Penn State enjoyed the debut of college football’s early signing period Wednesday, wrapping up 21 recruitments. The Nittany Lions have assembled a top-five class in composite rankings, headlined by three 5-star prospects.
Edge rusher Micah Parsons, considered the premier uncommitted talent in America, picked Penn State on Wednesday morning and will enroll next month. Approximately two hours later, 4-star receiver Jahan Dotson flipped his pledge from UCLA to the Nittany Lions.
Along the way, James Franklin welcomed letters of intent from 19 previously pledged players. That group features 5-star recruits Justin Shorter (receiver) and Ricky Slade (running back), along with top-10 positional prospects such as defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, inside linebacker Jesse Luketa, and tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz.
Though thrilled with the outcome Wednesday, Franklin remains focused on the tasks ahead.
“I think we’ll have some more action in the next day or so,” he said. “Then we could have some more action with guys that we’re still involved with for the second signing day (Feb. 7). There are still some moving parts out there.”
Penn State, along with the rest of college football, entered uncharted territory with the arrival of an inaugural early signing period (Dec. 20-22). The traditional National Signing Day remains in place, slated as always for the first Wednesday of February, but dynamics have undoubtedly changed.
“I worry a little bit about this second signing period because there’s a few guys, and a bunch of schools that want those few guys,” Franklin said. “In the past, schools were trying to still chase 20 guys. Now you’re going to have 20 schools chasing one guy. It’s going to get interesting.”
Franklin wasn’t coy when it came to priority concerns as Penn State fills its remaining scholarship slots.
When he announced Parsons will begin his college career at middle linebacker, Franklin also emphatically stated the Nittany Lions need a defensive end. He proceeded similarly when mentioning the hunt for an offensive tackle.
These sentiments were later echoed by Josh Gattis and Terry Smith, who serve as the program’s recruiting coordinators on offense and defense, respectively.
“We feel pretty confident we’re not done yet,” Gattis said. “We feel good with the class that we have but we’re going to continue to add playmakers.”
Jayson Oweh and Tyreke Smith are the obvious names to know at defensive end. Both blue-chip prospects have used an official visit at Penn State, and each recruitment seemingly comes down to Ohio State vs. Penn State.
— Jayson Oweh (@JaysonOweh) December 14, 2017
That may also be the case for 4-star tackle Rasheed Walker, especially after the Buckeyes missed on 5-star in-state tackle Jackson Carman. Even after the somewhat surprising addition of Dotson, receiver remains a position of interest for upcoming pursuits.
“We’ve still got some needs. We’ve got a need at receiver, we’ve got a need at offensive tackle, and we’re going to keep recruiting,” Gattis said. “We feel pretty confident we’re going to address those needs in the future and a lot of people are going to be excited about who we address them with.”
When it comes to receiver, there are a couple of key situations in play.
Shaquon Anderson-Butts, a close friend and teammate of Parsons at Harrisburg (Pa.) High School, was the lone Nittany Lions commit who did not sign a letter of intent Wednesday. Considering his sustained excitement for a future at Penn State and the addition Parsons, this leads to speculation that the delay may simply be based on academic requirements.
If Anderson-Butts doesn’t sign in February, it would be a clear indication that everything isn’t in place for enrollment, resulting in a potential extended timeframe for his arrival.
In the meantime, Solomon Enis is a 4-star receiver from Phoenix who continues to attract attention. The son of former Nittany Lions running back Curtis Enis, he spent an official visit in State College last month and recently received in-home visits from multiple Penn State coaches.
“We’re not going to leave one scholarship left on the table,” Gattis said. “That’s not the program or the people we are. We’re going to devote all our means to finishing off this ’18 class strong, as well as building toward the future.”
So how many scholarships does Penn State still carry in the 2018 recruiting cycle? Well, that remains a bit unclear.
“I’ve got a good idea, but that could change any day,” Gattis said. “Guys could come in after the bowl game and possibly be looking to transfer, or graduate and continue to move on. Attrition just naturally happens in any college program across the country. Right now currently we’ve got a few spots open but we’re going to continue recruiting as if we’ve got 10. Our list can never be long enough so we’ve got to continue to evaluate, continue to recruit, figure out who are the guys that did not sign in this early signing period and get those guys back on campus in January.”
Penn State may be tempted to reboot some recruitments depending on where the dust settles for other programs after this early signing period. Smith described a sustained sense of urgency despite an overwhelmingly positive Wednesday.
“I don’t really think you take a breath because it’s on to the next quest,” he said. “For us, it’s those three or four positions that are still available. We’ve got to pay attention to who is still on our board that we’re actively recruiting.”
Smith expects these upcoming weeks to be a unique whirlwind across college football as coaching staffs adjust to a new system. Still, he doesn’t anticipate Penn State will divert from its steady course while searching for the final, pivotal pieces that will cap off an impressive class.
“The best thing that helps us right now in recruiting is us having success on the field,” Smith said. “In the last two years we’ve won double-digit games and it’s enhanced our recruiting. It’s allowed us to be relevant in conversations that the previous couple years we weren’t relevant in, so we’re just going to keep presenting Penn State.”