Each month, Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue will take a look at the Nittany Lions’ month ahead here on Land of 10. This outlook focuses on three priority concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts in April 2018.
Penn State enters a crucial stretch of the calendar, both on and off the field, in April. Nittany Lions coaches and players are through more than two weeks of spring practice, which culminates April 21 with the Blue-White Game.
This is a pivotal period for Penn State veterans and newcomers alike, as the Nittany Lions must sort out starting spots at several positions. Meanwhile, James Franklin and the staff are busy implementing recruiting efforts that continue to draw a vast collection of prospects to campus.
Aside from the season itself, April figures to be the most comprehensively eventful month of 2018 for Penn State football. Here’s a look at three key storylines to follow.
1. Penn State aims to capitalize on revolving door of visitors
Franklin and his assistants hosted a variety of targets who represent different classes during the first couple weeks of spring practice. Each day seems to include another high school standout posting photos from a Penn State visit on the social media platform of his choice, providing a small glimpse into the staff’s day-to-day recruiting responsibilities.
The pace of prized prospects arriving in Happy Valley should gradually increase as April progresses, and Monday provided a prime example. Penn State hosted two of the top 10 overall recruits in the 247Sports 2020 rankings, welcoming receiver Julian Fleming (Catawissa, Pa.) and tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (Cincinnati) to town.
Both players are well on their way toward becoming must-know prospects on the national landscape. The Nittany Lions’ ability to get them on campus the same day is impressive, and it was especially important to see Fleming, an in-state sensation, return to State College for the first time since last season.
While this duo represents long-term pursuits for the program, Penn State also hosted a foundational piece of its 2019 recruiting class on Monday. Quarterback Taquan Roberson (Wayne, N.J.), who verbally committed to the Nittany Lions on Oct. 26, made another trip to his future university.
Key visits continue throughout this first week of April, as 2021 target Derrick Davis Jr. (Monroeville, Pa.) and priority 2019 linebacker prospect Brandon Smith are among expected headliners. There really won’t be many breaks in the action this month as a visit from elite running back Noah Cain is scheduled for the weekend of April 28.
2. Blue-White Game is major recruiting showcase
College football programs are still assessing an altered recruiting calendar. The inaugural early signing period (Dec. 20-22) made a massive impact on teams’ strategies entering the winter, and immediately reconfigured dynamics of the traditional National Signing Day (first Wednesday in February).
Now, along with coaches across America, we’ll learn what ramifications result from spring official visits.
In the past, prospects weren’t permitted to use official visits until Sept. 1 of their senior year. That’s changed, and high school juniors can now enjoy expenses-paid trips alongside family members from April 1 of their junior year through late June.
It’s a drastic change for recruiting departments, creating a new wrinkle that must be accounted for. There is great likelihood that the Blue-White Game will annually serve as the centerpiece of a crucial official visit weekend, presenting potential and challenges for Penn State.
“Typically when you do official visits, you have official visits and that’s about it,” Franklin said on Signing Day. “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our university on a lot of different levels, but there are major challenges that come with it.
“I mean, think about how many staff members you need to entertain 200 unofficial guests, 25 official visit guests, coach the game and do all the other responsibilities that we have to do with the media, with our parents, with everything else. It’s just a lot to juggle.”
Running back Devyn Ford (Stafford, Va.), defensive back Tyler Rudolph and offensive lineman Caedan Wallace are among confirmed attendees for the Blue-White Game, where members of the 2018 recruiting class will be introduced. Expect those incoming freshmen, along with current Penn State commits, to apply peer recruiting tactics throughout the weekend.
Last April, Penn State picked up verbal pledges from offensive linemen Nana Asiedu and Antwan Reed on the day of spring game action.
3. Penn State should be able to sell NFL draft results to recruits
Former Penn State players Troy Apke, Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesciki took turns commanding a national spotlight last month while attending the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Others, such as Marcus Allen and DaeSean Hamilton, impressed a couple of weeks later during a Nittany Lions pro day that attracted scouts from all 32 NFL franchises.
As we addressed in our March recruiting recap, those performances resonated strongly among prospects. Typically when you’re speaking with premier high school players, it’s evident professional football is the ultimate goal.
Widespread success in a combine setting displayed Penn State’s ability to put players in position to impress NFL decision makers. Tangible results await April 26-28, when the 2018 NFL Draft occurs in Dallas.
Barkley is considered a slam-dunk to be selected among the top 10 picks, and could go as high as No. 1 or No. 2 depending on how teams value quarterbacks at the top of this draft. Gesicki is a strong candidate to join him in the first round, while several fellow Penn State products should hear their names called throughout the seven-round process.
Each of these selections, and even the undrafted free-agent opportunities that await others, are cause for celebration in State College. Few selling points serve up more of a punch than a coaching staff’s ability to help athletes reach “the next level,” and you can bet recruits will be watching closely.