Penn State has always been a major player with the top prospects in the mid-Atlantic region. Now, the Nittany Lions are beginning to grab the attention of players all across the nation.
It’s an exciting time for Penn State fans, especially those that enjoy the twists and turns that come with Division I football recruiting.
Over the years, it’s no secret that the Nittany Lions have consistently been one of the top dogs in the region. Between the final years under Joe Paterno, plus Bill O’Brien’s two-year stint in State College, Penn State has never really had any issues pulling in players from states like New Jersey and Maryland, as well as their home state of Pennsylvania. Even after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which had a major impact on the Class of 2012, the Nittany Lions still landed future NFL players like TE Jesse James, McKeesport, Pa., and DT Austin Johnson, from Richland, N.J.
But over the past six months, following a Big Ten Championship and one of the most memorable Rose Bowls of all-time, the Nittany Lions have taken their recruiting to a new level, which is event for all to see, as PSU is currently ranked No. 2 overall in the Rivals.com team rankings. Lots will change between now and February, but barring a complete collapse this season, this class is on pace to go down as one of, if not the best in the past two decades.
With that said, what has grabbed my attention the most is the fact that Penn State is truly becoming a national player on the recruiting trail. Over the past few years, we’ve seen that they’re a real player in states like Georgia. Between CB Grant Haley and now QB Justin Fields, among others, Penn State has pulled in in a few of the Peach State's top players in recent years.
Now, they’re beginning to get the attention of players in two other states that are always recognized among the nation’s best: Texas and Florida. In the Lone Star State, the Nittany Lions have already earned two verbal commitments from DBs Isaiah Humphries and Trent Gordon. They’ve also been in the top 10 for multiple prospects. Just a few years ago, you never saw that.
Down in Florida, four-star DB Jordan Miner has spoken highly of the Lions for months now. He’s planning to visit in June, while another four-star prospect, DT Judge Culpepper, visited in April and has since called PSU a top school. They’ve also become a serious player with one of California’s fastest-rising prospects in LB Jack Lamb.
Those inside the Lasch Building, most notably head coach James Franklin, have also taken notice in this recent surge. Last week on the Penn State Coaches Caravan, Franklin was asked about how last year’s success has helped their perception on the recruiting trail.
“Where I probably notice it the most right now is probably nationally,” Franklin said. “I think it's helped us a little bit regionally, but I think where it's probably had the biggest impact is nationally. Guys that are top players in Texas, guys that are top players in Florida, guys that are top players all over the country that we've reached out to, we are pretty quickly getting into their top tens, which that doesn't always mean you're going to close them to get them, but there's more players nationally that are high-profile players that I think we're involved with than probably for a long time.”
He went on to add, “I can't imagine it's been in recent history where we're involved with this many kids on a national scale that we are. It's going to put us in some tough situations where we're going to have to make some tough decisions at the end of the process where we may be turning down really good players, which I think is the position you want to be in.”
Oh, it’s definitely the position you want to be in. Of course, I’m not the one that has to tell these families the bad news, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks and I’m here writing about it.
At that same event, Franklin was also asked if his staff’s approach has changed at all recently.
“I don't think our approach has changed a whole lot,” he said. “There's just more people that have watched us play and have gotten to know us. And I would say probably in areas that we haven't recruited as much before. From our time in the SEC, those contacts have really been pretty good since we've been here, but areas like Texas, that we haven't been involved in heavily, I think that's where I've seen the biggest difference recently.”
As most of you reading this should already know, Franklin and his assistants will leave no stone unturned. Since arriving in Happy Valley, they’ve proven what hard work and a team effort can accomplish on the recruiting trail, even after seasons that didn’t result in the amount of wins that most were hoping.
Now, following all of last year’s success, Penn State finds itself back in the top 10 discussion. If they’re able to live up to those expectations, don’t be surprised if they’re consistently in the top 10 of another ranking every February. That’s only becoming more attainable as the nation’s best prospects begin to show serious interest in wearing the blue and white.