Players in the 2018 recruiting class are underway with their final prep seasons, presenting one final opportunity for college coaching staffs and analysts to evaluate potential. Some prospects continue to make improvements as high school seniors, while others plateau and occasionally regress.
Here at Land of 10, our efforts to provide top-tier recruiting coverage expanded to include monthly statewide rankings throughout Big Ten territory. Serving as our Penn State beat reporter, it’s my duty to do that with Pennsylvania’s finest high school seniors.
If you missed our August edition, check it out here.
I’ve hit the road for a few games so far this season, watching four of the top 12 players on this September list in action. These opportunities are pivotal, as are the evaluation techniques picked up during my decade in this industry, dating back to a three-year tenure with a Power 5 recruiting department.
I’ve scouted 3-star players who became millionaires and Super Bowl champions. I’ve scouted 5-star talents who fizzled out before making any significant impact in a college game. There are no sure things in recruiting, but it won’t prevent us from projecting which young athletes warrant attention and scholarship offers as the college football recruiting scene gains increased notoriety and includes more viewpoints than ever before.
Based on in-person assessment at games and camps, film study, and discussions with players, scouts and peers, here is the September edition Land of 10’s 2018 Pennsylvania prospect rankings. There are few notable changes from August, as the season remains early, but a seventh Penn State commit has jumped into our top-20 list, while prospects such as Virginia Tech defensive back commit Nasir Peoples and Nittany Lions linebacker pledge Jesse Luketa moved upward.
Stay tuned for a mid-October update. Here’s how players stack up now, in one analyst’s opinion.
Five on the bubble: DE Noah Palmer (Thomas Jefferson; Pitt commit), ATH David Martin-Robinson (Hempfield; Temple commit), OL Justin Johnson (Imhotep Charter; Oregon commit), LB Jordan Mosley (Haverford; Maryland commit), ATH Kenny White (Pine-Richland; uncommitted)
20. WR Darryle Simmons (6-2, 210) – Virginia Tech commit
High School: St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia)
Darryle Simmons is likely to take on an even more expansive role at perennial prep power St. Joseph’s this season following the graduation of running back D’Andre Swift, who is now a Georgia Bulldogs freshman. He isn’t the biggest or quickest receiver among 2018 prospects in Pennsylvania, but there’s a smoothness to his game that seems beyond his years, and that should help him vie for early snaps at Virginia Tech. Simmons caught 34 passes for 526 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016, according to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times. Unfortunately, further evaluation has been limited because of Simmons being sidelined early this season with a reported leg injury, according to Daniel Gallen of PennLive.
19. CB Aaron Gethers (5-11, 185) – Boston College commit
High School: Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg)
The Eagles found an under-the-radar force at cornerback in June when Aaron Gethers announced his college decision. He competes through the whistle, wearing down receivers and breaking through blocking attempts. Gethers seems to play angry, and there’s a level of violence to his game that helps a defensive unit set an overall authoritative tone. He shadows opposing receivers consistently and cleanly, displaying an excellent sense of timing for disrupting pass attempts.
18. S Nasir Peoples (6-foot, 185 pounds) – Virginia Tech commit
High School: Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.)
Like several players on this list, Nasir Peoples contributes in a variety of roles for his prep squad. You can find him taking handoffs and running routes, but the greatest upside here is at safety. He’s an engaged defender in run support and flashes excellent range downfield to close gaps. Notre Dame extended an offer less than two weeks after a Feb. 22 commitment to the Hokies. Peoples rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown in his most recent game, according to Andrew Robinson of PA Prep Live. He is the first riser you’ll find on this list, as he jumps up from No. 20.
17. WR Julian Major (6-1, 185) – Michigan State commit
High School: Penn Hills (Pittsburgh)
It seems in every recruiting cycle, I find myself admiring Michigan State’s ability to locate and land talent at receiver. The Spartans struck again July 29 by securing a commitment from Julian Major, who also holds offers from Arkansas, Wisconsin and Virginia. He uses physicality to create space entering routes, displays strong hands and consistently powers through tackles for tough yards after the catch. Major secured 31 receptions for 433 yards and 7 scores in 2016, according to MaxPreps.
16. LB Charlie Katshir (6-3, 198) – Penn State commit
High School: Cumberland Valley (Mechanicsburg, Pa.)
Charlie Katshir makes his debut on our list following a strong start to the season. I wanted to wait for a look at how he recovered from February surgery, which repaired a torn labrum and ligament damage in his left shoulder, according to Brian Linder of PennLive. He’s been a workhorse for Cumberland Valley through the first few games, contributing greatly as a rusher, receiver and defender. Katshir is currently kind of a hybrid on defense, predominately filling the role of a safety. His reaction to play development is outstanding, and it’s clear he loves to fight for individual wins on each play. Katshir is one of thee Nittany Lions linebacker commits featured in the top 20 here.
