Each month, Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue will take a look back at Nittany Lions developments here on Land of 10. Before turning attention toward June, let’s review the results of May.
Penn State picked up five commitments in May from highly recruited prospects. This success reinforces a positive perception of the Nittany Lions’ overall trajectory.
The program waited nearly six months for its third 2019 commitment after an Oct. 26 pledge from quarterback Taquan Roberson, securing it from guard Caedan Wallace on April 21 hours before the Blue-White Game. Exactly one month later, the class had nearly tripled.
Penn State wraps up the month with eight players on board, half of whom are considered top-10 talents at their respective position in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings. When it comes to national class rankings, the Nittany Lions have climbed from outside the top 40 to 16th.
Let’s take a look back at a month to remember for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State adds another elite talent for next phase of “LBU”
The Nittany Lions continue to assemble premier prospects who should play a paramount role in defensive efforts for years to come. Penn State welcomed 2018 signees Jesse Luketa and Micah Parsons to campus in January, and both displayed why they were considered blue-chip recruits coming out of high school.
Parsons, the program’s top-ranked prospect (No. 5 overall) since receiver Derrick Williams in 2005, recorded 8 tackles during Blue-White Game action. Luketa, widely identified as the 2018 class’ leader, totaled 4 tackles and a fumble recovery in his Beaver Stadium debut.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks is viewed as a strong contender to crack the starting lineup this season. He, Luketa and Parsons will each carry at least three years of collegiate eligibility into 2019, when 5-star prospect Brandon Smith plans to join them.
The Louisa County (Mineral, Va.) standout committed to Penn State on May 21. Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech are among the programs that pushed for his commitment.
“From Day 1, Penn State has always made a great impression on all of us,” his father, Rico Smith, told Land of 10. “Relationships are so important, and we’ve established a great one with them. They’ve done a good job with being consistent.”
Brandon Smith, a 6-foot-5 athlete who weighs approximately 220 pounds, collected 192 tackles — 35 for loss — and 16 sacks during the last two seasons. He is listed second nationally among inside linebackers.
Post-Barkley era backfield becomes even more competitive
If you’re assessing this 2018 version of Nittany Lions football from afar you may think Penn State is in big trouble following the departure of star running back Saquon Barkley. If you follow the program closely, you know better.
The Penn State roster is one of a select few that will feature multiple former 5-star running back recruits in 2019. Anticipated starter Miles Sanders carried that status in 2016 when he signed with the Nittany Lions, and it is shared by Ricky Slade, who enrolls in June.
The backfield will lose two seniors — Mark Allen and Johnathan Thomas — after the season but also includes Journey Brown. The redshirt freshman displayed Olympic-class speed as a high school athlete and has worked to polish his game during the last year.
The competition for carries became even more compelling long term on May 18 when Devyn Ford announced plans to attend the university. Very much in the discussion as America’s No. 1 running back recruit, he earned first-team all-state honors as a rusher and punt returner for North Stafford (Va.) High School last season.
Ford chose the Nittany Lions over fellow finalist Virginia Tech. Ohio State was another late contender. Like Slade, he has opted to embrace the challenge vying for reps within a talent-laden position group.
“Talking to the Penn State staff, they’re already drawing up plays for how they can use the two of them together down the road,” North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said. “Both of them can go to the slot, or one can go to tailback, or both can be in the backfield and you motion one out. You can do a lot of creative things with those guys because they both can catch and run. That’s a nightmare for defenses.”
New England, Virginia continue to supply premier talent
Since we’ve already mentioned commitments from Ford and Smith, let’s keep a spotlight on Virginia. A state that is annually rich with top-tier recruits, it has been especially beneficial for Penn State lately.
Smith and Ford are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among Virginia prospects in the 2019 class. Last cycle, Penn State signed No. 1 (Slade) and No. 3 (tackle Nana Asiedu) on that list, and 2017 efforts ended with signatures from two top-10 Virginia prospects: defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and linebacker Ellis Brooks.
The Nittany Lions most recognizable returning player — quarterback Trace McSorley — is another Virginia native.
Meanwhile, Penn State continues to display recruiting prowess in New England. Recent signees from the region include tight ends Danny Dalton (Marshfield, Mass.) and Pat Freiermuth (North Andover, Mass.) and quarterback Will Levis (Middletown, Conn.).
The Nittany Lions made another major splash during a 24-hour span May 20-21.
Cornerback Marquis Wilson (Windsor, Conn.) announced a Penn State commitment soon after his latest trip to campus. Fellow 4-star defensive back Tyler Rudolph (Oakdale, Conn.) completed a speculated package deal the next day.
Penn State isn’t done targeting top New England talent in the 2019 class. Xavier Truss (Warwick, R.I.) is a blue-chip tackle prospect firmly on the Nittany Lions’ radar.
Latest in-state addition could make quick impact at safety
No area on the field was impacted greater by the May commitment spree than the defensive secondary. Rudolph and Wilson joined State College cornerback Keaton Ellis — the class’ first member — days after Penn State picked up a pledge from top-ranked junior college safety Jaquan Brisker.
Brisker, a sophomore at Lackawanna College, recorded 54 tackles and 4 interceptions — returning 2 for touchdowns — in 2017. He quickly emerged as a coveted JUCO recruit, receiving scholarship offers from Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi State, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
His announcement arrived at nearly midnight on May 17.
The Gateway (Monroeville, Pa.) High School alumnus should have a head start on other defensive back newcomers in 2019 since he’ll have two collegiate campaigns under his belt. He shouldn’t be lacking motivation with two FBS seasons available to him and family members a manageable drive away from home games.
“The kid is a great player and people are going to see a very talented guy go off and help somebody,” Lackawanna coach Mark Duda told William Whalen of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I find it hard to believe that he’ll be redshirted because he’s too good to be redshirted.”