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Penn State stays hot on recruiting trail with addition of Aeneas Hawkins
Excitement continued to swirl around the 2018 Penn State recruiting class Thursday, as coach James Franklin secured his 10th verbal commitment since July 6. Aeneas Hawkins, a 4-star defensive tackle from Cincinnati, announced intentions to attend Penn State.
A top-25 prospect at the position in the 247Sports 2018 composite rankings, Hawkins revealed his choice via a video produced by The Players’ Tribune. As Nittany Lions fans already know this film features a happy end, it’s worth five minutes of your time and provides some insight into the new pledge’s personality.
Also, it’s probably the only commitment video that has ever frightened me. If you’ve seen Get Out, you’re probably on the same page. If you haven’t, you should.
This decision came down to Penn State and Cincinnati, where Hawkins has strong family ties. Both of his parents were standout athletes with Bearcats athletic programs. His father, Artrell, starred at defensive back at Cincinnati before playing nine seasons in the NFL.
Ultimately, the Nittany Lions managed to overcome those connections.
Hawkins climbed aboard just two days after fellow 4-star DT PJ Mustipher committed to Penn State. He pushed the program’s pledge total to 23 players. This group features 15 blue-chip prospects, representing the Nittany Lions’ largest single-class total in the modern recruiting era.
The streak of summer commitments has enhanced an already promising future along the defensive front. Versatile lineman Judge Culpepper also entered the mix July 14, and more big-time additions may be on the way. This recent slew of pickups has altered the outlook in several spots on the Penn State roster.
Beyond the line of scrimmage, defensive coordinator Brent Pry also will welcome a pair of 4-star newcomers in the secondary: cornerback Jordan Miner of Tampa, Fla., and safety Isheem Young of Philadelphia.
Offensively, the latest pledges include quarterback Will Levis, interior lineman Fredrick Scruggs, and receivers Shaquon Anderson-Butts and Daniel George. The Nittany Lions even addressed a special teams need by landing lauded kicker Jake Pinegar in July.
Throw these 10 prospects into a group that was already considered elite before the start of summer, and it’s clear Franklin is assembling a uniquely promising class.
Nittany Lions staff must find right formula for remaining scholarships
The recent commitment surge creates a key question for Nittany Lions recruiting efforts: How many more players can Penn State squeeze into a talented group?
That exact number remains undetermined, and future roster developments such as early NFL draft entries, injuries and transfers could alter the outlook before signing day. Despite a lack of complete clarity, it’s apparent coach James Franklin is running out of scholarships to award in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
Still six months shy of National Signing Day, there is competition brewing in regard to those remaining spots. Tough conversations are underway in Penn State football facilities as assistant coaches make a case for desired additions.
“It’s definitely hard, especially from a position coach standpoint, because you get attached to these kids,” receivers coach Josh Gattis told Greg Pickel of PennLive last weekend. “Ultimately, for each position coach, you want to be selfish. You’re really only worried about your position and getting your guys, but you have to understand the bigger picture of it all.”
Receiver is a specific spot of interest as pieces come together. The Nittany Lions hold three pledges at the position, though 3-star prospect Shaquon Anderson-Butts could end up on defense during his college career.
Defensive line coach Sean Spencer is delighted by the events of this week ― as you can see in his amazing tweet below ― but he certainly aims to add more elite “Wild Dogs”. Oweh and Parsons aren’t set to announce their respective decisions until this winter, while Smith may follow suit.
— Sean Spencer (@SpenceChaos) August 10, 2017
Meanwhile, blue-chip defensive backs Houston Griffith and Kwantel Raines have Penn State on their respective short lists of collegiate options. If they knock on the door and attempt to join a defensive secondary collection that already features four commits, will Nittany Lions coaches be able to open it?
Throw in the fact that commitment flips occur in bunches during the season. There might be some unexpected blue-chip prospects who attempt to leave their current situation behind by leaping into the Nittany Lions’ class.
Simply put, there are many moving pieces being juggled and limited places for them to land. Nittany Lions coaches will be jockeying to ensure their interests aren’t forgotten.
During my three years in a FBS recruiting department, I witnessed many of these discussions take place among staff members. The closer it gets to signing day, they tend become more forceful than friendly. It’s ultimately a great problem to have for Penn State coaches, but one that requires patience and long-term strategy.