Penn State continues to extend its search for top-tier talent on the 2018 recruiting trail, boasting a top-five overall class that features athletes from eight states. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin approaches the final stretch of spring focused on adding to this collection, and a few targeted recruits may decide soon.
The Penn State recruiting board is constantly in flux, as prospects across America determine their collegiate fate. As some opt to head elsewhere for the next phase of their football career, the Nittany Lions must look toward alternative options as potential fits.
Upcoming commitments could shed light on where things stand for the program when it comes to several positions. Will Franklin cross key needs off his staff’s 2018 list or is Penn State primed for the pursuit of multiple Plan B players?
Here’s a glimpse at five Nittany Lions targets who seem interested in wrapping up their recruitment before summer training camp.
4-star LB Dallas Gant
High School: St. John’s Jesuit (Toledo, Ohio)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 5 outside linebacker; No. 126 overall
247Sports crystal ball leader: Ohio State (100 percent)
This one is nearly a done deal. Dallas Gant, the top-ranked linebacker in Ohio, is set to announce his collegiate choice at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday. Penn State is featured among five finalists, along with Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and the in-state Buckeyes:
Top 5 top 5 top 5… pic.twitter.com/Rr0RONDVA7
— Dallas Gant (@dallas_gant) April 4, 2017
Leading up to this birthday pledge, there is little indication the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect plans to leave home. Ohio State continues to surge in his crystal ball — based on recruiting experts’ predictions — with 10 projections pointed toward the Buckeyes since the start of April.
Last July, I placed a prediction for Gant to land in Columbus and feel zero temptation to change that pick a day shy of the verdict. He said the idea of playing at Penn State “grew on me” during a recent interview with Bill Kurelic of 247Sports, but expect the Nittany Lions to join both Big Ten programs from Michigan as a future conference rival.
4-star WR Jahan Dotson
High School: The Peddie School (Hightstown, N.J.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 18 wide receiver; No. 90 overall
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (83 percent)
Based on an April 30 discussion with Jahan Dotson, it’s apparent Penn State is a primary player for his pledge. Perhaps only Michigan and Ohio State might stand in the way, and these three Big Ten teams have definitely separated themselves from a collection of college options that includes nearly 30 schools.
Dotson attended the April 22 spring game in Happy Valley, sticking around campus the entire weekend. He accompanied Franklin to a Nittany Lions baseball game the following day, and enjoyed building relationship with Penn State commits such as 5-star QB Justin Fields.
The 5-11, 165-pound playmaker is coming off a season-ending right leg injury but continues to gain confidence in his health. He aims to build off a junior campaign that included 503 receiving yards, 252 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns in five games, per MaxPreps.
A commitment may not come until Dotson returns to Ann Arbor, Columbus and State College for final assessments of his top three choices. Either way, we expect him to reach a decision by July, or even earlier.
“If he committed – and I’m trying hard to make that happen – it would be another exciting piece for a PSU offense that can be unstoppable,” Nittany Lions WR commit Justin Shorter said.
4-star DT PJ Mustipher
High School: The McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 9 defensive tackle; No. 101 overall
247Sports crystal ball leader: Notre Dame (88 percent)
This 6-5, 290-pound lineman has repeatedly expressed intentions to consider a late-spring commitment during recent interviews. PJ Mustipher, who visited Happy Valley last month, told Tom Loy of 247Sports and Greg Pickel of PennLive.com that he might shut things down in May.
“I need to sit down with my family,” he told Pickel. “If we can commit this month, cool, but I don’t want to rush it.”
Mustipher made those comments days after receiving an invitation to The Opening finals, held June 28-July 3 in Beaverton, Ore., at Nike’s world headquarters. Though we’re still awaiting a decision midway through May, odds appear better than 50-50 that he will head to that event as a committed recruit.
Notre Dame hosted him in late April, and he’s being personally pursued by Fighting Irish pledges Jayson and Justin Ademilola. The former also landed an invitation to The Opening finals following their shared experience at the New Jersey regional.
“It’s been great getting to know them over the past few weeks,” Mustipher told Loy. “The twins want me real bad.”
Along with Notre Dame, schools such as Ohio State and Tennessee provide plenty of competition here. His older brother, Sam, is a Fighting Irish offensive lineman, adding to the sentiment that he will wind up in South Bend.
If this recruitment extends beyond the summer, it’s probably a good thing for Penn State and would give Franklin an opportunity to lock in an official visit weekend.
— Pj Mustipher (@KingPJ55) April 9, 2017
4-star S Isheem Young
High School: Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 12 safety; No. 115 overall
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (94 percent)
Isheem Young sounded unsure about his game plan for a commitment during our April 30 discussion. He expressed interest in the possibility of pledging this summer, though a chance to use several official visits during the season also weighs heavily on his mind.
Young, a 5-10, 201-pound defensive back, is extremely close with Penn State DE Shareef Miller. The fellow Philadelphia product earned defensive MVP honors at the spring game, which the 2018 target attended.
“We talk almost every day,” Young said. “He always tells me [Penn State] is a place where you grow, on and off the field. He definitely wants me to come up there and ball out with him.”
The Nittany Lions are in excellent position to reel in this priority in-state prospect, though schools such as Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State remain in the mix. Young hopes to visit several campuses during summer break, and a decision could await soon afterward.
Penn State appears to be in the driver’s seat here, and it would be a huge boost to get him on board before the season. Several Nittany Lions commits stressed Young is a player they want, and peer-recruiting should be in full force throughout this process.
Potential Penn State teammates working against each other here?
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) April 30, 2017
3-star ATH Aron Cruickshank
High School: Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 22 athlete; No. 402 overall
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (100 percent)
Aron Cruickshank is yet another prospect on this list who traveled to Beaver Stadium for Penn State’s spring game. The Nittany Lions made a positive impression on the speedy athlete, who would play slot receiver in State College.
“Everyone was so welcoming,” he told Land of 10. “I had some very good conversations with the coaches, and we talked about a lot of things outside of football.”
Big Ten interest has arrived in bunches for Cruickshank, who also hears from Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers and Wisconsin. Coaches won’t need to wait too long for a result in this recruitment.
Cruickshank, who primarily lined up at quarterback as a junior, said he intends to commit before his senior season. Penn State is also pursuing Erasmus Hall teammate Matthew Jones, who is listed No. 3 nationally among defensive tackles in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings.
— Bud Knapp (@BudKnapp) May 6, 2017