The 2018 recruiting cycle reached a new phase in August as college football prospects return to high school fields across America. Evaluation that started for some before high school will crescendo this autumn, resulting in adjusted final recruiting rankings that ultimately mean more to fans than anyone.
Here at Land of 10, our efforts to provide top-tier recruiting coverage will expand toward statewide rankings throughout Big Ten territory. Serving as our Penn State beat reporter, it’s my duty to do that with Pennsylvania’s finest high school seniors.
This monthly installment will evolve as fresh film becomes available and I attend games in various parts of the state, starting Saturday with a showdown between Harrisburg High School and Imhotep Charter: programs that feature three of the 20 recruits listed below. I’ve spent the the past decade plunging into prospect highlights, dating back to a three-year tenure with a Power 5 recruiting department.
I’ve scouted 3-star players who became millionaires and Super Bowl champions. I’ve scouted 5-star talents who fizzled out before making any signficant impact in a college game. There are no sure things in this industry, but it won’t prevent us from projecting which young athletes warrant attention and scholarship offers as the college football recruiting scene gains increased notoriety and includes more viewpoints than ever before.
Based on in-person assessment at games and camps, film study, and discussions with players, scouts and peers, I present the first edition of Land of 10’s Pennsylvania prospect rankings. We’re keeping the list to 20 players for now, though that total is subject to change along with the members of this list.
Stay tuned for a mid-September update, but here’s what I’ve come up with during this final stretch of preseason camp.
Five on the bubble: LB Charlie Katshir (Cumberland Valley; Penn State commit), ATH David Martin-Robinson (Hempfield; Temple commit), OL Justin Johnson (Imhotep Charter; Oregon commit), LB Jordan Mosley (Haverford; Maryland commit), ATH Kenny White (West Allegheny; uncommitted)
20. S Nasir Peoples (6-foot, 185 pounds) – Virginia Tech commit
High School: Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.)
Like several players on this list, Nasir Peoples contributes in a variety of roles for his prep squad. You can find him taking handoffs and running routes, but the greatest upside here is at safety. He’s an engaged defender in run support and flashes excellent range downfield to close gaps. Notre Dame extended an offer less than two weeks after a Feb. 22 commitment to the Hokies.
19. WR Darryle Simmons (6-2, 210) – Virginia Tech commit
High School: St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia)
Darryle Simmons is likely to take on an even more expansive role at perennial prep power St. Joseph’s this season following the graduation of running back D’Andre Swift, who is now a Georgia Bulldogs freshman. He isn’t the biggest or quickest receiver among 2018 prospects in Pennsylvania, but there’s a smoothness to his game that seems beyond his years, and that should help him vie for early snaps at Virginia Tech. Simmons caught 34 passes for 526 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016, according to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times.
18. DE Noah Palmer (6-4, 215) – Pittsburgh commit
High School: Thomas Jefferson (Clairton, Pa.)
Noah Palmer jumped off the computer screen during film breakdown due to his length and relentless aggression. This edge rusher gets after it each snap, using a mix of strength and technique to extend himself along the perimeter or into the backfield. He is the kind of defender offensive linemen grow to hate during the course of four quarters, which means collegiate defensive line coaches love him. Palmer enjoyed a breakout junior campaign, collecting 43 tackles and 3 sacks, per MaxPreps.
17. CB Aaron Gethers (5-11, 185) – Boston College commit
High School: Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg)
The Eagles found an under-the-radar force at cornerback in June when Aaron Gethers announced his college decision. He competes through the whistle, wearing down receivers and breaking through blocking attempts. Gethers seems to play angry and there’s a level of violence to his game that helps a defensive unit set an overall authoritative tone. He tallied 30 tackles and 3 interceptions last season, per MaxPreps.
16. WR Julian Major (6-1, 185) – Michigan State commit
High School: Penn Hills (Pittsburgh)
It seems in every recruiting cycle, I find myself admiring Michigan State’s ability to locate and land talent at receiver. The Spartans struck again July 29 by securing a commitment from Julian Major, who also holds offers from Arkansas, Wisconsin and Virginia. He uses physicality to create space entering routes, displays strong hands and consistently powers through tackles for tough yards after the catch. Major secured 31 receptions for 433 yards and 7 scores in 2016, according to MaxPreps.
15. OL Chris Bleich (6-6, 305) – UCLA commit
High School: Wyoming Valley West (Plymouth)
Chris Bleich initially pledged to Penn State as a sophomore but de-committed April 21 and landed in UCLA’s class two months later. He does diligent work as a run blocker and should continue to gain strength in that department during his time in Los Angeles. Bleich projects as a right tackle in college.
14. OL Blake Zubovic (6-4, 310) – Pittsburgh commit
High School: Belle Vernon (Belle Vernon)
Blake Zubovic uses brute force to control matchups, and he knows how to finish plays. Pitt adds a formidable piece to the offensive front, and I can see him competing for a quick rise up the depth chart at tackle or guard depending on what the Panthers’ needs dictate. He implements a powerful punch at the onset of snaps, rarely sacrificing leverage as a blocker in pass protection.
