STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State wrapped up its summer high school football camp circuit this weekend, welcoming recruits to campus Friday through Sunday. The Nittany Lions hosted a pair of prospect showcases, with annual Lasch Bash festivities sandwiched in between.
A successful three-day span saw Penn State pick up five commitments, and enhance relationships with targets from multiple classes. The Nittany Lions, now just weeks removed from training camp, wrap up the weekend carrying 19 commitments in a 2018 recruiting class considered the No. 3 overall talent haul in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Land of 10 was live on location throughout the weekend. Below is a rundown of 10 things that stood out as things progressed.
1. The 2018 recruiting class carries a lot of chemistry
Following their latest weekend together, it’s quite clear there is immense camaraderie among members of the 2018 Penn State class. Though the 19-player group now represents 11 states, they acted like old friends while sharing the field.
Most of the class arrived on campus Friday, with several prospects participating in camp. When they weren’t focused on their craft, you could locate this collection of talented prospects cracking jokes and recruiting uncommitted athletes.
This attitude helped put visiting targets at ease, and likely contributed toward a strong weekend for Penn State. The commitments remained on campus Saturday, soaking up the atmosphere and delivering sales pitches throughout Lasch Bash festivities.
— Jesse Luketa (@OttawasVeryOwn) July 15, 2017
It’s difficult to imagine this many Nittany Lions pledges spending time together in the same place again this cycle, though an Oct. 21 matchup against Michigan should draw many back to Happy Valley. They’ll use this weekend as an icebreaker that helps strengthen the bond that should help them upon arrival as freshmen.
“It was awesome to connect with all of them and put a face to a name,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said. “All the guys are great and we are going to bring a [national] title to State College.”
2. QB Will Levis came to campus on a mission and accomplished it
Will Levis witnessed his recruitment rapidly rise this summer, as June brought scholarship offers from Florida State, Iowa, Ole Miss and Syracuse. The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Xavier (Middletown, Conn.) quarterback caught the attention of several collegiate staffs during various workouts, and attempted to do the same this past weekend at Penn State.
He competed in the Friday night camp and clearly wasn’t going to be short-changed when it came to reps. Levis routinely leapfrogged others to the front of the quarterback line during drills, while offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead provided critiques and compliments after many of his throws.
Levis, who tallied 25 total touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 10 games as a junior, was pretty inconsistent on deep passes Friday but displayed leadership skills and a powerful arm that featured excellent accuracy within intermediate range.
He also made it a point to connect with Freiermuth and fellow 4-star Penn State TE pledge Zack Kuntz during sessions that featured a defensive back in coverage. The tandem gained some familiarity with Levis as a result.
“He throws a nice ball,” Freiermuth said. “It’s great to have him on board.”
Here’s a glimpse at some reps from Levis’ workout.
The Nittany Lions saw enough to feel confident about extending a scholarship offer. Levis accepted it Saturday morning, replacing Justin Fields in this class six weeks after the 5-star recruit de-committed.
— Will Levis (@will_levis) July 15, 2017
3. Commitment from Shaquon Anderson-Butts is a big deal
Approximately an hour after the Levis news circulated Saturday morning, James Franklin announced another commitment via Twitter. Soon afterward, 3-star athlete Shaquon Anderson-Butts revealed he was the latest prospect to join Penn State’s class.
The Harrisburg (Pa.) High receiver was instrumental to his program’s first state championship game appearance last fall. He also provides potential at defensive back if the Nittany Lions’ roster needs and Anderson-Butts’ collegiate development dictate that move.
But there is another layer to this commitment that goes beyond his on-field attributes. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound playmaker is a close friend and teammate with 5-star defensive end Micah Parsons, who previously spent 14 months pledged to Penn State.
Uncommitted since April 23, Parsons continues to survey his options with interest in schools such as Alabama, Florida, Nebraska and Ohio State. Considered the No. 5 overall recruit in 2018, he is an elite edge rusher who explained in May that he and Anderson-Butts are a “package deal”.
