Jenkins, Josh Adams, John Reid, and Jordan Whitehead, the opportunity to realistically secure the majority of the state's top-end talent is on the table for the Nittany Lions in this recruiting class.

Here's where it gets interesting, though.

Franklin has also repeatedly set out a national scope for Penn State's recruiting that clearly breaks down any type of fenced-in notion that the majority of any class should consist of Pennsylvania prospects.

Said Franklin, "I think the first thing we have to do is do a great job in our own state, then also regionally. You look at Penn State and Penn State has been able to be very successful by recruiting within six hours from campus, but I think we have a national brand and we don't have to sell ourself short.

"Our coaching staff, what we'll do, the way we'll attack national recruiting is we'll do it by position. So the quarterback coach better know where the top ten quarterbacks in the country are, and you never know, one of them might have a cousin or a father or somebody that went to Penn State or grew up a Penn State fan, and there's a connection there. I think the national brand really helps and our coaching staff's network of connections I think is going to help us."

The key portion of Franklin's statement comes from the words "top ten" in how it actually relates to Penn State's recruitment of in-state athletes.

While bringing in the absolute top-end, highlight-reel quality prospects for each and every class is an undoubted priority, year after year, the reality in recruiting is that high-character, building block type kids are necessary for every class. Whether they're Rivals.com undervalued two or three-star kids, they might not have every powerhouse program knocking on their doors, but they usually end up being extremely important to the composition of a class.

Look no further than Class of 2009 Rivals.com two-star strong side defensive end Jordan Hill out of Steelton, Pa., to envision a good example, for instance.

These kids, more often than not, need to come from Pennsylvania.

At the high school level, coaches understand when a big time program like Penn State goes to Florida, California, Texas or any other Mid-Atlantic state to pull in nationally-known, high-end prospects. But, in a game of politicking and relationships that never really ends, and can often bear fruit or consequences for years at a time, Penn State has long held the philosophy that focusing in on the brick and mortar kids from Pennsylvania can pay real dividends not only on the field, but also in recruiting, for years to come.

So when the class is winding down, and maybe an unexpected scholarship or two opens up for any number of reasons, creating a need that must be filled, if indistinguishable options exist in both Pennsylvania and another state, this is where Franklin's mantra is really going to need to play itself out.

Coming into a situation at Penn State with just weeks left in the recruiting cycle for the Class of 2014, Franklin and his staff can't be blamed at all for seeking out kids from other areas of the country that they'd built prior relationships with at Vanderbilt to close out the Nittany Lions' class.

But with the Nittany Lions' Class of 2015 already in full swing, and four of the state's top-end prospects already in tow, witnessing Franklin's strategy in filling in the gaps will be fascinating to evaluate the extent that #DominateTheState really takes hold.






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