Penn State Athletics
Standout tight end Mike Gesicki is one of nine returning offensive starters for Penn State.

Las Vegas expecting big things from Penn State, Aeneas Hawkins considering Lions, and more

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at as we work to prepare you for everything you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Penn State sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, baseball or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Monday, May 22. Let’s get started.

Lofty expectations

This is for entertainment purposes only, of course, but the over-under for Penn State’s victory total in 2017 has been set at 9.5.

That number was established by CG Technology, the company that manages sportsbooks at the Venetian, Palazzo, Cosmopolitan, Palms, Tropicana and Hard Rock in Las Vegas. Odds for regular-season wins were released last week for 50 college teams. Conference championship games and bowl games are not included in the projected victory totals.

Not surprisingly, Alabama leads the way with an over-under of 10.5. Ohio State is next at 10, and PSU is in a group at 9.5 that includes Florida State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, USC and Washington.

The Lions’ odds are no doubt based on the fact that they have nine starters back on offense and seven back on defense after going 11-3, winning the Big Ten championship and reaching the Rose Bowl in 2016.

The schedule looks tougher this year, though, with challenging early road games against Iowa and Northwestern and a grinding three-week stretch beginning Oct. 21 — Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State.

PSU also hosts Nebraska the next-to-last week of the regular season.

Aeneas Hawkins eyes Lions

On the recruiting front, Aeneas Hawkins, a 4-star defensive tackle from Cincinnati, announced that Penn State is in his top seven.

Also in that group, writes Greg Pickel of, are Ohio State, Cincinnati, USC, Kentucky, Alabama and Pittsburgh.

Hawkins will make his choice this summer.

In other news, reports that PSU wide receiver commit Justin Shorter starred at the Under Armour regional camp in Montvale, N.J., on Sunday, earning an invitation to the sneaker giant’s All-America Game, which will be played in Orlando, Fla., in January.

PSU commits Justin Fields and Ricky Slade previously earned invitations to the game.

Shorter is looking forward to the event, he told’s Sam Hellman:

“I’m just gonna try to be the best wideout there. You guys are gonna see me ball out.”

Return of Justin King

From the in-case-you-missed-it file, there is this: Over the weekend PSU added Justin King, formerly a star cornerback at the school, to its staff as assistant recruiting coordinator.

King, stepson of Terry Smith, the Lions’ cornerbacks coach and defensive recruiting coordinator, played for his stepfather at Gateway High School in western Pennsylvania. He was a 5-star recruit when he arrived in Happy Valley in 2005.

Two years later he was an All-Big Ten selection, then skipped his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. The Rams took him in the fourth round in 2008. He missed his rookie season because of a toe injury, but played the next three seasons.

King topped out in 2011, starting 12 games for the Rams and making a career-high 58 tackles. He also recorded his lone NFL interception and his only pro sack that season.

King was cut after playing in three games for Indianapolis the following season. He landed with Pittsburgh but was released from the Steelers’ injured reserve list in the summer of 2013 after suffering an undisclosed injury.

He finished his four-year pro career with 116 tackles in 38 games (including 19 starts).

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