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Penn State commit Justin Shorter earns ‘Fastest Man’ title, special invite
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A staple of The Opening’s regional camp circuit is its “fastest man” competition at each event, which places top 40-yard dash performers from preliminary testing in the same lane for a decisive sprint. Before South Brunswick (N.J.) High WR Justin Shorter even faced a defensive back Sunday at New York Jets headquarters, he stole the spotlight.
Shorter, whose last name juxtaposes a 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, finished the race in 4.50 seconds to earn top honors.
— The Opening (@TheOpening) April 30, 2017
This impressive moment was merely the start of a dominant day for the 4-star receiver, who is listed No. 16 among prospects at the position in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings.
Shorter displayed intensity throughout drill work, 1-on-1 showdowns and half-skelly competition (RBs, WRs, TEs and QB vs. DBs and LBs), which challenges players to quickly digest and execute plays. He checked off every box scouts use to evaluate receivers: speed, size, extension, footwork, route range, consistent hands and toughness.
Several future FBS defensive backs attempted to impede his progress off the snap but Shorter countered with violent hands, gained space and let technique lead him downfield. By the end of the afternoon, it was apparent some opponents simply didn’t want to step up and cover him.
“Last year, when I was still learning the game, I would try to be shifty and run by [defensive backs],” said Shorter, who committed to the Nittany Lions last August. “That really wasn’t working, so I’ve focused on training to get my hands on the DB and use my size to make sure they won’t press me. It worked [Sunday]. I was pushing them around.”
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) May 1, 2017
Before making the short drive home Sunday, he received some long-awaited news. Student Sports president Brian Stumpf announced Shorter as one of five camp competitors invited to The Opening finals, held this summer in Beaverton, Ore., at Nike’s world headquarters.
“Ever since I went to the [The Opening regional camp] last year, I’ve been focused on earning this chance,” Shorter said. “Once I got there, I was just focused and made sure I caught every single ball and hit every single drill hard. This is an awesome opportunity but now I need to stay humble and keep working.”
Shorter was named positional MVP of an event that featured fellow 4-star receivers such as Penn State targets Shaquon Anderson-Butts and Jahan Dotson, who includes the Nittany Lions among three favorites. Shorter posted the No. 6 overall Nike Football Rating (109.38) on Sunday, leading all receivers in that category.
A motivated offseason continues to pay off.
Daily trips to the gym with his father have helped Shorter add approximately 15 pounds of muscle since last season. After weighing less than 200 pounds as a junior, he expects to start his senior campaign at nearly 220 pounds.
These measurements mirror those of Nittany Lions redshirt sophomore WR Juwan Johnson when he was a high school senior. Johnson, another New Jersey product who attended Glassboro High School, stood 6-4 and weighed 216 pounds when he signed with Penn State, per his 247Sports prospect profile.
“The funny thing is, when Juwan was in high school I was always following what he was doing,” Shorter said. “I remember when he made it to The Opening finals, and now I’m following in those steps. I definitely see some similar attributes between his play and my play. Hopefully as a freshman I can compete to join him on the field. That would be pretty cool.”
— Justin Shorter (@JustinShorter15) May 1, 2017
Johnson, a breakout star of Penn State’s spring camp, indeed attended The Opening finals in 2014. He spent time on Nike’s campus with fellow Nittany Lions commit Saquon Barkley.
Now three years later, both players carry high expectations on a perceived College Football Playoff contender.
Shorter knows at least one future teammate will also be in Beaverton. Virginia RB Ricky Slade, a 5-star recruit and the No. 1 all-purpose back in the 2018 composite rankings, received his invitation April 23 during The Opening’s Washington, D.C. regional camp.
Penn State quarterback pledge Justin Fields is also likely to land on The Opening finals roster. If he advances beyond Elite 11 finals in Los Angeles — and it would be an upset if the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat talent doesn’t — he will be one of 12 quarterbacks in attendance at Nike HQ in the summer.
Typically, the Student Sports staff that runs this annual showcase places common commitments on the same 7-on-7 squads. If this continues to be the case, there’s a strong chance Fields, Slade and Shorter would compete together.
“If they put us all on the same team, it would be huge to play together for the first time,” Shorter said. “We can really see how each other work on the field and it’s going to build great chemistry overall. When we get to campus next year, we’ll already know each other well because of that experience.”
There is certainly a chance other Nittany Lions pledges end up receiving an invitation to The Opening finals, as well. Just two more stops — Charlotte, N.C., and Oakland — remain on the regional circuit, then the camp’s staff will huddle up to evaluate who warrants the remaining spots on a roster that exceeded 160 prospects last summer.
Penn State coach James Franklin carries commitments from three other recruits considered top-10 players at their respective position in composite rankings. A pair of them — TEs Zack Kuntz and Pat Freiermuth — attended the New Jersey regional Sunday, as well.
As Land of 10’s Corey Masisak noted in a Monday column, the fields of Beaverton may be filled with future Nittany Lions. Top defensive line targets P.J. Mustipher and Micah Parsons also landed invitations to The Opening finals Sunday.
Parsons, a 5-star in-state standout, de-committed from Penn State on April 23. We documented his thought process and upcoming plans in a Sunday night story, and he could be tempted to return to State College after spending quality time alongside his former classmates.
The departure of Parsons leaves Shorter as the longest-standing Nittany Lions commitment with his pledge nearly nine months ago. And if his latest performance is any indication, Shorter should make noise come next August during training camp in Happy Valley.
“I need to be a leader of this 2018 group,” he said. “When I get up [to Penn State] I’ll do my best to lead by example every day — and that’s in workouts, on the field and in the classroom.”
Shorter established career-highs in catches (45) and receiving yards (718) last season, per MaxPreps, reaching the end zone 7 times.