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Penn State recruiting class celebrates commitment from PJ Mustipher
The Nittany Lions landed another big-time talent Monday night, adding a verbal commitment from 4-star defensive tackle PJ Mustipher. He became the 22nd member of Penn State’s 2018 class, pushing the total of blue-chip prospects to an all-time program-best 14 pledges.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior at the McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.) visited Happy Valley on May 20 and returned to campus in mid-July for a Nittany Lions camp and the Lasch Bash. Mustipher, listed No. 6 nationally among defensive tackles in the 247Sports 2018 composite rankings, provides a potential stalwart in the middle of defensive line coach Sean Spencer’s attack.
He secured 47 tackles, 15 sacks and 4 forced fumbles as a junior, according to the Baltimore Sun. Mustipher also earned a 2017 state championship on the wrestling mat.
Penn State pledges swiftly responded to his commitment, which didn’t necessarily surprise them.
Zack Kuntz, a 4-star tight end pledged to the Nittany Lions since November, was one of more than a dozen members of the class who spent time with Mustipher during the Lasch Bash. He told Land of 10 the atmosphere that day indicated this would be the outcome of a contentious recruitment.
“We all felt confident about PJ and, especially after the Lasch Bash, I knew he was coming,” Kuntz said. “He didn’t say anything to me that made me think he was coming, but after you spend a weekend with the best coaching staff in the nation in State College, there’s no going back.”
Fellow 4-star TE commit Pat Freiermuth explained that Mustipher is precisely the kind of student-athlete Penn State is attempting to attract in this recruiting cycle.
“We hung out with him a lot at [camp] and Lasch Bash,” Freiermuth said. “He’s the perfect fit on and off the field for Penn State.”
That statement meshes well with a Tuesday morning tweet from Spencer.
Getting the right guys to fit in your position room is key…We are not just building a team, We are building a program. WE ARE!!!
— Sean Spencer (@SpenceChaos) August 8, 2017
While fans should be delighted to learn that the Nittany Lions are adding an impressive young man to a talented class, they’ll also love the way Mustipher competes in the trenches.
“He’s an animal in the trenches and instantly makes us better,” Freiermuth said.
Linebacker Jesse Luketa, a 4-star Penn State pledge and class leader, told Land of 10 in June he is on the hunt for “wild dogs” along the defensive line.
“Having those savages up front is only going to make our jobs easier at linebacker,” Luketa explained.
He celebrated the addition of one such player Monday night.
— Jesse Luketa (@OttawasVeryOwn) August 7, 2017
Judge Culpepper, a Florida product who joined the class July 14, also is expected to line up in the defensive interior. He found a new counterpart with the pickup of Mustipher.
— Judge Culpepper (@JudgeCulpepper) August 8, 2017
I’m expecting to spend some time on the phone with Mustipher this week, so stay tuned to Land of 10 for more on the Nittany Lions’ latest addition.
4-star LB Nik Bonitto includes Nittany Lions in his top options
Earlier Tuesday, I wrote about how available scholarships in the 2018 Penn State class are dwindling, focusing on six specific targets who could claim those final spots. While defensive linemen, offensive linemen, receivers and perhaps defensive backs appear to be the focus now, a compelling linebacker recruit recently pointed to the program as a potential destination.
Nik Bonitto, a senior at Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) High School, placed Penn State among his finalists Sunday:
— SNAKE (@nikkkkbonitto) August 6, 2017
Bonitto, a 4-star talent who is listed 12th among outside linebackers in composite rankings, includes the Nittany Lions in a group of contenders that also features Alabama, Louisville, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia Tech. He holds nearly 30 scholarship offers and Penn State joined the pursuit Jan. 24, according to 247Sports.
Penn State claims three commitments at linebacker: Charlie Katshir, Jesse Luketa and Nick Tarburton.
Despite past interest from players such as Brian Asamoah of Ohio and Jack Lamb of California, that trio has remained intact without an addition since February. The Nittany Lions did extend an offer to 3-star California LB Isaak Togia in July, but he appears destined for Notre Dame or the Pac-12.
Bonitto emerged as a key component of the St. Thomas Aquinas defense as an underclassman. He recorded 76 tackles ― 16 for loss ― and 9 sacks during the past two seasons, per MaxPreps. The 6-2 1/2, 204-pound playmaker is a unanimous pick to sign with Louisville in the 247Sports Crystal Ball.
Will Wednesday be decision day for 4-star DT Aeneas Hawkins?
Fresh off the acquisition of Mustipher, Penn State may be primed to add another premier talent at defensive tackle. With a decision looming, Aeneas Hawkins, a 6-3, 265-pound prospect from Cincinnati, is focused on the Nittany Lions and his hometown Bearcats.
Comments he made to Ryan Snyder of Blue White Illustrated in late July had us circling this week as a decisive one.
“I’m planning to announce sometime around August 9th,” Hawkins told Snyder. “I’m not sure yet if it’ll definitely be that date, but I’m shooting for sometime around the second week of August. I’m still planning to do a video with the Players’ Tribune. It’s basically just up to me now.”
Players’ Tribune, a athlete-driven website launched by New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter, may have its production department putting the final touches on an announcement video. If his original timeline remains intact, Hawkins could reveal his choice Wednesday.
When contacted by Land of 10 on Monday afternoon, he remained unclear about a decision timeline.
“When I know, you know,” Hawkins said.
The son of former Cincinnati Bearcats standout and NFL defensive back Artrell Hawkins, he has considerable personal ties to the local program. Hawkins visited Happy Valley for July 15 Lasch Bash festivities, and raved about that experience during a discussion with Greg Pickel of PennLive.
“I knew [the family feeling] from my past few visits, but this one was special,” he told Pickel. “It was like I needed to be reminded why I had fallen in love with PSU in the first place.”
Penn State is an 86-percent favorite to sign Hawkins, according to the 247Sports Crystal Ball. He would be the fourth member of this defensive line class, joining Culpepper, Mustipher and 4-star New Jersey DE Dorian Hardy.
— Aeneas Hawkins (@AeneasHawkins) July 16, 2017