Penn State is working to put the finishing touches on its impressive 2018 recruiting class, but James Franklin and his staff are well underway investing focus into 2019 prospects. The Nittany Lions carry two commitments from high school juniors, so there is plenty of work still required for building a foundation moving forward.
Penn State has extended scholarship offers to nearly 100 recruits in the 2019 cycle, taking an expanded nationwide approach with only two targets attending high school in Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions are in excellent position with several top-tier talents, evidenced by comments to Land of 10 during a recent Under Armour All-America event.
As we continue to assess potential future Penn State players who have one prep campaign remaining, here’s a rundown of seven Nittany Lions targets who particularly shined during the 2017 season.
RB Devyn Ford
High School: North Stafford (Stafford, Va.)
When Penn State Offered: April 28, 2016
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Clemson, Ohio State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Devyn Ford dazzled from start to finish for North Stafford, where he ran behind Penn State offensive tackle signee Nana Asiedu. He rushed for 2,056 yards and 32 touchdowns, according to InsideNova.
Ford, who holds more than 30 scholarship offers, erupted for 222 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns in a season-opening victory, setting the tone for a sensational season. He’s gained 5,071 yards on the ground in his prep career, totaling 76 touchdowns along the way.
WR Jake Smith
High School: Notre Dame (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
When Penn State Offered: Oct. 12, 2017
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Texas
Perhaps no other offensive prospect saw his recruitment explode during the 2017 season more than Jake Smith, rising from relative unknown to a hot commodity across Power 5 football. In the process, he’s been elevated to 4-star status in 247Sports’ composite rankings, and his name will be mentioned frequently when discussing 2019 receivers.
“My recruitment has completely changed since the beginning of this season,” Smith told Land of 10 in October. “I was barely even on the radar before this season and coaches wouldn’t even respond to me.”
He doubles as a dangerous runner and receiver, surpassing 1,000 yards in both departments. Smith rushed for 1,135 yards (9.6 per carry) and 11 scores in 2017, according to MaxPreps, adding 1,055 receiving yards (32 per catch) and 15 touchdown receptions. He also scored twice on special teams.
High School: DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.)
When Penn State Offered: July 16, 2017
Recruitment Status: Committed to Penn State on Oct. 26, 2017
Taquan Roberson provided Penn State with a notable pledge midway through the season, then went on to deliver DePaul Catholic to a state championship. He accounted for the only touchdown in a low-scoring Non-Public Group 3 title game, finishing the contest with 151 passing yards and 93 rushing yards.
Those numbers may not be gaudy, but they got the job done on a big stage, and his overall body of work as a junior really impressed. During his first full season as DePaul’s starting quarterback, he completed 67 percent of passes for 2,466 yards and 30 touchdowns. He tossed only 5 interceptions on 248 pass attempts, adding 573 yards and 4 scores on the ground, according to MaxPreps.
High School: Person (Roxboro, N.C.)
When Penn State Offered: Jan. 11, 2018
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Georgia, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia Tech
Joshua Harris is the most recent addition to Penn State’s 2019 target board, securing an offer from the Nittany Lions on Jan. 11. This 6-foot-5, 295-pound lineman figures to emerge as a coveted recruit among interior defenders following a junior season in which he dismantled opposing game plans.
He collected 85 tackles — 30 for loss — and 17 sacks, according to InsidePackSports. His ability to penetrate into the backfield and finish plays with explosiveness serve notice of a high-impact performer who can create opportunities for teammates along the defensive front.
High School: Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.)
When Penn State Offered: July 17, 2016
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Boston College, Michigan State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
Jordan Houston answered any questions that may have lingered after a fractured left fibula derailed his sophomore season. Among the earliest Penn State offers of this cycle, he spent much of that fall and winter working his way back from the injury.
“I’ve been training so hard since the injury and truly feel like I’m better than ever,” Houston told Land of 10 in May. “If anyone forgot about me, I plan to remind them as a junior.”
He accomplished this mission in 2017 while leading Flint Hill to an undefeated season. Houston averaged 11.9 yards per carry en route to 1,971 rushing yards, tallied 342 receiving yards and scored 30 touchdowns, according to MaxPreps. Through only 22 high school games, he’s rushed for 3,823 yards.
LB Brandon Smith
High School: Louisa County (Mineral, Va.)
When Penn State Offered: April 14, 2017
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State
Brandon Smith spearheaded the defensive attack for a Louisa County squad that surprised many by finishing 14-1 with a state championship game appearance. He earned first-team all-state recognition after recording 117 tackles — 18 for loss — and 6 sacks, according to The Daily Progress.
“I love playing sideline to sideline, creating big hits and just wreaking havoc,” Smith told Land of 10 in April.
Though there was offseason chatter about moving Smith to defensive end, the 6-5, 215-pound prospect remained at middle linebacker. He told Land of 10 earlier this month Penn State is pursuing him as a linebacker, and based on conversations with Smith and his family, the Nittany Lions look like a long-term contender for his commitment.
High School: Charlotte Christian (Charlotte, N.C.)
When Penn State Offered: June 4, 2017
Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; offers include Alabama, Louisville, South Carolina, Tennessee
Despite the presence of Taquan Roberson in Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class, it wouldn’t surprise to see the Nittany Lions add a second quarterback. Garrett Shrader, who shined during a July 16 camp in Happy Valley, may top the wish list. He again showcased a compelling skill set while delivering Charlotte Christian to a state championship.
Shrader completed 68 percent of pass attempts for 2,302 yards and 24 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. It was his second straight season averaging more than 200 passing yards per game, according to MaxPreps. He also starred as a runner at 6-5, 200 pounds, rushing for 791 yards and 10 scores.