Last July, when future Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford arrived at Nike’s world headquarters for The Opening — the premier high school football camp in the country — he was a lonely guy.
Clifford was the only blue-chip football prospect in Beaverton, Ore., that week who was committed to play for the Nittany Lions. He used his time there to pitch others on joining him at Penn State.
Two other Opening alums — wide receiver KJ Hamler and cornerback Lamont Wade — eventually decided to join Clifford.
When future Penn State quarterback Justin Fields likely arrives at the Nike campus in two months for the 2017 edition of The Opening, he will not be so lonely. In fact, it could be a “We Are” party in Oregon.
There have been plenty of indicators about the surge in recruiting for Penn State with James Franklin in charge. Having a bunch of parents decked out in Nittany Lions gear along the sidelines at the premier high school football showcase would be another.
Justin Shorter is an impressive wide receiver from South Brunswick High School in New Jersey. He earned an invitation to The Opening on Sunday at the NY/NJ regional camp. Shorter committed to Penn State in August before the start of his junior season.
He also was named the overall MVP of the camp, which was held at the New York Jets’ training facility. Shorter clocked a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash and won the “fastest man” race between the players with the top three times. He also made several impressive catches during drills.
— The Opening (@TheOpening) April 30, 2017
Oh yeah, he is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
Shorter is currently the No. 79 player in the nation in the Class of 2018, according to the 247sports Composite rankings. There’s a strong chance there will be fewer than 78 players ranked ahead of him by the end of the summer.
“I can’t wait to go out there and experience that unbelievable environment,” Shorter told Land of 10’s Tyler Donohue on Sunday. “I’m excited to get all that gear they give us and compete against the country’s best players. It’s going to be awesome.”
Here’s a little sampling of his work on Sunday:
— Steve Wiltfong (@SWiltfong247) April 30, 2017
Extension for a grab by Penn State commit Justin Shorter. Every bit of listed 6-5. pic.twitter.com/yiwoECO3MM
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) April 30, 2017
This DB just didn't know what he was getting into vs. Penn State commit Justin Shorter. pic.twitter.com/yI6Xd953Le
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) April 30, 2017
Shorter is not the first Penn State commit to earn an invite to The Opening, and he probably won’t be the last. Ricky Slade, a 5-star running back from Northern Virginia, was invited the previous weekend at the D.C. regional camp.
Fields is not officially an Opening invitee yet. He earned a spot at the Elite 11 finals, which will bring 24 of the best quarterbacks in the nation to Los Angeles for a camp. The top 12 will receive invitations to Oregon.
It would be a massive upset for Fields not to be among the top 12. He is a 5-star prospect and in the discussion about the best high school quarterback in America.
There could be more Penn State commits added to the roster by the kickoff of The Opening on June 28 as well. There are typically three to seven players at each regional camp who get invited at the end of the day. Another 165 or so players don’t earn their tickets until after the regional circuit is complete.
More targets could attend
Zack Kuntz, the No. 3 tight end in the nation and No. 85 player overall, cut an imposing figure at the Jets’ facility Sunday. Five of the top 25 tight end prospects in the nation were at the camp. Kuntz, a Penn State commit who is listed at 6-7 ½ and 218 pounds, stood out immediately for his height and speed in the open field.
He did not get invited — the No. 2 tight end in the country, Jeremy Ruckert, did — but Kuntz certainly seems like a strong contender to end up in Oregon.
There are plenty of prospects who are considering Penn State who could receive an invitation to The Opening. Five-star phenom Micah Parsons, who recently decommitted but still has the Nittany Lions firmly in contention, got his invite Sunday.
Philadelphia safety Isheem Young, is a top 100 player and a prime candidate to receive an Opening invitation. He also could end up in State College. Defensive tackles Tyler Friday, PJ Mustipher and Dorian Hardy, as well as wide receiver Jahan Dotson, are all top Penn State targets and candidates for The Opening.
Having more commits at The Opening is a huge recruiting tool for Franklin and his staff, even if no college coaches are allowed on the Nike campus. Just as with Clifford last year, players such as Shorter and Slade will spend the week developing relationships. They will pitch Penn State to undecided prospects.
The 2018 class could wind up as one of Penn State’s best in years. Just how special the group could be might be on display for a week at The Opening, which should have a more distinct Nittany Lions presence this year.