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Pair of prospects with Penn State offers will announce college plans next week
Nittany Lions coach James Franklin and his staff are concentrated on further strengthening a 2018 recruiting class ranked No. 1 overall among Big Ten programs in the 247Sports’ composite rankings. Now less than nine months shy of National Signing Day (Feb. 7), the group features 13 pledges representing eight states.
This upcoming week presents a couple of opportunities for that total to increase. Ohio LB Dallas Gant and Philadelphia WR Darryle Simmons are both set to come off the board by Tuesday afternoon.
Simmons, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect from St. Joseph’s Prep, announced intentions to declare a commitment Sunday.
This Mother’s Day decision should intrigue programs from multiple Power 5 conferences. He trimmed his options to a top-six list in March, placing Penn State alongside Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and West Virginia:
— Darryle Simmons ii (@dsimm_ii) March 5, 2017
Listed No. 12 among Pennsylvania prospects in the 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, Simmons is considered the No. 62 overall receiver recruit this cycle. He received an offer from the Nittany Lions midway through his sophomore year, and Franklin also targeted high school teammate D’Andre Swift, a 4-star running back who signed with Georgia.
Simmons is a seasoned traveler on the recruiting trail, including multiple trips to Happy Valley.
— Darryle Simmons ii (@dsimm_ii) February 28, 2016
However, it appears likely he is headed elsewhere. Simmons spent time at Tennessee and West Virginia earlier this spring, though he is projected to land at Virginia Tech by 83 percent of prognostications in the 247Sports crystal ball.
Penn State has sights set on several blue-chip receivers in this cycle, attempting to match more talent with 4-star pledge Justin Shorter. The Nittany Lions are firmly in the mix for fellow 4-star talents Jahan Dotson (New Jersey) and Daniel George (Maryland).
Simmons, a 3-star recruit, recorded 34 receptions for 526 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016, according to Daniel Gallen of PennLive.com.
Gant, the top-ranked linebacker in Ohio, shared his announcement is set for 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday. The 6-3, 225-pound is listed No. 5 nationally among outside linebackers.
He attends St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo and told Bill Kurelic of 247Sports there is consistent communication with Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry. The Nittany Lions entered his recruitment last summer.
Like Simmons, Gant included Penn State in a public collection of favorites:
Top 5 top 5 top 5… pic.twitter.com/Rr0RONDVA7
— Dallas Gant (@dallas_gant) April 4, 2017
Notre Dame crashed a conference showdown among Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and the Nittany Lions. Looking ahead to Tuesday, there’s a strong consensus this is the Buckeyes’ battle to lose.
Ben Axelrod and Jeremy Birmingham, our Land of 10 Ohio State beat reporters, discussed the impending decision on this week’s edition of their Inside the Shoe podcast. Be sure to give it a listen if you’re searching for an insider’s look at the situation from the Buckeyes’ perspective.
But since you’re here, it’s probably safe to say you’re more interested in where the Nittany Lions stand with Gant. A steadily growing rapport with the university and staff kept Penn State in this mix.
“My first visit I didn’t expect too much,” he told Kurelic. “But they have great players and great coaches. I really liked that place. They just grew on me.”
Our expectation is that Gant’s next trip to State College will occur in an Ohio State uniform. It’s not exactly a bold assumption, as the Buckeyes are a unanimous pick among 15 analysts’ predictions in the 247Sports crystal ball.
Penn State should make plenty of “favorites” lists throughout this cycle. It’s a strong sign of the program gaining traction across the national recruiting scene, but Franklin won’t win every recruiting matchup and ultimately there won’t be room for all players who would like to issue a Nittany Lions commitment.
We don’t anticipate Penn State will add Gant or Simmons next week, but both announcements at least warrant a look from fans.
Where Nittany Lions commitments land in latest national rankings
The spring evaluation period doesn’t just apply to college coaching staffs. Industry analysts, including several from this site, have been busy hitting the road for in-person assessments of prospects.
Camp performances and deeper 2016 season film review assist with the process and lend greater perspective for high school talent. Naturally, rising seniors are under the microscope most.
The staff at 247Sports unveiled a new list of top 2018 recruits Thursday, producing plenty of movement. Let’s take a moment to see how it impacted Penn State commitments.
QB Justin Fields continues to lead the class, rising five spots to No. 5 overall. He is one of two 5-star quarterbacks in the cycle, according to 247Sports, trailing only Clemson pledge Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall).
“[Fields has] the physical traits in terms of size (6-3, 221 pounds) and athleticism (4.51-second 40-yard dash) that gives some Deshaun Watson projectability in terms of play extension and big play potential,” 247Sports scouting director Barton Simmons wrote. “The more we’ve seen him, the more comfortable with him we are as a passer.”
That sets the bar about as high as it gets in college.
During a three-year career at Clemson, Watson became a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and led the Tigers to a national championship. The Houston Texans selected him with the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Fields completed 67 percent of passes last season, tallying 2,770 passing yards, 23 touchdown tosses and 6 interceptions in 12 games, per MaxPreps. He added 1,176 yards and 15 scores on the ground, gaining at least 100 rushing yards in four contests.
The “other” Justin of this Penn State class – New Jersey WR Justin Shorter – vaulted 119 spots to No. 36 overall. He is now the No. 5 receiver recruit and tops the list of 2018 Garden State products.
Shorter, a 6-4, 215-pound pass target, earned positional MVP honors April 30 at The Opening’s New Jersey regional. His ascension isn’t a surprise, as we noted he looks the part of a legitimate top-10 receiver one day after that performance.
“Last year, when I was still learning the game, I would try to be shifty and run by [defensive backs],” Shorter said. “That really wasn’t working, so I’ve focused on training to get my hands on the DB and use my size to make sure they won’t press me. It worked [Sunday]. I was pushing them around.”
He dominated 1-on-1 matchups, looked polished during downfield route progression and took “fastest man” honors at the event by finishing his 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds. This display comes during an offseason in which Shorter has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) May 1, 2017
TE Zack Kuntz, who combines excellent coordination with a 6-8 frame, lands directly behind Shorter as the No. 37 overall prospect. He is No. 2 on the position’s pecking order, 11 spots ahead of fellow Penn State pledge Pat Freiermuth, who fell from No. 5 to No. 13 in 247Sports’ rankings.
The site’s top-100 rankings feature five future Nittany Lions. RB Ricky Slade (No. 69) and OT Nana Asiedu (No. 73) join Fields, Shorter and Kuntz in that upper echelon.
DE Micah Parsons, who de-committed from Penn State last month, remains a top-10 overall recruit (No. 8), but was supplanted atop defensive end rankings. North Carolina edge rusher KJ Henry — who plans to visit Penn State —now leads the pack and is No. 6 overall.