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Penn State QB search: Devin Leary looks like priority target
Penn State coach James Franklin summoned three rising junior quarterback recruits to his office on July 17 of last year. This trio — Justin Fields, Devin Leary and Quincy Patterson — stood out from a group of several dozen competitors at the position who attended camp in State College.
By the end of the meeting, Fields and Patterson picked up scholarship offers. Leary, who attends Timber Creek (Sicklerville, N.J.) High School, left the room empty-handed — and motivated.
“I wouldn’t say I was frustrated, because it was a head coach recognizing my talents. But it honestly pushed me to work more,” Leary told Land of 10. “Quincy and Justin had more size than me, so I thought I needed something to overcome that. That meant becoming more accurate, working on my footwork and controlling what I can control.”
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Leary went on to shatter New Jersey single-season records last fall. He threw for 3,688 yards and 48 touchdowns — both records — while leading Timber Creek to a state title.
Leary committed to North Carolina State in April. The other two members of that meeting with Franklin also pledged to college programs during their junior year, as Patterson joined Virginia Tech’s class in February and Fields became a marquee member of the Nittany Lions’ talent haul in December.
“I really just fell in love with (N.C. State) during my last visit,” Leary said. “From the moment my family walked in the door, we were part of Wolfpack Nation. Something that stands out is ever since that day, the whole coaching staff has been showing a lot of love to me and my family. They really care for me as not just a football player, but as a person.”
Now, two months after making that decision, his recruitment has seemingly crossed paths with Fields again. The two spent last weekend together in Los Angeles, competing as Elite 11 finalists and sitting alongside each other during bus rides.
Both joined the Elite 11 fraternity when staff decisions were announced Monday, and they will again share drills at The Opening later this month. Just two days after they wrapped up action in Southern California, Fields announced his decommitment from Penn State.
Leary was surprised by the development. He may have been even more wowed by what happened next.
A wave of outreach has come from Penn State since Fields, a 5-star recruit, ended his six-month pledge. This includes staff members (Franklin, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis) and future Nittany Lions (2017 signee and fellow New Jersey product Fred Hansard, along with 2018 pledges Pat Freiermuth and Jesse Luketa).
Momentum indicates an offer may arrive any moment, 11 months after Leary hoped to secure it on campus.
“That would be huge for me,” he said. “If Penn State extended an offer to me and finally sees my ability to play quarterback, that’s something I’d really respect and like a lot.”
Leary, whose brother is a graduate of Penn State, understands his recruiting process could become a bit more complicated as things progress.
“I’m a hard commit to N.C. State right now,” he said. “This is something I’ll need to sit down and talk about with my parents and coaches. Just to discuss my opportunities. I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here.”
The South Jersey sniper doing what he does. NC State commit and Elite 11 finalist @DevinLeary1 delivers a laser.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) May 21, 2017
Along with Penn State, Leary explained dialogue has also developed with Florida, Georgia and Louisville since his Elite 11 performance.
“It feels like I’m starting to open up a lot of eyes,” he said. “Not just in New Jersey, but nationally. That’s something I knew I was capable of, and I’m glad it showed at Elite 11.”
Leary compiled the No. 1 overall pro-day workout score Saturday, besting a collection of 24 other passers expected to play Power 5 football. He drew rave reviews from veteran Elite 11 coach Quincy Avery.
“Devin is supremely talented,” Avery said. “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.”
Leary, who recently received a well-deserved bump into 4-star territory in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, also learned a lot about leadership during the three-day event.
“You have to lead by example in everything you do, from attending meetings, being vocal in practice and earning everyone’s belief so they’ll follow you,” he said.
Some of that lesson was served up by camp counselor Trace McSorley, who enjoyed a record-breaking redshirt sophomore season at Penn State in 2016. Leary also heard about McSorley’s recruitment, which featured an initial commitment to Vanderbilt.
It’s also worth noting that Leary has developed a solid connection with Penn State wide receiver pledge Justin Shorter, a top-10 receiver in the composite rankings. They shared several reps this spring while attending The Opening’s New Jersey regional and an Under Armour All-America camp series stop in the Garden State.
“Justin is the type of receiver who can get open no matter what,” Leary said May 21 after the Under Armour camp. “It seems as if wherever you throw the ball — even if it’s behind him or a little above his head — he’s going to come down with it. As a quarterback, a guy like him makes your job 10 times easier.”
Expect Penn State to make a decision about his position on the team’s 2018 target board soon. Leary plans to return to N.C. State with Timber Creek teammates on June 24.
Five-star RB Ricky Slade to join fellow commit in All-America Game
Though they attend high schools in different states, Penn State pledges Shorter and Ricky Slade will spend significant time on the same field before they arrive in Happy Valley.
The latter accepted an invitation to the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla., next winter, joining Shorter on that roster.
Blessed to say that I will be playing in the UA All-American Game 🏴 pic.twitter.com/BsFlHFqWnM
— Ricky Slade Jr (@TheSlade_Era) June 7, 2017
The 5-9, 185-pound playmaker tallied 1,847 offensive yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games at C.D. Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) High last season. Slade is considered the No. 1 all-purpose back in the composite rankings.
He and Shorter are now the top-ranked pledges of Penn State’s 2018 class following Fields’ departure. They will also join forces at The Opening, where they could land on the same 7-on-7 team for tournament play.
Nittany Lions tight end commit Zack Kuntz also received an invitation to The Opening. However, he is unable to attend due to family reasons.