STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State opened preseason camp Monday with a collection of players primed to compete for another Big Ten championship. However, the initial Nittany Lions roster features one notable absence: 2017 signee Damion Barber.
The 4-star recruit from Harrisburg (Pa.) High School aimed to arrive on campus July 30 after fulfilling academic requirements, according to Audrey Snyder of DK Pittsburgh Sports. With that target date now passed, any potential enrollment timeline remains unclear.
This isn’t necessarily a surprise considering the response Penn State coach James Franklin provided Greg Pickel of PennLive on July 25 when asked whether Barber would join the program before camp.
“That hasn’t been determined,” Franklin said during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
The 6-foot-3, 244-pound prospect was considered a premier member of the most recent Nittany Lions recruiting class. Barber, listed No. 13 nationally among strongside defensive ends in 247Sports 2017 composite rankings, was a top-10 Pennsylvania product last cycle.
A dominant prep career included 38 sacks, according to John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times. Barber placed an emphatic punctuation mark at the end of his run with Harrisburg by securing 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last season.
“He was just an animal,” Pottsville High coach Tom McGeoy told McGonigal while discussing a September 2016 game in which his team allowed Barber to record 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. “My guys still talk about him. His size, speed, the way he plays the game. He was the best defender we played all year. … We couldn’t block him.”
Barber’s presence helped free up room for 2018 5-star edge rusher Micah Parsons, who previously spent 14 months pledged to Penn State. Barber and Parsons are close, and they helped lead Harrisburg to its first state title game alongside 2018 Nittany Lions receiver commit Shaquon Anderson-Butts.
While speaking with Snyder in mid-June, Barber sounded optimistic about his chances to join the Penn State roster this summer.
“I gotta do some classwork, some college courses. I’ve already graduated, but I’ve gotta do some of my college courses,” he said. “I’ll get up there on July 30. … Coach [Franklin] told me to worry about my school first, and he said once I get up there I’ll do whatever I can and as much as I can.”
Snyder tweeted Sunday that Penn State is “optimistic he’ll join the team at some point.” As is often the case in college football situations such as this, specifics are difficult to discover.
Barber, who also earned scholarship offers from Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse and Virginia Tech, would provide another perimeter presence on the depth chart for Nittany Lions defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos is one of the most physically impressive newcomers in State College and could make an immediate impact. Penn State also signed a pair of defensive tackles in the 2017 class: Corey Bolds and Fred Hansard.
These three linemen are part of a 20-player freshman class currently enrolled in State College. Expect the status of their missing classmate to come up during Penn State’s media day Saturday, though the staff may not have an answer.