Penn State recruiting mailbag: Versatility helps Ricky Slade; NFL combine’s positive impact
Have Penn State football recruiting questions? We have answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Penn State recruiting mailbag to discuss Nittany Lions recruiting. This week, we discuss the immediate potential of 5-star running back signee Ricky Slade and the impact of Penn State players’ success at the NFL combine.
Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started.
This is a timely question from Eli, who sent it our way during a weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Wednesdays here). I’ve spent this week on a Penn State recruiting road trip of sorts, spending time with four incoming Nittany Lions freshmen in Maryland and Virginia.
Thanks to Ricky Slade, his parents and C.D. Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) High School coach Tony Lilly, Wednesday featured excellent access into the development of an exceptional running back.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound prospect enrolls at Penn State in June. He verbally pledged to the program in February 2017, and remained firmly committed leading into college football’s early signing period in December.
While Slade is enjoying this time with C.D. Hylton classmates, friends and family, it’s clear State College is never far from his thoughts.
“I’m ready to get up there,” he said with an exhale.
He’ll leave behind quite a legacy with the Bulldogs and Prince William County as a whole. Lilly joked he’s counting on insight from Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne since the Nittany Lions are “taking my offense.”
Though it was said in jest, that’s not an overstatement. Slade, a four-year starter for C.D. Hylton, totaled 2,785 all-purpose yards and accounted for 40 touchdowns in 2017.
“From an all-purpose standpoint, you can hand him the ball out of the backfield, you can swing him out of the backfield, throw the ball to him out of the backfield, or put him in the slot where he’s a great route runner,” Lilly said.
“Obviously I’m not Saquon [Barkley], but I think I can bring in tools that Penn State would be missing [without Barkley],” Slade said. “I think I can bring in tools that he had — in the receiving game, the kick-return game, and definitely the running game.”
Barkley repeatedly exposed opponents during his Penn State career, creating game-changing plays as a rusher, receiver and kick returner. He’s now making well-earned Nike money and preparing for the NFL draft, in which he could be selected No. 1 overall.
Despite his departure, the Nittany Lions offensive backfield isn’t lacking talent.
Junior Miles Sanders arguably was America’s premier running back recruit in the 2016 class, and after contributing in a supplemental role these last two seasons he may be primed for a breakout campaign. Seniors Mark Allen and Jonathan Thomas, along with redshirt freshman speedster Journey Brown, are others at the position preparing for a competitive spring camp.
Slade acknowledges this crowd and referenced his respect for Penn State’s running back group Wednesday. Still, it’s apparent he intends to vie for early opportunities in college. A high-volume role could prove elusive in 2018 but, given his abilities as a pass target who can operate out of the slot, Slade could provide some compelling wrinkles to the Nittany Lions game plan.
“I see a guy who takes possession and becomes a game-breaker wherever he is on the field,” Lilly said.
Let’s turn our attention toward program perception, which was recently pushed further into a positive light…
This is easy: 100 percent yes. Developments at the NFL combine make an impact on the recruiting trail. The event, which took place in Indianapolis, featured eight former Nittany Lions starters.
These Penn State products took turns asserting their athleticism in front of NFL scouts. Barkley, safety Troy Apke and tight end Mike Gesicki warranted national attention for their success, and hopefully each helped their financial future in the process.
Look across the college football recruiting landscape and it’s easy to draw a correlation. High school players who are serious about extending their careers spend much of the offseason attending camps, run by collegiate teams and independent showcase series alike.
Before football action gets underway at these camps, you’ll find a scene much like the one that awaited Barkley and Co. in Indianapolis — players preparing for 40-yard dashes, shuttle runs, vertical leaps, etc.
A receiver who completes a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds is far more likely to land a scholarship offer than one who is lingering in the 4.7 range. Those disparities also make a major difference in where an athlete ends up in the NFL draft, along with how they’re compensated.
Penn State prospects can now clearly see a substantial return on investment in the program’s performance enhancement, led by Dwight Galt.
“It was incredible how they all performed, but I don’t think anyone from the team was all that surprised,” Nittany Lions quarterback signee Will Levis said. “The way those guys have worked throughout their careers with the strength-and-conditioning program got them to this point.
“Coach Galt is amazing, and he obviously gets players to their peak athletic ability. Seeing all the guys kill the combine makes me so excited to get in the weight room and on the field running with him and his staff so that they can turn me into the best athlete they can.”
I heard this sentiment echoed while reaching out to members of the incoming freshman class.
“I believe that Galt is the best in the business. Saquon and [others] were a testament to that,” defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said.
Excitement extends to younger recruiting targets. While catching up with a collection of 2019 prospects earlier this month, the majority noted the NFL combine as a definite check in the “plus” column while assessing Penn State.
“It says a lot about what they do up there from a strength training perspective and getting people prepared for the next level,” top 2019 running back target Devyn Ford told Land of 10.
Regardless of your ranking and accolades at the high school level, no path is guaranteed to lead toward an NFL payday. However, it’s becoming clear Penn State has become one of college football’s best at bridging the gap.
Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State recruiting mailbags here.