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Penn State prepares for high-impact official visit weekend
Penn State is primed to welcome several marquee recruits this weekend. The program will host two camps, presenting an opportunity for further evaluation and possible new scholarships offers, but much of the focus is on a notable list of official visitors.
College football’s inaugural early official visit window, which began at the start of April, ends June 24, so this is a crucial time to make positive impressions on players and their families. Guests are traveling to Happy Valley from various regions, ranging from South Florida to the Pacific Northwest.
Aside from 5-star Nittany Lions linebacker commit Brandon Smith, each of these prospects are uncommitted. Those still searching for an ideal collegiate landing spot, especially players who plan to decide this summer, may not be back in town before wrapping up their recruitments.
“It will be good to be around all of them and to see the different perspectives of what they’re going through,” 4-star receiver John Metchie (Ontario, Canada) told Land of 10. “We’re all going through the same process of finding the best fit for college.”
Let’s look at some of the anticipated highlights of an important few days on campus.
QB Michael Johnson Jr. excited for cross-country trip
Penn State picked up a pledge from DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.) High School quarterback Taquan Roberson last October. The 4-star prospect went on to win a state championship and possesses traits Nittany Lions coaches covet at the position.
Still, it’s been apparent for a while that Penn State will pursue a second quarterback in its 2019 class. Roberson explained that the staff has been open about that subject, and Michael Johnson Jr. has emerged as a potential candidate to pair with him.
Johnson, considered the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in 247Sports composite rankings, arrives in State College on Thursday night. He and his mother will use three connecting flights to journey from Eugene, Ore., where his father serves on the Oregon Ducks football staff and he stars at Sheldon High School.
“It’s coming down the final stretch,” Johnson said. “When I know, I’ll commit, wherever that is.”
This is his first official visit and first trip to Penn State. He pointed to the program as one of four pursuing him particularly hard, along with Florida State, Miami and North Carolina State.
Johnson, who trained with Nittany Lions starting quarterback Trace McSorley last weekend during Elite 11 finals in Southern California, speaks regularly with James Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. He won’t be scared off by the presence of a committed quarterback.
“Everyone always talks about it like a negative, saying if you bring in two quarterbacks, one guy is going to transfer,” he said. “But either way, whether or not you have another quarterback in your class, there is going to be competition. When Trace McSorley leaves, there is going be a competition there. You have to be ready to compete no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re taking two quarterbacks.”
Nittany Lions will welcome a pair of 4-star receivers
Johnson isn’t the only visitor who could eventually provide fireworks in Penn State’s passing game. Metchie, a Canadian prospect who wraps up his prep career this season at Peddie School (Hightstown, N.J.), will be joined on campus by fellow 4-star receiver John Dunmore.
Dunmore, who spent the 2017 season pledged to Florida, has established a strong relationship with first-year Nittany Lions assistant Ja’Juan Seider, who worked on the Gators staff last year. That rapport helped Penn State solidify official visit plans with the Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood, Fla.) prospect.
Based on conversations with folks who understand the South Florida football landscape far better than I do, the Nittany Lions may be more of a threat in this recruitment than most people realize. Meanwhile, it’s well known that Penn State is a primary contender for Metchie, who will use an official visit at Alabama next weekend.
This is the first time Metchie’s mother Joyce will join him on a school visit. He’ll also be accompanied by two older brothers, and if the entire family leaves Happy Valley convinced it’s a place John can flourish, then even the reigning national champion could find it difficult to beat out Penn State.
“It’s about the on-campus feeling when you get there — if you feel like it’s home with the impression it makes on you,” he said. “When me and my family have that feeling on a visit, I think that’s when I’ll know I might need to make a decision.”
Another blue-chip running back ready to check out Happy Valley
Like the situation at quarterback in this class, Penn State doesn’t seem content to stick with only one blue-chip recruit at running back. The Nittany Lions hosted elite rusher Noah Cain on campus this spring and, despite a May 18 commitment from Devyn Ford, there will be another premier prospect in town this weekend.
Lausanne Collegiate School (Memphis, Tenn.) star Eric Gray is among the official visitors. Considered the No. 3 all-purpose back in composite rankings, he seems to be nearing a decision, so this is an advantageous time for Penn State to impress.
“From the outside looking in, it looks like a great program there. Everything I’ve seen online and stuff looks really nice. Also, you can’t go wrong with the school that just had Saquon Barkley running for them. It seems like a great atmosphere. It should be a fun visit,” Gray told Blue-White Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder.
Gray, who has drawn offers from several SEC programs, has rushed for 5,688 yards and 85 touchdowns through three prep seasons, according to 247Sports. The Saquon Barkley effect is in full swing these days for Penn State on the recruiting trail and reciprocated interest from prospects like Gray serves as evidence.
Top DB target Lewis Cine returns to campus
Penn State secured three defensive back commitments in May, and that group total is now at four with State College cornerback Keaton Ellis included. Numbers are tight for more additions but expect the door to remain open for Lewis Cine, a top-5 safety recruit who attends Trinity Christian School (Cedar Hill, Texas).
He will follow up the trip with official visits to Michigan and Texas this month.
“I’ll be looking at how comfortable I am on each,” Cine told Land of 10’s Evan Petzold.
He sounded very comfortable with Penn State during our discussion in January. Cine unequivocally named the Nittany Lions his leader and raved about his experience at a September team victory over Indiana, which was his only game day attendance at any university in 2017.
“That one game made a big impression,” he said. “I was not expecting all of that. The crowd was so live, the stadium was bigger than I expected and the coaches kept it 100 with me about what I can do for the program. Mostly, I got the family feel there that I didn’t get from other schools.”
Obviously, much has changed for Cine since January. He transferred far from Everett (Mass.) High School, has added several offers and there’s no doubt been evolution in his thought process about potential destinations.
This weekend provides the staff with an opportunity to remind Cine why he became so high on the program initially, and it could re-confirm Penn State as the clear team to beat.
5-star LB Brandon Smith ready to help build PSU class
Brandon Smith has quickly transitioned from recruit to recruiter.
Among the most coveted linebackers in the country, this 6-foot-5, 225-pound Louisa County (Mineral, Va.) High School standout returns to campus for the first time as a Nittany Lions commit. He announced intentions to attend the university May 21, spurning a long list of suitors that included Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas A&M.
With a whirlwind recruitment behind him, Smith is fully focused on finishing his prep career in impressive fashion and further improving Penn State’s class.
“That means everything to me,” he said. “We want to surround ourselves with guys who we can trust to come through when it matters most, on the field and off the field.”
Smith explained that he plans to be extremely engaged this weekend, answering any questions other official visitors might propose about why he picked Penn State. When I mentioned Lance Dixon, a 4-star linebacker from West Bloomfield, Mich., he said although they haven’t yet spoken the chance to chat in State College is important.
“I don’t really know him but I’m sure that will change this weekend,” Smith said. “Penn State is putting together a great group of linebackers and hopefully he’ll want to be a part of that.”
As usual, Smith will be joined by several family members — mom, dad, younger brother, three uncles and one cousin who is considering enrollment in the university’s law school.
Smith was part of a mid-May commitment spree, as Penn State’s class added five players in a five-day span. Others on the Nittany Lions recruiting board took notice, and a successful weekend could contribute toward sustained momentum this summer.
“It’s not that I didn’t expect it but seeing all those guys committing really shows the potential for the class and how special it could be,” Metchie said.
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