Jesse Luketa/Twitter
LB Jesse Luketa, center, says he plans to enroll early at Penn State and participate in the program's 2018 spring camp.

Penn State Recruiting Mailbag: A review of early enrollment plans for Nittany Lions pledges, where things stand with 4-star DT PJ Mustipher

Tyler Donohue

Join the conversation on Penn State football recruiting right here every Friday! Tyler Donohue, Land of 10’s Nittany Lions reporter, will respond to questions gathered throughout the week. Ask questions by contacting us on Twitter or reaching out during Tyler’s weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Thursdays).


Penn State’s football recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address. Let’s get started…

Bob brings up a compelling dynamic of every college football recruiting cycle — which prospects are cutting their senior year of high school short? 

The ability for young athletes to arrive on campus ahead of time clearly makes an impact in their development, from a mental and physical standpoint. It enables program newcomers to gain a sense of new day-to-day expectations.

The transition to college life isn’t always easy, regardless whether you’re a 5-star football recruit or a student in search of an academic passion. In the case of the former, newfound daily independence away must mesh with an extremely regimented schedule.

Next January, any early enrolled players will quickly be tasked with figuring out where things are located on campus, getting acclimated with classroom work load and challenging themselves in weight training and conditioning sessions. There are growing pains during this process, but consider it a head start compared to members of the freshman class who don’t arrive until summer.

The obvious bonus is a player’s ability to compete in spring camp and, eventually, the spring game. It’s a great opportunity for freshmen to impress and state their case for an early rise on the depth chart.

Prized 2017 signee Lamont Wade turned plenty of heads as an early enrollee this spring, and the cornerback should be in the mix for early opportunities in Penn State’s defensive secondary.

As for the 2018 class, a significant development took place last weekend. In-state TE Zack Kuntz revealed intentions to arrive early at State College during a discussion with Greg Pickel of PennLive.com.

The 6-foot-8, 221-pound prospect explained his decision shortly before earning a state title in 110-meter hurdles at the Pennsylvania track and field championships.

“After talking it over with my family and my coaches, I think it’s the best decision for me,” he told Pickel. “It’s a great advantage getting to do spring ball with the team, and for me, a big part of football is, I’m going to need to put on weight, and that’s something I’ll be able to do under the coaches’ guidance and everything.”

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Zack Kuntz is focused on competing for early opportunities as a Penn State freshman in 2018. (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

This is big news for the Nittany Lions staff, as Kuntz could help fill the void left behind by All-America tight end candidate Mike Gesicki after the 2017 season. As Kuntz noted, his ability to add bulk will be a key element of early progress, and that becomes much easier when you’re surrounded by a professional team of trainers and nutritionists.

Along with Kuntz — considered the No. 3 tight end recruit in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, Penn State could welcome another promising prospect to its passing attack for the 2018 spring camp.

New Jersey WR Justin Shorter told Land of 10 he is weighing the possibility of early enrollment. It’s a decision that isn’t finalized yet, but the 6-4, 216-pound playmaker explained his family is seriously considering taking that route.

While Kuntz has necessary physical progression ahead of him, Shorter is essentially college-ready. He consistently looked like one of the region’s most dominant prospects during the spring camp circuit, and as a result, his composite ranking soared to No. 46 overall and No. 8 among receivers.

Shorter has the size and polish to break into Penn State’s receiver rotation as a true freshman. He possesses a similar build to Nittany Lions redshirt sophomore and 2017 spring camp standout Juwan Johnson, but he is more advanced coming out of high school than his fellow Garden State native was in 2015.

“I think he’s going to be a huge factor for Penn State, probably as soon as he gets to campus,” Elite 11 finalist Devin Leary said after competing with Shorter at two spring showcase camps. “Justin is a big addition for them, and he’ll perform really well at the college level.”

Along with these potential early offensive additions, other media outlets have confirmed a pair of defenders expect to arrive in Happy Valley next winter.

LB Jesse Luketa, who plays prep football in Erie, Pa., but grew up in Ontario, Canada, will enroll early, according to Pickel. He will be joined in Penn State defensive meeting rooms by Texas safety Isaiah Humphries, reports Ryan Snyder of Rivals.com.

“I feel like if I go there early, I’ll be able learn the defense, get my body right and get classes out of the way,” Humphries told Snyder. “During the season then, things won’t be as cluttered for me as they will be for the guys that are just coming in. Plus, if I go early, I’ll be able to get my degree faster.”

Expect this list of possible early enrollees to expand as the season approaches. While some recruits make early enrollment a priority, others are focused on competing in winter and spring sports, or simply enjoying the final months of their senior year with longtime friends.

Alright, now that we have things covered with commitments, how about a question regarding an undecided prospect?

Penn State cruises toward summer in excellent shape with 4-star Maryland DT PJ Mustipher. Notre Dame, home of his older brother, Sam Mustipher, previously appeared to be the program to beat in this pursuit, but the Nittany Lions ended May on a positive note.

Much of this good will is a direct result of Mustipher’s most recent visit to Happy Valley. He traveled to Penn State on May 20, spending much of the day alongside Nittany Lions LB commit Nick Tarburton and fellow defensive line target Jayson Oweh.

“I’m glad we got to spend time together because he’s cool, open and funny,” Oweh told Land of 10. “I would definitely like to play together in college. It would be crazy for us to line up next to each other at defensive tackle and defensive end.”

This pair of prized linemen share alternative common collegiate options at Notre Dame and Ohio State, but Penn State is now situated as a heavy favorite for each in the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. In the case of Mustipher, that crystal ball expresses 77 percent confidence that the 6-5, 290-pound recruit will land in State College, spurred by 10 consecutive predictions, including one from me.

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer has connected tremendously with several targets in the defensive trenches this cycle, and his May journey to campus seemed to solidify the program’s all-important relationship with his family.

“They need me and they want me,” Mustipher told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. “We talked for a very long time. My parents asked a ton of questions but nothing has changed with what Coach [James] Franklin and Coach Chaos [Spencer] are saying. They love my parents and want my parents as well as myself to join and help Penn State be a national championship team.”

Mustipher, a rising senior at the McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.), is considered the No. 9 defensive tackle in composite rankings. A Penn State pledge, as of June 2, would make him the highest-ranked defensive prospect (No. 103 overall) in James Franklin’s 2018 class.

The feeling here is that a commitment will occur sometime before summer training camp, and it appears to be the Nittany Lions’ battle to lose at this juncture. The longer this process stretches, the more likely another contender shifts momentum away from Penn State.