Plenty of conversation here at Land of 10 has focused on Penn State recruiting efforts in the 2018 cycle, but forward thinking is at the foundation of this industry. That leads us to place an increased focus on members of the 2019 class, including a collection of Nittany Lions targets.
Coach James Franklin and his assistants stayed busy this spring, traveling the country in search of elite high school sophomores. This quest for talent led to several scholarship offers, in Big Ten territory and far beyond.
Penn State doesn’t carry a single commit in its 2019 recruiting class, but there are several potential pledges in early development.
A breakout 2016 season, a conference title, and an exceptional stable of talent in the 2018 class have expectations soaring in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions aim to capitalize on this momentum by moving closer toward commitments with a talented group of rising juniors.
Here’s a look at five prospects who stand out at the end of their sophomore year:
4-star RB Devyn Ford
High School: North Stafford (Stafford, Va.)
Size: 5-foot-11, 185 pounds
247Sports ranking: No. 8 running back; No. 92 overall
Devyn Ford is the latest Virginia rusher to warrant attention from Penn State. He follows in line with former 1,000-yard backs Tony Hunt and Evan Royster, and 5-star 2018 commit Ricky Slade.
This dynamic prospect became a national collegiate recruit after his freshman year at North Stafford. Ford tallied 1,865 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015, according to David Stegon of InsideNOVA.com, and attracted offers from across the country before last fall.
The Nittany Lions joined his offer list last April, and a year later he witnessed North Stafford teammate Nana Asiedu pledge to Penn State during their spring game visit.
Asiedu, considered a top-10 offensive tackle in 247Sports’ 2018 rankings, could block for Ford again in college. Ford told Land of 10 he is “comfortable” with how Penn State implements its running backs.
He also expressed plans to trim his college options to 5-10 universities after his junior season. Competition comes from schools such as Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
4-star CB Nyquee Hawkins
High School: Orange (Orange, N.J.)
Size: 6-0, 175 pounds
247Sports ranking: No. 8 cornerback; No. 162 overall
Penn State is well underway with attempts to cultivate more talent from the Garden State. Recent New Jersey acquisitions include LB Jason Cabinda, TE Mike Gesicki, WR Juwan Johnson and DT Fred Hansard. Nyquee Hawkins is a strong candidate to join this mix.
A long and smooth defender in pass coverage, his physical frame has grown significantly during the past year. Hawkins loves to hit and embraces that aspect of cornerback duties, making him a complete prospect who appears capable of contributing immediately in a college scheme.
No college staff is better-situated with Hawkins at this stage, as he’s visited Happy Valley 12 times since 2015.
“I’ve been going up to Penn State since eighth grade,” he told Land of 10 last week. “I just keep going back. … It’s like family up there with the coaches.”
A unanimous pick to end up at Penn State in the 247Sports crystal ball, Hawkins mentioned Maryland and Virginia Tech as other programs with quality rapport here. A recent visit to Stanford signifies the nationwide appeal of his abilities.
4-star TE Hudson Henry
High School: Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.)
Size: 6-5, 230 pounds
247Sports ranking: No. 2 tight end; No. 26 overall
Hudson Henry will always be tied to the Arkansas Razorbacks due to family roots. His father played in Fayetteville, eventually followed by two older brothers, so it wasn’t a surprise when coach Bret Bielema offered in February.
Ole Miss, Penn State and Stanford have since joined the chase. Henry vows to be active on the recruiting trail, rather than simply repeating the process of family members.
“I do have that deep legacy with Arkansas — a lot of deep ties there,” he told Land of 10. “But I don’t want to keep just one school on my mind and prevent myself from having other opportunities.”
Henry hopes to visit other schools that offered, including Penn State, this offseason. The Nittany Lions’ consistent use of tight ends in the passing game presents a compelling opportunity, according to Henry.
“I was so happy to get that offer,” he said. “It’s important to find a school that utilizes the tight end in a lot of ways.”
Henry, the younger brother of Los Angeles Chargers TE Hunter Henry, is a polished weapon in the passing game. Penn State carries a pair of top-10 tight ends in its 2018 class.
4-star OT John Olmstead
High School: Saint Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.)
Size: 6-6, 290 pounds
247Sports ranking: No. 31 offensive tackle; No. 248 overall
John Olmstead added another Big Ten offer to his collection last week when Penn State presented a scholarship. He claims six offers from the conference, including Ohio State and nearby Rutgers.
Only Minnesota, Rutgers and Penn State have hosted him on campus. His first trip to Happy Valley was for the April 22 spring game, and it made a positive impression on Olmstead.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Even though I’ve been following Penn State since I was a little kid, it was my first time ever there. My jaw dropped when I walked into the stadium through the gate where the players come through.”
After talking to Franklin, Olmstead is confident he can contribute in various spots along the offensive front.
“Whatever gets me on the field fastest, I’m willing to play,” he said.
Expect this recruitment to reach a new level in the weeks to come.
Olmstead picked up offers from Maryland and Virginia Tech during the past week. He will travel to Northwestern and Notre Dame in June, while Ohio State may also secure a visit this summer.
Had a great visit today at Penn State University🏈💪🏻😈 pic.twitter.com/avvV8qg2Pf
— John Olmstead (@JOHNNYO_72) April 22, 2017
4-star DE Brandon Smith
High School: Louisa County (Mineral, Va.)
Size: 6-3, 210 pounds
247Sports ranking: No. 7 weakside defensive end; No. 107 overall
Brandon Smith made an impact across the defensive landscape last season, lining up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end and even slot cornerback. He secured 75 tackles — 17 for loss — 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
“He’s probably the first and only kid I’ve considered redesigning our scheme for, which is a credit to him,” Louisa County coach Mark Fischer said. “We’re looking at maybe going to an odd front so we can put him on the edge with his hand in the ground. It’s all an experiment to see how many ways we can get him around the football.”
Smith probably projects most favorably as an edge rusher, especially when you consider that he will grow increasingly formidable with weight gain. As part of our April profile on the young defender, Mike Fletcher, The Opening’s linebackers coach, drew a comparison to 5-star 2016 Alabama signee Ben Davis.
“His love for the game and demeanor on defense will be infectious and spread to other guys,” Fletcher said. “The guy is juiced up about the opportunity to play this game, and that’s someone you want in your program.”
Smith added offers from Florida State, North Carolina State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in May. He intends to return to Happy Valley in July for the first time since April 14, when Franklin extended an offer.