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Top recruits set to invade Happy Valley this weekend
Penn State could take a significant step forward Saturday in its pursuit of back-to-back Big Ten championships and a College Football Playoff appearance. The Nittany Lions play host to Michigan at 7:30 p.m. ET in a nationally broadcast game with major implications.
Penn State coach James Franklin hopes to record his first victory over the Wolverines and maintain an unbeaten season. All eyes are on Happy Valley, as ESPN’s College GameDay will kick off a whiteout-themed day by broadcasting on campus.
While Nittany Lions players such as Saquon Barkley, Jason Cabinda and Trace McSorley will take center stage, this is also a pivotal moment for potential Penn State playmakers. The staff is preparing to host a number of high school athletes from a variety of recruiting classes.
Franklin acknowledged this week it creates quite a logistical challenge, but this is an environment that could really help the Nittany Lions impress. Penn State will welcome several committed recruits to campus this weekend, including 5-star receiver Justin Shorter, Tampa (Fla.) cornerback Jordan Miner, 4-star linebacker Jesse Luketa and top-10 tight end recruit Zack Kuntz.
But an abundance of uncommitted talent warrants the spotlight.
Based on confirmations I’ve made with players and parents, along with social media announcements, here’s a list of anticipated visitors who hold a Penn State offer. This is not the complete list of uncommitted targets who will attend, and there’s always a chance for surprises at a game like this. But even incomplete, this is a collection sure to make most college football programs envious.
*Star ratings based on 247Sports composite rankings
4-star S Kwantel Raines (Aliquippa, Pa.)
4-star DE Tyreke Smith (Cleveland)
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) October 19, 2017
3-star CB Myles Bell (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
3-star CB Warren Burrell (Suwanee, Ga.)
5-star OT Devontae Dobbs (Belleville, Mich.)
4-star S Ronnie Hickman (Wayne, N.J.)
3-star RB Jordan Houston (Oakton, Va.)
4-star LB Shane Lee (Baltimore)
3-star DE Noah Potter (Mentor, Ohio)
3-star QB Taquan Roberson (Wayne, N.J.)
4-star WR Kendrell Scurry (Thompson’s Station, Tenn.)
4-star QB Garrett Shrader (Charlotte, N.C.)
4-star CB DJ Turner (Suwanee, Ga.)
4-star CB KJ Wallace (Atlanta)
— Kendrell Scurry (@D1Scurry) October 20, 2017
5-star DE Bryan Bresee (Damascus, Md.)
4-star CB Sheridan Jones (Virginia Beach, Va.)
5-star RB Chris Tyree (Chester, Va.)
Will be attending Penn St vs Michigan game next week 💯 #WeAre 🔵⚪️
— SHERIDAN JONES ‼️ (@SJones3_) October 13, 2017
Nittany Lions tight end Mike Gesicki remembers whiteout visit
Nearly four years before he set the all-time Penn State receptions record for tight ends, Mike Gesicki journeyed to Beaver Stadium trying to figure out his collegiate destination. Considered one of America’s premier prospects at the position, the Southern Regional (Manahawkin, N.J.) High School standout used an official visit at Penn State on Oct. 12, 2013.
The setting might sound familiar. Michigan was in town, and it was a whiteout game.
Gesicki already had used an official visit at Penn State’s primary competitor in his recruitment: Ohio State. While in Columbus, he watched LeBron James give a pregame speech to the Buckeyes before a victory over Wisconsin.
Two weeks later, it was the Nittany Lions’ turn to impress. The experience turned out to be unforgettable. Gesicki watched Penn State defeat then-18th-ranked Michigan, 43-40, in a four-overtime instant classic.
He committed to former Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien a few days later, spurning Urban Meyer in the process. We spoke within 24 hours of his commitment, as I was serving as a sports talk show host for ESPN Radio’s Atlantic City, N.J., affiliate.
“Watching that game, sitting right there in the first row at the 45-yard line, was unbelievable,” Gesicki said in October 2013. “That atmosphere with the whiteout, you really can’t say enough about Happy Valley. Beating Michigan, a ranked and undefeated team, it was crazy. I was very happy to say I was at that game.”
— Ⓜ️G (@mikegesicki) January 18, 2014
We caught up again before his senior season at Penn State and discussed the subject. He smiled when I brought up the memory and looked back with fondness as he connected the dots between that high school experience and what awaited.
“Definitely special. Coming here as a recruit, 4-overtime game against Michigan in a whiteout,” Gesicki said. “Now, obviously, having that same experience this year, except being on the field, being one of the guys contributing, is going to be an unbelievable experience.”
Gesicki, who suffered an upper-body injury Sept. 30 against Indiana, appears to be fully healthy heading into the second half of his final season as a Nittany Lion. He will be counted on to contribute against a Michigan defense that leads college football in yards allowed per game.
This time, he’ll be the one pursuing a pivotal victory while recruits watch closely.
“Seeing everything go full-circle, it’s very humbling and very cool to see the big picture,” Gesicki said.
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