Chris Kirschner/SEC Country
QB Justin Fields ended a long-term commitment to Penn State this week, impacting the program's 2018 recruiting approach.

Penn State Recruiting Mailbag: Looking at the Nittany Lions’ chances to flip 4-star QB, recent de-commitment run

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. Ask questions by contacting us on Twitter or reaching out during Tyler’s weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Thursdays).

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

Was there really any other legitimate way to begin the mailbag this week?

Justin Fields, a 5-star quarterback from Harrison (Kennesaw, Ga.) High School, ended a six-month pledge to Penn State on Tuesday. His recruitment has been a routine topic of discussion with readers here, and there was clearly some worry for fans leading up to this announcement.

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound prospect altered the complexion of James Franklin’s 2018 recruiting class on his way in and on his way out.

Since Dec. 1, he had served as the face of one of college football’s most impressive collections of offensive talent this cycle. Fresh off Elite 11 inclusion and a rise to No. 6 overall in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Fields left the Nittany Lions with a substantial hole to fill when he opted out.

Now, as John proposes in the question above, is there a possibility Fields eventually could fill that hole himself?

Despite his deep-rooted relationship with the staff, it seems highly unlikely. We witness marquee recruits end verbal pledges all the time and, whether or not that decision is amicable, reconciliation is extremely rare.

“I had doubts about whether I made the right decision, and I think opening up my recruitment publicly and taking a fresh look at my options will remove any doubts,” Fields told Jeff Sentell of DawgNation on Wednesday.

This fresh look could be filled with campus visits. The coveted quarterback remained mostly mum about potential travel plans while pledged to Penn State, but upcoming exploration makes sense now that Fields is free from any recruiting ties.

Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU are among programs likely attempting to secure campus visits as soon as possible. Whether Fields ever steps foot again in State College, where he attended the April 22 spring game, remains a mystery.

Penn State will keep tabs on him, but a de-commitment is difficult to overcome with a long-distance recruit of this caliber. I wouldn’t rule anything out but the better bet is counting on another 2018 quarterback to join the class.

Speaking of which…

Let’s provide some context for this question, because Devin Leary is indeed a name to know.

The Timber Creek (Sicklerville, N.J.) quarterback delivered a breakout performance last weekend in Los Angeles, where he competed alongside Fields at Elite 11 finals. Leary registered the top overall score in pro-day workouts and earned an invitation to The Opening, an annual summer prospect showcase in Beaverton, Ore., at Nike’s world headquarters.

“Devin is supremely talented,” Elite 11 coach Quincy Avery told me Monday. “He was spitting nothing but fireballs out his arm the whole entire time. You walked away from his pro-day performance and knew exactly why he was there. It was impressive to watch.”

Admittedly, I’ve been banging the drum for Leary to be viewed as a top-tier quarterback prospect since his early days as a starter at Timber Creek, which isn’t far from where I grew up. Leary started steadily collecting offers last fall, during the early stretches of a junior season for the record books.

He became New Jersey’s all-time single-season passing leader for yards (3,688) and touchdowns (48), leading his team to a state title. Leary is pledged to North Carolina State and labeled himself as a “hard commit” to the Wolfpack during our Thursday discussion.

Now the Nittany Lions are, at the very least, feeling out this situation in the aftermath of Fields’ de-commitment. Leary revealed outreach has come from Franklin, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and multiple Penn State commits during recent days.

The team is undoubtedly assessing other options as well, but Leary looks like a key concern.

As I documented in our Thursday notebook, he was in Franklin’s office last July when Fields and fellow 2018 QB Quincy Patterson picked up Penn State offers. Leary didn’t receive one and said that moment helped to motivate him for a dominant junior campaign.

Still, Leary said a Nittany Lions offer “would be huge,” and his older brother graduated from Penn State. The first step in this process is initial outreach, which is underway, and if an offer comes next, expect Franklin to focus on bringing him back to campus as soon as possible.

The ability to flip a commitment from a North Carolina State commit doesn’t seem as daunting as targeting a player on board with a powerhouse playoff contender, but don’t discount the strong rapport in place between Wolfpack coaches and the Leary family. He plans to return to the university for a third time on June 24.

We have time for one more question, so fire away…

Oh, Fred, you sound forlorn. I’ll attribute that to the fact that Penn State has suffered three de-commitments in the past 50 days.

First came a decision from in-state OT Chris Bleich, who backed off his pledge April 21, one day before the program’s spring game. That event was a resounding recruiting success, as every 2018 commit showed up to campus and two more were added to the mix when OTs Nana Asiedu and Antwan Reed entered the class.

The very next day, after attending a Penn State baseball game alongside Franklin and other recruits, 5-star DE Micah Parsons announced his de-commitment. It’s worth noting the Harrisburg (Pa.) High standout has returned to campus since and still considers the Nittany Lions a contender.

Things remained relatively quiet in the following month and a half, aside from an early May commitment courtesy of Illinois OT Bryce Effner. Then Tuesday arrived, and Fields sent shock waves throughout the Penn State football community.

It is difficult to accept, Fred, but class fluidity is simply a part of the recruiting process. The dynamics of a class when its members are high school juniors are often quite different from when those players are prepared to put pen to paper after their final prep season.

Micah Parsons, a 5-star talent, is shown visiting Ohio State one week before his de-commitment from Penn State. (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

There seem to be some close-to-sure things in this group, and a few prospects have already expressed plans to enroll early. Players who reside far away from campus, such as Texas CB Trent Gordon, might warrant some extra attention as their recruitments expand via new offers.

My guess is you’ll see at least one more current Penn State commit change plans before National Signing Day in February. But this possible loss will be balanced by newcomers, including some who might be pledged to another program now.

De-commitments happen to every team. How a staff recovers and replaces those players ultimately dictates the course of roster development.