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May 12, 2014

Column: Future is now for PSU recruiting

Sixteen of the top prospects in the Class of 2015, including 10 Rivals.com four-stars and six three-stars, have already made verbal commitments to Penn State and its new head coach James Franklin.

Among the Football Bowl Subdivision programs, this is tops in terms of overall quantity. And, save for the University of Alabama (currently ranked as Rivals.com's No. 1 recruiting class) Penn State has the second-best combination of quantity and quality in the country.

This is not normal.

Well, not at Penn State, anyway.

From the fans to the media, the variety of explanations are plentiful. For instance, the momentum Franklin and his staff have made since taking over the program in January has been a contributor. Riding a wave of positive publicity and an incredibly unique first-come, first-served mentality among those being recruited by the Nittany Lions, expectations for this type of recruiting success this early in the recruiting season are certain to evolve as time rolls along, the argument has gone.

That's the way it's been in Happy Valley for seemingly forever, anyway.

Racking up commitments through the summer months and into the football season for years under former head coach Joe Paterno, Penn State's annual runs into the Top 25 recruiting rankings weren't an occurrence in the spring. Even through the shakeups presented when Bill O'Brien took the helm, the plane was still climbing to altitude at this point in the year - though certainly the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions against the program had a marked effect on the Nittany Lions' recruiting philosophy.

For as much as that approach had been the norm at Penn State for decades on end, though, Franklin has delivered an entirely message to Nittany Lion fans and the media covering the program this spring.

In essence: Get used to it.

Constantly citing the top 15 programs in the country and his vision for Penn State owning a place among them, Franklin sees its current recruiting success as a positive, no doubt, but hardly as defying the norm he's grown accustomed to in his surveying of the college football landscape the past few years.

"I would say there will be a pretty good foundation this time of year, every year," Franklin told reporters at a Penn State Coaches Caravan stop early last week. "If you look around the country, the programs that finish in the top 25, top 10, typically they're going to have a good amount of commitments by summer. They'll get a few more commitments over the summer and then they'll have a few spots left during the season. That's how we would typically do it as well."

With recruiting analysts currently projecting roughly 20 available scholarships to be filled in the Class of 2015 - with more only becoming available via currently unforeseen attrition - Franklin has acknowledged the slightly unique nature of this class's current momentum.

Namely, because of his staff's late start recruiting Penn State's future classes of 2016 and even 2017, and having needed to solidify the Class of 2014 immediately upon its arrival in mid-January, even with the number of recruits already committed to this class he still very much feels like they're playing catch-up.

"I think this year is a little bit unique. We got some really good momentum going. People are excited, but we're also limited in scholarships as well," he said. "I think you'll see us be aggressive.

"It's also going to pay dividends because we're behind right now in recruiting. I know that sounds crazy, but we're behind. Typically, you're recruiting two classes at the same time, so now we're going to be able to get a head start on the next class as well. We're starting to develop relationships on top of that as well for the following year."

Debunking as myth the theory of his staff needing to invest precious man-hours in 'babysitting' the class of already-committed prospects for the Class of 2015, as available scholarships continue to dwindle, Franklin and his staff's transition to recruiting the future could come sooner than later.

And, as Franklin's grip on the Penn State program becomes stronger and even more assured, his strategy for Penn State's recruiting success will eventually be boiled down to one word:


Penn State NEWS


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