13. WR/DB Shaquon Anderson-Butts (6-0, 200) – Penn State commit
High School: Harrisburg (Harrisburg)
Shaquon Anderson-Butts bolstered Harrisburg’s passing attack as a deep threat last season en route to the first state championship game appearance in school history. He averaged 20.5 yards per reception, according to Brian Linder of PennLive.com, turning 38 catches into 779 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anderson-Butts can really surge and there’s room for him to become increasingly dangerous as his comfort level with a complete route tree increases. There has been some discussion about his potential as a collegiate defensive back, but I expect Penn State to explore how he fits on offense first.
12. TE Kyle Pitts (6-5, 235) – Florida commit
High School: Archbishop Wood (Warminster)
Kyle Pitts is far from a finished product, but his progression makes you wonder if he can become an All-SEC tight end during college. Florida beat out 19 other teams for his commitment July 20, picking up a prospect who continues to add good weight while maintaining the athleticism that makes him such an intriguing weapon. He has the ability to shrug off a defensive back, then outrun a linebacker. That combination helped lead to 394 receiving yards and 6 touchdown catches on a state title winner, according to Daniel Gallen of PennLive.
11. S/LB Kwantel Raines (6-3, 200) – uncommitted
High School: Aliquippa (Aliquippa)
Kwantel Raines is among the more compelling defensive prospects in this class nationwide. His physical frame suggests a full-time transition to outside linebacker could be special, while his range also may motivate a staff to make safety his permanent home. I think a big senior season is in store for Raines, who lists Florida, Pitt and Penn State among top contenders, and he could bust into the top 10 here soon with a strong start.
10. CB Marcus Hooker (6-0, 185) – Ohio State commit
High School: New Castle (New Castle)
Marcus Hooker welcomed a modest number of Power 5 offers following his junior season, but dynamics changed in late July when the Buckeyes entered this recruitment and he didn’t wait long to commit. The younger brother of former standout Buckeyes defensive back Malik Hooker, Marcus already possesses a college-ready build and mentality. He contributed all over the field as a junior, per Vince Pellegrini of WKBN 27 News. Hooker tallied 808 rushing yards, 363 receiving yards, 16 offensive scores and 76 tackles.
9. LB Matthew Bauer (6-2, 217) – Notre Dame commit
High School: Cathedral Prep (Erie)
Matthew Bauer has the makings of another outstanding inside linebacker at Notre Dame, where he pledged prior to his junior season. Bauer is an absolute wrecking ball in Cathedral Prep’s attack, flashing elite read-and-react instincts. He secured 218 tackles — 33 for loss — and 15.5 sacks during the past two years, per MaxPreps. His quickness and pad level make it extremely difficult for blockers to stall him on a blitz.
8. LB/DE Nick Tarburton (6-4, 242) – Penn State commit
High School: Pennridge (Perkasie, Pa.)
Nick Tarburton is an energetic leader who creates matchup issues for opponents due to his size at inside linebacker. Now approaching 250 pounds of solid mass, he won’t be bullied by offensive linemen and ditches lead blockers with ease. While watching film from his junior season, I can’t help but imagine the impact he could make as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. Nittany Lions assistants Brent Pry (defensive coordinator/linebacker) and Sean Spencer (defensive line) may already be debating this subject. Tarburton has totaled 196 tackles ― 28 for loss ― and 10 sacks since 2015, according to MaxPreps.
7. S Isheem Young (5-10, 200) – Penn State commit
High School: Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia)
I started hearing from folks in the Philadelphia area about this hard-hitting safety in 2015, and Isheem Young has justified the early hype. Big collisions are his calling card but coaches are really excited about his development as a complete defensive back. Young will still dish out devastating hits but increasingly balances intimidation with emerging skills in pass coverage. That refinement continued this summer and I expect him to cause major issues for quarterbacks as a senior, perhaps surpassing his 2016 interception total (3) in the process. Young is becoming more comfortable and effective well beyond the box, and that’s a big step toward potential stardom at Penn State.
6. OL Fredrick Scruggs (6-3, 270) – Penn State commit
High School: Cathedral Prep (Erie)
Fredrick Scruggs is an enforcer on both sides of the ball, doing damage at defensive end and left tackle last season. He is expected to slide inside moving ahead, vying for collegiate reps at center or guard. Nittany Lions running backs will love this guy due to his ability to reach the next level in a hurry and become a battering ram who paves a path toward big gains. Scruggs doesn’t carry any bad weight, which is a huge edge for an offensive linemen making the transition to college. Penn State coaches will focus on building him up to prepare for the rigors of a full Big Ten schedule, and he’s already well underway with those efforts. I can envision Scruggs in a starting role for potentially three seasons, and evaluate him as Pennsylvania’s premier offensive lineman.
