STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Penn State Nittany Lions returned to Beaver Stadium on Saturday for spring game action, though the event provided coach James Franklin with plenty of off-field potential. His staff hosted several top-tier high school prospects, ultimately adding to an impressive 2018 recruiting class.
Land of 10 spoke with multiple recruits who visited this weekend, collecting responses to developments that helped define their latest trip to Happy Valley. Here’s a rundown of what Nittany Lions fans need to know.
The Big Ten’s top-ranked recruiting class got a boost
Penn State entered Saturday sitting atop the 2018 conference recruiting class rankings, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Franklin bolstered that outlook hours before the spring game, picking up a pair of offensive linemen from beyond state borders.
Just days after losing longtime in-state offensive tackle commit Chris Bleich, the Nittany Lions landed two top-25 prospects at the position. A noon commitment from 4-star prospect Nana Asiedu — ranked No. 9 nationally among offensive tackles — established initial momentum:
— Nana ❗️ (@BigNana_) April 22, 2017
Asiedu, who attends North Stafford (Va.) High School, was soon joined by fellow lineman Antwan Reed, whose announcement practically coincided with the spring game kickoff. The Muskegon (Mich.) High School standout is listed No. 25 overall among offensive tackle prospects, and pushed Penn State’s 2018 pledge total to 13 players.
“We lost Chris, but we gained two really talented guys today,” Nittany Lions linebacker commit Jesse Luketa said. “We opened some eyes by getting both of them. People are seeing what we have going on in Happy Valley is no joke.”
Luketa was on campus with other committed recruits such as 5-star quarterback Justin Fields, 5-star running back Ricky Slade and top-10 tight end talents Zack Kuntz and Pat Freiermuth. The group welcomed its latest classmates with open arms — literally.
“When they came in after committing, we all just kind of tackled them, hugged them and congratulated them,” Freiermuth said. “It was great to welcome them into the family. It was a cool moment.”
The Nittany Lions trail only Miami in national recruiting class rankings as spring camps wrap up across college football.
Players enjoyed personal connection with James Franklin
Through three seasons in State College, Franklin has established himself as one of the nation’s most ardent recruiters. Surrounded by a staff that pursues premier prospects with similar tenacity, he isn’t taking anything for granted despite established commitments and a strong 2016 season.
“Coach Franklin is very hands-on,” Freiermuth said. “Whenever you see him, he gives you a huge hug and asks how life is going. He’s not afraid to show emotion, which makes it easier to connect with him as a very true and genuine guy.”
That personality was on full display as the team made its way into the stadium approximately 3 1/2 hours before the spring game. After walking through a deep crowd of lauding Penn State supporters, Franklin paused to show his affection for each visiting recruit.
James Franklin greeted every visiting recruit with an enthusiastic hug before entering the stadium to coach Penn State's spring game. pic.twitter.com/IxKnGBhfOp
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) April 23, 2017
Franklin also spent time with prospects away from the fanfare. For instance, highly touted 2019 offensive lineman Caedan Wallace and his family met with the coach just moments before final game preparation.
“He called us down and we spoke to him one-on-one, which is kind of crazy because he needed to get the team ready for everything,” Wallace said. “Coach Franklin took time out of his day to focus on my development and that really showed me how much he cares. He doesn’t want you as just a football player. He wants you as a member of the family.”
Wallace, the No. 8 offensive guard recruit in 247Sports’ early 2019 rankings, played alongside 2017 Penn State signee Fred Hansard at the Hun School (N.J.) as a sophomore. He received a Penn State offer in February and figures to emerge as one of the program’s primary focuses.
When he eventually sits down with his family to make a final collegiate decision, moments like the one Wallace experienced pregame Saturday may make the difference. Little things tend to add up in recruiting, and Franklin rarely misses an opportunity to impress.
gotta love penn state university??
— special cäe??™ (@caedanw) April 22, 2017
Penn State pledges ready to add more pieces
Another successful day on the recruiting trail didn’t deter committed Nittany Lions prospects from voicing their desire for more monumental pickups. A few uncommitted targets stand out, according to Freiermuth.
“We’d all love to bring in [Philadelphia safety] Isheem [Young], [Pennsylvania safety] Kwantel [Raines], ‘Juice’ [Pennsylvania offensive lineman Fredrick Scruggs] and [Ohio linebacker[ Brian [Asamoah[,” he said. “We’re really trying to push those four to commit. Everything Penn State has to offer makes sense, in my personal opinion, and that’s what I talk to other players about when trying to persuade them.”
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) April 22, 2017
In-state receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts is another key prospect of interest, per Luketa. The 4-star recruit surely fielded plenty of sales pitches Saturday from players already on board.
“We’ve been working on these guys,” Luketa said. “It’s important to surround yourself with the right people to grow with and win championships with because our class has big plans.”