That’s a term I’ve heard tossed around pretty liberally during my days on the recruiting trail, and the completion percentage of such ambitions is fairly low. Still, with programs searching for an advantage in the pursuit of Parsons, this provides a new wrinkle that should work in Penn State’s favor.
4. Penn State in position to build special defensive line class
Judge Culpepper joined 4-star New Jersey DE Dorian Hardy in the class when he announced his commitment Friday afternoon. Fresh off a midweek visit to Happy Valley, the 6-5, 256-pound Plant (Tampa, Fla.) High standout appears capable of generating an interior rush at defensive tackle.
The son of former NFL defensive lineman Brad Culpepper, he claims more than 30 offers and could have followed his father in choosing a career with the Florida Gators. Instead, he is headed to Big Ten territory and soon may be joined by fellow impact linemen in the defensive trenches.
PJ Mustipher and Jayson Oweh, a pair of 4-star prospects, spent Friday evening under the direction of Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer. Considered top-10 talents at defensive tackle and strongside defensive end, respectively, this duo impressed again during their latest camp appearance.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 15, 2017
Both players are candidates to join the class before this season, though there is substantial competition for these commitments. Oweh will take another look at Notre Dame and Ohio State before finalizing his decision, while Mustipher has programs such as Maryland and Tennessee chasing hard.
I believe at least one of these blue-chip recruits will land in Happy Valley on National Signing Day, and either would arguably become the program’s most promising defensive lineman in the 2018 cycle.
The defensive trenches may carry the most intrigue in coming months for Penn State recruiting efforts. Along with the continued pursuit of Mustipher, Oweh and Parsons, things appear to be trending in a positive direction with 4-star linemen Aeneas Hawkins and Tyreke Smith of Ohio after each attended the Lasch Bash.
5. The Nittany Lions’ 2018 WR spots are suddenly filling up
Justin Shorter spent nearly a full calendar year as the lone Nittany Lions receiver commit. That situation changed dramatically during the past 48 hours, as Anderson-Butts and 4-star recruit Daniel George of Maryland joined him.
George, who is also a track-and-field competitor, pushed the pledge total to three prospects at the position Sunday evening. Our outlook is Penn State will pick up four receivers in this cycle, so things have quickly become interesting.
Jahan Dotson, an in-state 4-star who projects as a slot threat, considers the Nittany Lions among his top options. He recently transferred back to Nazareth High after spending his junior year at the Peddie School (Hightstown, N.J.).
Penn State legacy Solomon Enis, the son of former Nittany Lions running back Curtis Enis, attended the April 22 spring game and will return for an official visit this season. Compared to the shifty 5-11 Dotson, the North Canyon (Phoenix) High standout is a 6-4 target who would provide more size on the outside.
Dotson and Enis are the focus at receiver moving forward, but don’t be surprised if Penn State is open to exploring alternative options this autumn.
6. Penn State has college football’s top 2018 tight end tandem
While attention shifted to defensive linemen and receivers during the weekend, it was easy to take the Nittany Lions’ compelling tight end duo for granted. Freiermuth and Kuntz committed last year, and both have become class leaders.
Considered top-10 prospects at the position, Kuntz (No. 4) and Freiermuth (No. 9) will immediately help fill a void left behind by senior All-America candidate Mike Gesicki.
The 6-8, 221-pound Kuntz presents a pass target quarterbacks covet and he moves very well with the ball. Continued physical growth will be key to his progression, and anticipated early enrollment for the Pennsylvania product will help.
Freiermuth, a 6-5, 250-pound prospect from Massachusetts, is far more advanced in the run game but he’s definitely not just a blocker. His delivered a smooth performance Friday night, displaying athleticism in adjusting for passes and running polished routes.
These two tight ends are very different players, but they should combine to create sustained success at the position for Penn State for several years.
7. QB target Garrett Shrader looks every bit the part of a blue-chip prospect
Penn State provided 2019 quarterback Garrett Shrader with an offer last month. He reciprocated that interest with a trip to Happy Valley this past weekend, and validated early hype by piecing together an impressive effort throughout Sunday camp drills.
