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Elite RB recruits Devyn Ford, Ricky Slade ready to push each other
Penn State picked up a commitment from one of college football’s most coveted recruits Friday afternoon. Devyn Ford, listed third overall among running backs in the 247Sports composite rankings, pledged to Penn State over fellow finalist Virginia Tech during an announcement at North Stafford (Va.) High School.
Ford, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior, earned first-team all-state honors at running back and punt returner in 2017. He had reached double-digit college football scholarship offers by the end of his freshman year. The Nittany Lions were among his earlier suitors, extending an offer in April 2016.
Programs such as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma gave chase along the way but Penn State prevailed, continuing a trend of recruiting excellence at running back.
Ford, who can’t formally finalize college plans until the early signing period in December, is the third top-5 running back to pick Penn State in the past four recruiting cycles. He joins Miles Sanders (2016) and Ricky Slade (2018) in that exclusive company.
The Nittany Lions running back signee who preceded them — Saquon Barkley — didn’t share that distinction in 2015 but turned out to be a pretty good Penn State player.
The Nittany Lions’ offensive backfield has become a prime example of the competitive environment James Franklin continues to cultivate. Some prospects prioritize finding as clear a path as possible to early playing time, but Ford followed Slade’s lead in embracing a serious battle for touches.
“I know a lot about Devyn Ford,” Slade told Land of 10 in March. “I’m definitely working on him to come to Penn State, and I’ve been working on him for a while now. We have a strong relationship and I’d really like to see him in a Penn State uniform right there with me. We have a lot of similarities.”
Nearly two months before his commitment, Ford expressed a similar sentiment during our conversation at North Stafford.
“[We would] play off each other’s strengths,” Ford said. “I feel like he has better hands than me, and that would make me mad because I want to have better hands than him. He has better quick twitch than me, so of course I would want to improve myself. But I believe I have more power than him, so I think I’d push him [regarding] strength.”
Like Ford, Slade was a first-team all-state selection at running back and special teams returner last season. He was named Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and Ford is a perceived front-runner to claim it in 2018.
“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.
When a Twitter user questioned whether one backfield would be big enough for both of them, Ford issued a confident response:
Iron sharpens iron ⚔️ https://t.co/ItFTGKcVTm
— Damonte’ 🌊 (@TsunamiFord) May 18, 2018
Slade then doubled-down on that outlook with a message of his own Saturday:
Time to take over CFB bro @TsunamiFord gonna be the best Backs to do it 💯
— RS3⛏ (@TheSlade_Era) May 19, 2018
Penn State fans must wait until at least September 2019 to see this potential dynamic duo in action, but excitement is already on the rise.
“They’re great young guys who are humble and would challenge each other,” 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.”
Penn State awaits 2 more crucial commitments Monday
In case the addition of Ford didn’t provide enough satisfaction for Nittany Lions fans, more positive recruiting developments may await in the next 24 hours.
Penn State has an opportunity to land a pair of premier defensive prospects on Monday when 5-star linebacker Brandon Smith (Mineral, Va.) and 4-star defensive back Tyler Rudolph (Oakdale, Conn.) will reveal their respective collegiate choices.
The Nittany Lions are a heavy favorite to land both players, according to 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. I placed a projection last July for Smith to Penn State and have stuck with it, while doing the same for Rudolph this spring.
Rudolph used an official visit to Happy Valley for the Blue-White Game. Smith was also on campus in April, representing his fifth trip to Penn State.
Smith, a 6-5, 215-pound Louisa County High School standout, plans to announce at 5 p.m. Though he doesn’t have a public list of favorite universities, campus visits indicate Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech are among Penn State’s primary competitors.
His father, Rico, joined me for a detailed conversation about the decision last week. Gain insight from the full story here.
Rudolph, who placed Penn State in a top-5 list featuring Clemson, Florida, Michigan and Ohio State last month, will share his choice at 6 p.m.
A 6-1, 205-pound St. Thomas More High School player, he could factor in at cornerback or safety during his collegiate career.
Penn State carries five verbal commitments in its 2019 class. The group includes two defensive backs (State College cornerback Keaton Ellis and top-ranked junior college safety Jaquan Brisker) but doesn’t yet feature a linebacker.
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