Each month, Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue will take a look at the Nittany Lions’ to-do list here on Land of 10. This outlook focuses on three priority concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts. With August coming to an end, here’s a look back on what was accomplished.
August is always interesting on the college football recruiting trail as coaching staffs and prospects increasingly shift their attention toward season preparation. Penn State entered the month with plenty of momentum, and it proved capable of carrying those good vibes beyond July.
The Nittany Lions landed three 4-star commitments during a six-day span starting Aug. 4, providing the program with 10 pledges since July 6. Penn State now carries 23 total players in a 2018 recruiting class listed No. 3 overall nationally in the 247Sports composite team rankings.
James Franklin has the program surging toward its first top-10 class since 2006 but more work lies ahead. Let’s examine the August recruiting to-do list we laid out four weeks ago, and look at what Penn State crossed off.
August item No. 1: Start assembling pieces for a strong 2019 class
Outcome: More groundwork was laid but the cupboard remains bare.
Monthly summary: Barring a surprise pledge between now and noon ET Saturday, Penn State will begin its 2017 season without a single 2019 pledge in place. This contrasts with the status of last September, when the Nittany Lions began a Big Ten championship journey with four high school juniors on board: offensive lineman Chris Bleich, tight end Pat Freiermuth, edge rusher Micah Parsons and receiver Justin Shorter.
Bleich is now committed to UCLA, while Parsons continues to explore several collegiate options. Freiermuth and Shorter are foundational pieces of an impressive class.
Penn State has drawn rave reviews from top-tier 2019 targets I’ve spoken with this summer, including defensive tackle Antonio Alfano, cornerback Nyquee Hawkins, running back Jordan Houston and linebacker Brandon Smith. It wouldn’t shock me if this group ends up playing together in Happy Valley, though local 4-star cornerback Keaton Ellis is the 2019 recruit I have on a “commitment watch” more than any other.
— Justin King (@theking1) August 31, 2017
August item No. 2: Continue to fortify the 2018 defensive front
Outcome: Defensive line coach Sean Spencer doubled up on new “Wild Dogs.”
Monthly summary: Spencer, affectionately known as “Coach Chaos,” continues his mission to assemble college football’s best group of 2018 defensive linemen. He added 4-star New Jersey defensive end Dorian Hardy in June, then landed dynamic DE/DT Judge Culpepper from Florida on July 14. Spencer then proceeded to double dip at defensive tackle during the second week of August.
PJ Mustipher, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound prospect from the McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.) joined the class Aug. 7. He chose Penn State from a collection of finalists that featured Maryland, Michigan State and Tennessee. Mustipher told Land of 10 the next day he was already on a mission to help build up Penn State’s defensive line class.
It didn’t take long for more good news to arrive, as fellow 4-star recruit Aeneas Hawkins announced his commitment Aug. 10. Penn State edged out hometown Cincinnati, where his father once starred at defensive back. His decision effectively fortified the defensive interior and places a focus on perimeter defenders such as Parsons, Jayson Oweh and Tyreke Smith moving forward.
August item No. 3: Seal the deal with another blue-chip offensive lineman
Outcome: Mission accomplished, and handled on home turf.
Monthly summary: The Nittany Lions landed top-ranked Pennsylvania offensive lineman Fredrick Scruggs on Aug. 4. Ohio State was once viewed as a favorite in his recruitment, but as things evolved this summer it became more apparent Penn State had a strong shot to pick up this pledge.
Scruggs, who dominates at tackle and defensive end at in-state powerhouse Cathedral Prep (Erie), is considered the nation’s No. 2 center recruit in composite rankings. He possesses a combination of athleticism, physique and technique that won’t require substantial refinement as a freshman, and Scruggs looks the part of an eventual long-term starter.
His commitment gives Penn State an elite offensive line class, as he became the third blue-chip member of this group. Only the Nittany Lions claim three top-50 offensive tackles in the 2018 recruiting cycle, and Scruggs provides a prized interior piece.