ORLANDO, Fla. — Penn State prospects were among dozens of premier 2018 recruits who arrived Saturday in Florida for the annual Under Armour All-America Game. The Nittany Lions are well-represented leading up to a 6 p.m. Thursday kickoff broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, and receivers Justin Shorter and Shaquon Anderson-Butts are present in the Sunshine State. They took part in the All-America Game media day Saturday, expressing excitement about upcoming opportunity.
“I’ve been told and I’ve seen [on TV] that it’s a great experience,” Slade said. “Former [prospects] who came through here and play at Penn State now told me to definitely do it. I always wanted to do it anyway, I wanted to try it out, and I’m loving it so far.”
Aside from Anderson-Butts, each member of this group sent in their letters of intent to Penn State during the early signing period. Moving beyond the recruiting phase provided a sense of relief, along with optimism about what lies ahead.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) December 30, 2017
Slade and Shorter are headliners in Orlando. Both players are listed top 25 overall in composite rankings and carry 5-star designations. They could be counted on to fill key roles as true freshmen in Happy Valley, but for now the focus is developing an increased bond with their future teammates.
“We all know each other like we’re all brothers already,” Shorter said.
Anderson-Butts, who plans to formally join Harrisburg (Pa.) High School teammate Micah Parsons in the class on traditional National Signing Day (Feb. 7), views this experience as a career milestone.
“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity on this type of big stage,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get out there and play in the game.”
Shorter and Anderson-Butts will work together during drills during these days ahead. They previously shared the field this spring at regional events in New Jersey, and there’s a chance Penn State will soon add another commitment at the position.
Shorter and Slade expressed optimism that Solomon Enis is leaning toward Penn State. The 4-star receiver and Nittany Lions legacy isn’t in Orlando, but he did attend the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.
“Since The Opening, where we were roommates, I’ve been trying to get him to commit to Penn State,” Shorter said. “He’s been back and forth, back and forth, but we’ll see what happens.”
Slade explained that along with feeling good about the chances Penn State ultimately ends up with Enis, he thinks they’re in great position with top 10 defensive end Jayson Oweh, who plans to announce Thursday during the game.
The Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.) standout is down to Ohio State and Penn State.
“I probably won’t sleep [Wednesday night] to be honest,” Oweh said. “Until I say where I’m going.”
There are also four Ohio State signees in Orlando, so expect plenty of peer recruiting to come his way during preparation for the matchup. He mentioned Mustipher among those pursuing him hardest.
As #PennState fans celebrate the present tonight, could this guy soon become a big piece of the future?
A lot of eyes on @JaysonOweh here in Orlando as he's set to announce a choice Thursday during game.
Amazing journey for a prospect who didn't play football until 2016. pic.twitter.com/IFWVW7sIaN
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) December 31, 2017
Naturally, as a running back searching for daylight to do damage, Slade’s focus also shifts to the offensive front. Slade is doing his part to bring top 10 offensive tackle recruit Rasheed Walker into the class.
“I’m working on it. He’s the main one for me,” Slade said.
Walker, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound North Point (Waldorf, Md.) High School standout who will compete Jan. 6 in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, is another key Mid-Atlantic target for Penn State coach James Franklin. Penn State has enjoyed consistent success in the region, and welcomed Walker to campus earlier this month.
Tyreke Smith, a 4-star defensive end from Cleveland, used an official visit at Penn State alongside Walker and will announce his decision during the game. He revealed Saturday afternoon a silent commitment is in place, though a signature will wait until February.
“Development, family, education were three things I focused on,” Smith said. “I have a 4.0 [GPA], and I take that very serious. I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You get this opportunity and with the schools I have, I want to put myself in the best position to get developed. So I went with the school I felt that way about.”
The Nittany Lions made a lasting impression during his most-recent trip to State College but face a significant battle against Ohio State, and Smith still publicly lists Alabama, Oregon and USC as fellow finalists.
“The Penn State visit was actually great,” he said. “My whole family was there. I had a great time with the coaching staff, [defensive line coach Sean] Spencer, Coach Franklin. They always make me feel like family up there. I feel like I’m with my second family when I go up there, so it was a great visit.”
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) December 30, 2017
The Nittany Lions carry a 22-player class listed fourth overall in 247Sports 2018 composite rankings. While Penn State’s present success was on full display Saturday evening in the Fiesta Bowl, future components assembled in Orlando, and they’re on the hunt for more pieces.
“We’re looking for guys who can help win championships,” Slade said.