5. WR Jahan Dotson (5-11, 165) – uncommitted
High School: Nazareth (Nazareth)
Jahan Dotson is among the most scintillating slot receivers in high school, and I fully expect him to remind everyone of this fact come September. Now back at Nazareth after a year in New Jersey (Peddie School), Dotson is 10 months removed from breaking two bones in his right leg. He returned to the camp circuit this spring and his confidence level should continue to climb as he logs live reps. His sophomore year featured more than 1,100 receiving yards and multiple state track and field championships. Dotson was thrust into a quarterback role during a number of contests last season, and proceeded to dazzle as a rusher. He averaged 11.4 yards per carry and scored 4 times on the ground in 5 games, according to MaxPreps. Dotson again showcased big play potential at receiver, catching 23 passes for 503 yards (21.9 yards per catch). Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are among notable offers.
4. LB Jesse Luketa (6-3, 238) – Penn State commit
High School: Mercyhurst Prep (Erie)
Jesse Luketa looks like a long-term starter and leader in a collegiate locker room. Penn State secured his commitment in February and his offer sheet features more than 30 universities. He transferred from his hometown of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) early in high school to give himself an enhanced shot at playing high-level college football, and that decision didn’t take long to pay off. Luketa collected 69 tackles and 4 interceptions ― returning 2 for touchdowns ― in 9 games as a junior, according to MaxPreps. Extremely balanced and versatile enough to play multiple linebacker positions, he’s an every-down defender. He locates the ball and attacks without wasted movement, competing with poise beyond his years. Luketa, highly respected among his peers in Penn State’s class, is primed for a huge senior season. If he stay healthy, I anticipate career-highs in several statistical categories and continued elevation in recruiting-industry rankings.
3. TE Zack Kuntz (6-8, 221) – Penn State commit
High School: Camp Hill (Camp Hill)
If you went into a laboratory and designed an ideal tight end prospect, the result would probably look a lot like Zack Kuntz. Standing 6-8, he glides downfield with coordination and agility that wouldn’t seem to match his size. Kuntz earned a state track and field championship in hurdles this spring, further exhibiting the long strides that allow him to pick up significant chunks of yardage in short time. His catch radius is unfair for defensive backs, creating an elite red-zone target for quarterbacks looking to cut down on risk. His wingspan and basketball athleticism allows him to feast on intentionally placed high passes, and he’s also a threat to break out for big gains while attacking linebackers on seam routes. Kuntz plans to enroll early at Penn State, which is huge for necessary physical development toward becoming a complete college tight end. He recorded 107 receptions for 1,648 yards and 18 touchdowns during his first three prep campaigns, according to MaxPreps.
2. QB Phil Jurkovec (6-5, 190) – Notre Dame commit
High School: Pine-Richland (Gibsonia)
An injured thumb on Phil Jurkovec’s throwing hand halted his junior season early but there’s enough evidence to establish him as a top-tier quarterback in the 2018 class. Per MaxPreps, his past 18 games include 4,233 passing yards, 1,731 rushing yards (8.2 per carry), 51 total touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. I first saw Jurkovec in May 2016 during an Elite 11 camp in Columbus, Ohio. The event featured a few 2017 quarterback recruits who are now college freshmen, including Penn State newcomer Sean Clifford. Despite their presence, Jurkovec was the most impressive player on the field that day. I was hardly alone with that sentiment, as buzz grew among Elite 11 staff members, who already knew all about him following early offers from schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame, where he committed in May 2016. When it comes to quarterback, there is typically a correlation between height and mobility. Jurkovec defies this logic, matching his large frame and powerful arm with legitimate rushing skills. He won’t continue to post 1,000-yard seasons on the ground in college, but outstanding mobility will serve him — and the Fighting Irish — well as Jurkovec evades pressure and moves the chains with his legs.
1. DE/LB Micah Parsons (6-3, 235) – uncommitted
High School: Harrisburg (Harrisburg)
Perhaps a full junior season from Jurkovec would’ve enhanced the debate here but Micah Parsons is a slam-dunk selection as the top prospect in Pennsylvania entering his final prep campaign. The former Penn State pledge serves as a catalyst on both sides of the ball for Harrisburg, where he transferred last fall. Parsons owns more than 40 sacks and 60 tackles for loss through three high school seasons, and warrants respect for his abilities as a rusher and receiver. There is some thought he could command looks on offense in college. Based on what I witnessed during his MVP performance at a 7-on-7 tournament in State College this summer, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Parsons plays pissed off and it shows in his production. Opponents fear him and fellow top-tier defensive prospects from across the country have told me he’s the guy they want to line up alongside throughout college. Defensive strategists can expand their imagination with a talent like Parsons, implementing him in a three-point stance or stand-up position in a slew of spots that keeps the opposition uncomfortable. I don’t see the average Power 5 offensive tackle handling his quickness, especially if his pre-snap positioning is unpredictable. His competitive drive is off the charts, and leads me to believe he can make an impact on any college football field next fall. As a freshman, Parsons could pressure the quarterback multiple times per game and rank among team leaders in tackles for loss. Beyond that, as he becomes increasingly indoctrinated with a program’s culture and schematics, Parsons projects as a double-digit sack threat moving toward an imminent NFL payday if he remains on track. A return to Penn State’s class is possible, though alternative options at schools such as Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio state loom large.