Student Sports
Can Penn State continue to build recruiting momentum with 4-star Philadelphia safety Isheem Young?

Penn State Recruiting Mailbag: Exploring Nittany Lions QB dynamics and where things stand with Philadelphia DB

Tyler Donohue

Join the conversation on Penn State football recruiting right here every Friday! Tyler Donohue, Land of 10’s Nittany Lions reporter, will respond to questions gathered throughout the week. Be sure to receive your answers by contacting us on Twitter and ask questions throughout Tyler’s weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Thursdays).

Penn State Nittany Lions recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have  plenty to address here. Let’s get started…

I posted that initial tweet Saturday shortly before the spring game started. We’d already witnessed 2017 Penn State signee Sean Clifford and 2018 Nittany Lions commit Justin Fields enjoying the festivities on the field during team warm-up drills.

Jason quickly responded and brought up an excellent point. Redshirt junior Trace McSorley earned the starting quarterback job last offseason, and he went on to tally 36 total touchdowns, including five in the Rose Bowl.

The breakout campaign ensured there wouldn’t be another quarterback battle in 2017, but what happens next year? If McSorley manages to duplicate his sophomore success in an expansive national spotlight, he could share Heisman Trophy-hype with running back Saquon Barkley.

Despite his potential return to Happy Valley for the 2018 season, McSorley might be tempted to declare himself ready for the NFL draft. He isn’t a physically formidable athlete — standing 6-foot, 205 pounds — so would it make sense for him to risk injury as a fifth-year college player?

So, that brings us back to Jason’s question: Is there a clear answer for life after McSorley?

Tommy Stevens made a statement Saturday, earning offensive MVP honors after tossing 3 touchdowns in the spring game. The redshirt sophomore, who flipped his commitment from Indiana to Penn State as a high school senior, looked excellent.

Penn State head coach James Franklin frequently lauded Stevens during spring camp and punctuated those thoughts postgame.

“Tommy Stevens continues to do some really good things,” he said. “We’re really excited about him and his development.”

Stevens heads into the fall with three remaining seasons of eligibility. He would unquestionably become the favorite to earn starting reps if McSorley suffers an injury or leaves campus after 2017.

Might he consider a transfer if McSorley sticks around beyond this season? It’s too early to speculate at this point, and ultimately that’s a decision only Stevens and his inner circle can reach.

Beyond Stevens, Franklin doesn’t seem very enthused about his quarterback depth chart. That might change when Clifford — a 2016 Elite 11 finalist — arrives in Happy Valley this summer.

I graded Clifford as a top-20 quarterback recruit in the 2017 recruiting cycle, and from a personality standpoint, he’s about as steady as teenage kids come. He should have a chance to vie for the No. 3 job this summer, but if things go according to plan for Penn State, a redshirt season makes sense.

Things become increasingly interesting when you look toward 2018, when Fields would enroll. Expect college coaches from across the country to keep chasing the Harrison (Ga.) High School standout until he signs a National Letter of Intent.

All indications show Fields is fully committed to Penn State, but that relationship could be tested as other schools attempt to enter the mix. The 6-3, 221-pound playmaker is ranked No. 1 among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings and already claims the belief of future teammates.

“Even though he’s a 5-star recruit, I’m still not sure people fully understand what Justin brings to the table,” Nittany Lions linebacker commit Jesse Luketa said of Fields. “He’s one of the most athletic individuals I’ve ever seen. The kid is gifted, and when he steps foot on campus, he’s going to impress a lot of people. His film doesn’t lie, and he’s going to dominate.”

Next question, please…

This inquiry from Tommy shifts our attention to Texas, where the Nittany Lions have been increasingly active. Trent Gordon is one of two 2018 defensive backs committed to Penn State, along with safety Isaiah Humphries.

Composite rankings (No. 37 among cornerbacks and outside the overall top 400) don’t make the 5-11, 172-pound Manvel High School junior a “marquee” member of the class like Fields, but Gordon deserves your respect. He collected 81 tackles, 10 pass deflections and 2 interceptions in 2016, per MaxPreps, playing a pivotal role for a legitimate Lone Star State powerhouse.

His offer sheet also speaks volumes. Florida, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and UCLA each offered since Christmas.

Also, a fun side note: Friday is his birthday.

Fans should gravitate toward Gordon’s physical nature in coverage, which helps disrupt receivers off the snap. Even when opponents gain some separation downfield, he displays desirable hip fluidity and anticipation that erases space and baits quarterbacks.

Gordon also enjoys an active role against rushing efforts, evidenced by his junior season tackle total. Once he identifies a pass attempt is out of the equation, he flashes the closing speed and willingness to bring down ball-carriers.

His abilities in this regard should continue to increase as Gordon adds more bulk to a slender frame. Somewhat overlooked in a Penn State class loaded with blue-chip recruits, he might prove to be the hidden gem of this group.

Alright, there’s time for one more question. Fire away…

Robert is referring to 4-star Philadelphia safety Isheem Young. The 5-11, 201-pound prospect, considered a top-10 safety in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, attends the Imhotep Institute in Philadelphia.

An in-state priority for the Nittany Lions, Young holds more than 30 scholarship offers. Penn State commits Luketa (linebacker) and Pat Freiermuth (tight end) both identified him as a top target during recent conversations with Land of 10.

Young visited Happy Valley twice this month, which is a strong indication. He watched fellow Philadelphia product Shareef Miller earn spring game defensive MVP accolades and responded with pride.

Following his 2-sack performance, Miller stressed the importance of establishing a pipeline between State College and Philadelphia.

“We definitely take pride in it,” he said. “A lot of guys in Philly don’t even really get recruited — especially in the public schools — so to get a scholarship and play [Division I football] is a dream come true because it’s hard.”

Young doesn’t need to worry about luring scholarship opportunities to the City of Brotherly Love. He announced a top-12 list in March, placing Penn State in a group that also includes schools such as Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Ohio State.

Penn State carries a distinct edge among those contenders when it comes to proximity. Still, there will be several factors to consider before a commitment.

We’ll do our best to learn more about where things stand with Young’s commitment this Sunday at The Opening’s New Jersey regional. He plans to attend and should have a shot at earning an invitation to national finals.

It’s been fun, folks! Thanks for the questions and keep them coming all year long!