A 6-5, 190-pound passer from Charlotte (N.C) Christian School, he delivered darts throughout the afternoon. His accuracy on tosses toward the boundary particularly stood out, as he hit receivers in stride with precision and zip.
2019 Penn State QB target @GarrettShrader6 receives some notes from offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Nittany Lions offered in June. pic.twitter.com/pQ0lAHjyye
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 16, 2017
Shrader completed 65 percent of pass attempts as a sophomore, per MaxPreps, en route to 2,564 yards and 29 touchdowns in 12 games. He added 615 yards and 5 scores on the ground.
His 35 total touchdowns look even better when matched with just 4 interceptions on 320 tosses. Louisville, Pittsburgh and South Carolina are among other programs that have offered him midway through high school, and I fully expect Shrader to become a heavily-pursued prospect at the national level.
8. 4-star LB Brandon Smith brought a huge crew to Lasch Bash
Brandon Smith, a 6-5, 215-pound edge rusher from Virginia, figures to be a fixture near the top of Penn State’s 2019 target list. More than a dozen college visits this summer have helped increase his exposure, and an impressive offer list now features Florida State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions offered him during an April visit, and he returned to Happy Valley for a third time this past weekend. Smith, who attends Louisa County (Mineral, Va.) High, made the trip with an expansive collection of family members.
He was joined by his parents, grandparents, younger brother and two uncles. The group participated in Lasch Bash festivities, and everyone aside from his grandparents returned Sunday for camp action.
Smith, whose unique length and closing speed stood out, is confident the experience helped his family view Happy Valley with plenty of positivity.
“They got a chance to see what I like so much about PSU,” he told Land of 10.
His father, Rico Smith, confirmed this sentiment. He anticipates Penn State will land on Brandon’s “short list” as this recruitment progresses, and an official visit next year is already anticipated.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 16, 2017
9. Still searching for first 2019 pledge, but many pieces are in motion
Penn State doesn’t carry a commitment in the 2019 recruiting cycle yet, but as I alluded to with Smith, things are trending in the right direction. The Nittany Lions welcomed several members of the class to campus for these final summer camps and the Lasch Bash.
Jordan Houston, a running back who received an offer from Penn State last summer, told Land of 10 it was his best visit to campus so far. He participated in the Friday night camp, along with receiver Jeffery Carter of Texas, who received an offer that evening.
Keaton Ellis, a local State College standout, looked extremely athletic during drills at that camp. Considering his proximity to the program and the fact that his father played for the Nittany Lions, he could be the first recruit to jump on board.
Top-10 cornerback recruit Nyquee Hawkins, who told Land of 10 that Penn State feels like “family”, is another one to watch closely. He has an alpha mentality and would provide leadership if he joins Penn State as an early pledge.
Man let's get this 2019 class rolling now 😈
— Lamont Wade (@Goony_38) July 16, 2017
Along with Carter, other 2019 prospects who picked up a Penn State offer on campus include WR/DB John Metchie of Maryland and QB Taquan Roberson of New Jersey.
10. Nittany Lions likely will land best class of this decade
Penn State captured the 2016 Big Ten title led by a starting lineup loaded with former 3-star prospects. The Nittany Lions finished recruiting cycles outside the top 30 in composite class rankings three straight signing days before Franklin arrived.
Now essentially a lock to land back-to-back top-15 classes for the first time this decade, Penn State is putting itself in position to roll out its most talented, deep roster in quite some time. This 2018 class is primed to set a new standard when it comes to recruiting success in State College.
The group includes seven players considered top-10 prospects at their position. It includes six top-200 overall players, and that total should grow with upcoming commitments.
Elevated recruiting results undoubtedly will be met with enhanced expectations in the seasons ahead. Expect the Penn State staff and an incoming group of confident, highly-regarded athletes to embrace that and hit the ground running while focused on College Football Playoff appearances.
For a deeper dive into this 2018 class and a rundown of the latest developments, watch the 30-minute Facebook Live show I hosted Sunday night: