The classic functionality of college football’s National Signing Day changed Monday when the NCAA approved an early signing period (Dec. 20-22). Despite this alteration’s undeniable impact, the first Wednesday of February should steadfastly remain a semi-holiday in the eyes of fans across America.
That annual rendition of recycled storylines such as “Where will this 5-star prospect land?” and “Which recruiting class should be ranked No. 1?” awaits Feb. 7 this cycle. Whichever highly publicized recruitments aren’t settled in December — and what happens to those disrupted by post-bowl game coaching changes? — should reach their conclusion on a day we’ve come to expect the unexpected.
There are few sure things in college football recruiting, especially nine months shy of National Signing Day. Heck, you could produce a human in that amount of time, if that’s a commitment you’re prepared to make.
However, let’s focus on potentials and positives — of which there are many in Penn State’s football offices these days.
At this point, the Nittany Lions carry 13 commitments in a 2018 recruiting class currently considered the Big Ten’s No. 1 talent haul in 247Sports’ composite rankings. This group of pledges includes five athletes ranked top-10 prospects at their respective positions, headlined by No. 1 dual-threat QB Justin Fields and No. 1 all-purpose back Ricky Slade.
It’s a well-rounded collection of recruits primed to improve Penn State in key aspects. Through several conversations with Land of 10, these Nittany Lions have been candid when it comes to long-term expectations.
“We’ve been working on [uncommitted 2018 recruits],” linebacker pledge Jesse 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.”
So which available rising high school seniors could help Luketa and company achieve those big plans?
Here’s a rundown of nine uncommitted recruits the Nittany Lions are likely to keep close tabs on through these nine months to National Signing Day.
Note: players listed in alphabetical order
Junior college OL T.J. Bradley
Current School: Lackawanna College (Pa.)
247Sports crystal ball: Penn State (50 percent); West Virginia (50 percent)
If this is an entirely new name on your Penn State recruiting radar, our May 4 feature story on the 6-foot-9, 290-pound T.J. Bradley is an absolute must-read. He hasn’t played in a competitive football game since 2011 (when he was 6-3, 185 pounds), and the former basketball player spent five years out of the sport before earning a spot at Lackawanna College, which has produced several NFL offensive linemen.
That list is headlined by former Miami All-American and top-10 NFL draft pick Bryant McKinnie, and Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda compared Bradley to McKinnie from a physical standpoint. Based on only practice film of his first few spring practices at left offensive tackle, Bradley has collected nine offers, including the Nittany Lions.
He will enroll at a Division I campus this winter with three remaining seasons of collegiate eligibility.
“Penn State is definitely one of my top choices right now — no doubt,” he said, days after visiting Happy Valley for the team’s spring game.
4-star WR Jahan Dotson
Current School: The Peddie School (N.J.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 15 WR; No. 73 overall; No. 2 prospect in New Jersey
247Sports crystal ball: Penn State (82 percent); Alabama (9 percent); Ohio State (9 percent)
You can disregard that Crimson Tide prediction in Jahan Dotson’s crystal ball, as he told us April 30 this is essentially a three-team race among Big Ten rivals Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. The 5-11, 165-pound playmaker presently attends prep school in the Garden State but previously emerged as one of Pennsylvania’s premier underclassmen wide receivers and a state track champion at Nazareth High.
Dotson collected 503 receiving yards, 251 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns in five games last season, per MaxPreps, before breaking two bones in his right leg. Less than seven months removed from that injury, he recently competed at The Opening’s New Jersey regional, and spent the entire spring game weekend (April 22-23) at Penn State.
“He’s just one of those guys who glides out there,” said Ronny Torres, The Opening’s director of player personnel for receivers and tight ends. “There were definitely some shining moments in his 1-on-1s, and at the same time I’m sure there’s still some rust because it was probably one of his first times in a competitive situation since suffering that injury last season.”
— Jahan Dotson (@H55ZY) May 4, 2017
4-star WR Daniel George
Current School: Oxon Hill High (Md.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 37 WR; No. 185 overall; No. 8 prospect in Maryland
247Sports crystal ball: Penn State (100 percent)
Though he stands 2 inches shorter, the 6-2, 201-pound Daniel George drew comparisons to current Nittany Lions WR commit Justin Shorter during our discussion with Torres. This physical pass target reached the end zone 11 times last season on just 29 catches, according to MaxPreps, and tends to bully defensive backs off the snap.
George visited State College in February and “definitely” plans to return. Many of his top alternative contenders — notably Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech — have an edge in proximity, but Penn State is in excellent shape here.
“The 107K [Beaver Stadium capacity is 107,000] is definitely a big part,” he told Land of 10 during The Opening’s Washington, D.C., regional in April. “It’s a stable coaching staff, and they’re all really good guys. I like the way the whole school is set up, and I like the fans. I like the way they use the receivers and the running game.”
— Daniel George (@11DanielGeorge) February 13, 2017
4-star DE Dorian Hardy
Current School: Paramus Catholic High (N.J.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 6 strongside DE; No. 143 overall; No. 4 prospect in New Jersey
247Sports crystal ball: Penn State (92 percent); Alabama (8 percent)
After an April 22 de-commitment announcement from top-ranked DE Micah Parsons, Penn State must turn attention toward adding at least one or two serious impact defenders off the edge. Dorian Hardy fits the bill, bringing agility and a 6-5, 245-pound frame to a possible 5-technique role.
Hardy, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of recent Paramus Catholic legends Rashan Gary and Jabrill Peppers, left Happy Valley impressed by the volume of supporters who showed up for spring game festivities.
“It was amazing to see fans come out for a spring game like that,” he said. “[The atmosphere] was just like a regular game, and I’m not really used to that. It was crazy.”
A return trip is in the works, while Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and nearby Rutgers are also in line to receive visits this summer.
5-star DE KJ Henry
Current School: West Forsyth High (N.C.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 2 weakside DE; No. 18 overall; No. 2 prospect in North Carolina
247Sports crystal ball: Clemson (100 percent)
This one may come as a slight shocker to Nittany Lions fans, considering KJ Henry never stepped a foot on campus. However, expect that to change before National Signing Day.
He told our colleague Hale McGranahan of SEC Country, “I definitely [want to] go visit up there,” and cited his relationship with Franklin as the primary factor for Penn State’s inclusion in his recent top-10 announcement.
“He was one of the only head coaches to really step out of that title and be real with me, be cool with me, I guess,” Henry said.
If the Nittany Lions are unable to reel Parsons back into this class, Henry would be about as ideal a Plan B any coaching staff could dream up. He secured 54 tackles — 24 for loss — 13 sacks and 4 blocked kicks last fall, according to the Associated Press.
5-star DE Micah Parsons
Current School: Harrisburg High (Pa.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 1 weakside DE; No. 3 overall; No. 1 prospect in Pennsylvania
247Sports crystal ball: Ohio State (63 percent), Penn State (37 percent)
And now the one you’ve all been waiting for …
Micah Parsons spent 14 months headlining the Nittany Lions’ 2018 class before desiring a “fresh start” and declaring his de-commitment. Despite the initial backlash, Penn State is still a top-tier suitor for the in-state star, and he actually really enjoyed himself in Happy Valley during the weekend that culminated in his de-commitment.
“I had an amazing [time at the spring game] but just wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to [sign with Penn State],” Parsons said. “People were bashing me for taking visits [elsewhere], so I decided to take my time.”
Parsons told Land of 10 he plans to use two official visits during the season, and we’re betting at least one features the Nittany Lions — either home against Michigan (Oct. 21) or at Ohio State (Oct. 28). He mentioned Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Nebraska as potential destinations while planning a summer university tour.
Don’t be surprised if Parsons keeps everyone waiting until National Signing Day. He gained early notoriety while collecting 190 tackles — 47 for loss — and 32 sacks as a high school underclassman, according to MaxPreps.
From the bottom I came, now I run this game. Literally‼️ eat or starve ? pic.twitter.com/tS4vKmrbjP
— BLESSED MVP (@Micah_parsons23) May 5, 2017
4-star S Kwantel Raines
Current School: Aliquippa High (Pa.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 13 S; No. 123 overall; No. 5 prospect in Pennsylvania
247Sports crystal ball: Pittsburgh (100 percent)
In-state DB Kwantel Raines is another candidate to commit this summer, and upcoming first-time campus visits to schools such as Florida and Michigan State may be the final checkpoints of a whirlwind process.
“The only thing that’s slowing me down from committing is I want to see schools that are farther out,” he told Chris Harlan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Once I get the chance to see what they have to offer, I’m going to commit.”
Penn State joins Maryland, Pittsburgh and West Virginia as notable programs to host him thus far, and Raines labeled his State College spring game visit “amazing,” according to Harlan. His versatility, at 6-3, 200 pounds, presents options at both safety and outside linebacker.
If Raines suits up for Penn State it would deal another damaging blow toward Pitt, which witnessed prized local 5-star defensive back Lamont Wade head east to Happy Valley last cycle.
WeAre ?⚪️ pic.twitter.com/pUVchhyGOi
— Telly Mac?™ (@KwantelRaines) April 4, 2017
4-star OL Fredrick Scruggs
Current School: Cathedral Prep (Pa.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 2 OC; No. 186 overall; No. 6 prospect in Pennsylvania
247Sports crystal ball: Ohio State (100 percent)
Penn State is attempting to dominate home recruiting turf, and this possible in-state addition to the trenches would be huge. Fredrick Scruggs, affectionately known as “Juice,” was pointed out to Land of 10 by at least three current Nittany Lions commits as a “must-get.”
However, Franklin and OL coach Matt Limegrover managed to land three pledges along the offensive front during a recent two-week span: Nana Asiedu, Antwan Reed and Bryce Effner. Each of those three could wind up at offensive tackle, though Scruggs’ collegiate future projects inside.
This recruitment may ultimately boil down to a head-to-head battle between Penn State and the rival Buckeyes. Scruggs named Ohio State his leader after attending the team’s spring game in Columbus, according to Bill Kurelic of 247Sports.
Before you cross him off the Nittany Lions’ list, remember he returned to Happy Valley just six days after those statements and spent the day with several Nittany Lions pledges.
4-star S Isheem Young
Current School: Imhotep Institute Charter High (Philadelphia)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 9 S; No. 90 overall; No. 4 prospect in Pennsylvania
247Sports crystal ball: Penn State (94 percent); Florida State (6 percent)
Among targeted recruits for Penn State’s defensive back seven, Isheem Young likely sits atop the big board. Long surrounded by big expectations in the City of Brotherly Love (former Imhotep head coach Albie Crosby compared him to legendary Miami Hurricanes and Washington Redskins S Sean Taylor after his sophomore year), he embraces it.
Young measured himself up against top-10 2017 NFL Draft pick Jamal Adams during a recent conversation with Land of 10. He is a big-time hitter who continues to establish elite coverage technique, creating a complete package at the position.
His close friendship with Nittany Lions spring game defensive MVP Shareef Miller may help make a difference here, though Young expressed hopes to visit Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU and Ohio State this offseason.
“[Miller and I] talk almost every day,” Young said. “He always tells me [Penn State] is a place where you grow, on and off the field. He definitely wants me to come up there and ball out with him.”
Potential Penn State teammates working against each other here?
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) April 30, 2017
Other important Penn State targets to know include: 4-star WR Shaquon Anderson-Butts (Pa.), 4-star DE Eyabi Anoma (Md.), 3-star LB Brian Asamoah (Ohio), 4-star DT Tyler Friday (N.J.), 4-star CB Jordan Miner (Fla.), 4-star DT PJ Mustipher (Md.), 3-star DE Jayson Oweh (N.J.), 4-star LB Shayne Simon (N.J.), 4-star DE Tyreke Smith (Ohio) and 4-star OT Rasheed Walker (Md.).