15. OL Chris Bleich (6-6, 305) – UCLA commit
High School: Wyoming Valley West (Plymouth)
Chris Bleich initially pledged to Penn State as a sophomore but de-committed April 21 and landed in UCLA’s class two months later. He does diligent work as a run blocker and should continue to gain strength in that department during his time in Los Angeles. Bleich projects as a right tackle in college.
14. OL Blake Zubovic (6-4, 310) – Pittsburgh commit
High School: Belle Vernon
Blake Zubovic uses brute force to control matchups, and he knows how to finish plays. Pitt adds a formidable piece to the offensive front, and I see him competing for a quick rise up the depth chart at tackle or guard depending on what the Panthers’ needs dictate. He implements a powerful punch at the onset of snaps, rarely sacrificing leverage as a blocker in pass protection.
13. TE Kyle Pitts (6-5, 235) – Florida commit
High School: Archbishop Wood (Warminster)
Kyle Pitts is far from a finished product, but his progression makes you wonder if he can become an All-SEC tight end during college. Florida beat out 19 other teams for his commitment July 20, picking up a prospect who continues to add good weight while maintaining the athleticism that makes him such an intriguing weapon. He has the ability to shrug off a defensive back, then outrun a linebacker. That combination helped lead to 394 receiving yards and 6 touchdown catches on a state title winner in 2016, according to Daniel Gallen of PennLive.
12. WR Shaquon Anderson-Butts (6-0, 202) – Penn State commit
High School: Harrisburg
— Ryan Snyder (@RivalsSnyder) August 26, 2017
Shaquon Anderson-Butts bolstered Harrisburg’s passing attack last season en route to the first state championship game appearance in school history. He averaged 20.5 yards per reception and caught 10 touchdowns during that 2016 run, according to Brian Linder of PennLive.com. Anderson-Butts is a confident route-runner and displays solid body control while adjusting for passes. Continued speed development will help him become an increasingly balanced receiver as he progressed through a collegiate training system. Anderson-Butts, who also plays cornerback for Harrisburg, is averaging 26 yards per catch with 2 touchdowns through three games this season.
11. S/LB Kwantel Raines (6-3, 200) – uncommitted
High School: Aliquippa
Kwantel Raines is among the more compelling defensive prospects in this class nationwide. His physical frame suggests a full-time transition to outside linebacker could be special, while his range also may motivate a staff to make safety his permanent home. A dynamic athlete, he also starts at quarterback for Aliquippa. Raines remains a bit of tweener, creating some difficulty in evaluation. Dependent on which coaching staff signs him, his first college camp could feature auditions in more than one role. Hometown Pitt is pushing hard for his pledge, while Florida, Penn State and West Virginia are also under consideration as he approached the final stretch of a recruitment that may be over by midseason. James Franklin attended an Aliquippa game earlier this month, according to Lauren Kirschman of PennLive.
10. CB Marcus Hooker (6-0, 185) – Ohio State commit
High School: New Castle
Marcus Hooker welcomed a modest number of Power 5 offers following his junior season, but dynamics changed in late July when the Buckeyes entered this recruitment and he didn’t wait long to commit. The younger brother of former standout Buckeyes defensive back Malik Hooker, Marcus already possesses a college-ready build and mentality. He contributed all over the field as a junior, per Vince Pellegrini of WKBN 27 News. Hooker tallied 808 rushing yards, 363 receiving yards, 16 offensive scores and 76 tackles. His senior season is off to a strong start, as he carried the ball 40 times for 262 yards and 4 touchdowns in the team’s third game, according to Clayton Sauertieg of the New Castle News.
9. LB Matthew Bauer (6-2, 222) – Notre Dame commit
High School: Cathedral Prep (Erie)
Matthew Bauer has the makings of another outstanding inside linebacker at Notre Dame, where he pledged prior to his junior season. Bauer is an absolute wrecking ball in Cathedral Prep’s attack, flashing elite read-and-react instincts. His quickness and pad level make it extremely difficult for blockers to stall him on a blitz, and he seems to play the game wire-to-wire with pure adrenaline. Bauer is on pace for a third straight 100-tackle season. His development as a pass rusher has been on display during upperclassman campaigns, as he’s collected 15.5 sacks since 2016, according to MaxPreps.
8. S Isheem Young (5-10, 200) – Penn State commit
High School: Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia)
— Coach Cleezy (@EdOBrienScout) August 28, 2017
I started hearing from folks in the Philadelphia area about this hard-hitting safety in 2015, and Isheem Young has justified the early hype. Big collisions are his calling card, but coaches are really excited about his development as a complete defensive back. Young still will dish out devastating hits but increasingly balances intimidation with emerging skills in pass coverage. Young is becoming more comfortable and effective well beyond the box, and that’s a big step toward potential stardom at Penn State. While attending his senior season opener, I loved seeing Young compete with sustained passion and pride despite facing an insurmountable deficit on the scoreboard. Highly respected among his peers, he should be a quality addition to the Nittany Lions locker room as soon as he steps on campus.
7. LB/DE Nick Tarburton (6-4, 242) – Penn State commit
High School: Pennridge (Perkasie)
Nick Tarburton is an energetic leader who creates matchup issues for opponents due to his size at inside linebacker. Now approaching 250 pounds of solid mass, he won’t be bullied by offensive linemen and ditches lead blockers with ease. While watching film from his junior season and an early sample size of his 2017 efforts, I can’t help but imagine the impact he could make as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. Nittany Lions assistants Brent Pry (defensive coordinator/linebackers) and Sean Spencer (defensive line) may be debating this subject already. Tarburton has more than 200 tackles since 2015, according to MaxPreps. He is the kind of fiery, penetrative front-seven defender who helps set a tone for his defense.
6. WR Jahan Dotson (5-11, 165) – UCLA commit
High School: Nazareth
It’s been a big September for Jahan Dotson, who returned to the football field following an 11-month wait, traveled to UCLA for an official visit, and pledged to the Bruins. Among the most dangerous slot receivers in this recruiting class, Dotson suffered two broken bones in his right leg, ending what was shaping up to be a sensational junior season at Peddie School (Hightstown, N.J.). He transferred back to Nazareth this summer, returning to the school where he earned multiple state track-and-field championships and recorded a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2015. He’s up to his old tricks, lighting up opponents with a blend of quickness and lateral agility. Dotson, who averaged 22 yards per catch in 5 games last fall, erupted for 13 catches in his most recent game. He turned those opportunities into 151 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, according to Bradley Huebner of The Morning Call (highlights above).
5. OL Fredrick Scruggs (6-3, 270) – Penn State commit
High School: Cathedral Prep (Erie)
Fredrick Scruggs is an enforcer on both sides of the ball, doing damage at defensive end and left tackle for Pennsylvania powerhouse Cathedral Prep. He is expected to slide inside moving ahead, vying for collegiate reps at center or guard. Nittany Lions running backs will love this guy because of his ability to reach the next level in a hurry and become a battering ram who paves a path toward big gains. Scruggs doesn’t carry any bad weight, which is a huge edge for an offensive linemen making the transition to college. Penn State coaches will focus on building him up to prepare for the rigors of a full Big Ten schedule, and he’s already well underway with those efforts. I can envision Scruggs in a starting role for potentially three seasons, and evaluate him as Pennsylvania’s premier offensive lineman.
4. TE Zack Kuntz (6-8, 221) – Penn State commit
High School: Camp Hill
— Coach Cleezy (@EdOBrienScout) September 4, 2017
If you went into a laboratory and designed an ideal tight-end prospect, the result probably would look a lot like Zack Kuntz. Standing 6-8, he glides downfield with coordination and agility that wouldn’t seem to match his size. Kuntz earned a state track-and-field championship in hurdles this spring, further exhibiting the long strides that allow him to pick up significant chunks of yardage in short time. His catch radius is unfair for defensive backs, creating an elite red-zone target for quarterbacks. His wingspan and basketball athleticism allows him to feast on intentionally placed high passes, and he’s also a threat to break out for big gains while attacking linebackers on seam routes. Kuntz plans to enroll early at Penn State, which is huge for physical development toward becoming a complete college tight end. He surpassed 2,000 career receiving yards during his most recent game, and is averaging 24 yard per catch through 4 games in 2017.
3. LB Jesse Luketa (6-3, 238) – Penn State commit
High School: Mercyhurst Prep (Erie)
I’ve bumped Jesse Luketa up one spot here, and consider him the state’s No. 2 defensive prospect. He is noticeably faster this season roaming the field in a variety of roles. Luketa secured 69 tackles and 4 interceptions — returning 2 for touchdowns — in 9 games as a junior, according to MaxPreps. His presence in pass defense is again apparent in 2017, and it’s a key reason why I project him as an every-down linebacker in college. The Nittany Lions land a player who provides leadership on and off the field, and he’s candid about a goal to become one of the greatest linebackers to play this game. A lot of prospects say stuff like that, but Luketa is clearly invested in his long-term success, while also creating big plays as a receiver and rusher for Mercyhurst Prep. Luketa transplanted himself from native Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) early in high school for a shot at scholarship offers, and he’s earned more than 30 of them.
2. QB Phil Jurkovec (6-5, 215) – Notre Dame commit
High School: Pine-Richland (Gibsonia)
I first saw Phil Jurkovec in May 2016 during an Elite 11 camp in Columbus, Ohio. The event featured a few 2017 quarterback recruits who are now college freshmen, including Penn State newcomer Sean Clifford. Despite their presence, Jurkovec was the most impressive player on the field that day. I was hardly alone with that sentiment, as buzz grew among Elite 11 staff members, who already knew all about him following early offers from schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame, where he committed in May 2016. He suffered a thumb injury on his throwing hand last season, ending the 2016 campaign early, but he’s rebounded in a big way. Jurkovec completed 71 percent of pass attempts for 1,117 yards and 10 touchdowns during the first four games in 2017, according to MaxPreps. He also commands respect as a runner, which is pretty scary considering his formidable frame. Jurkovec has 9 touchdowns on the ground this season and is approaching 2,000 rushing yards in his career. He surpassed 5,000 career passing yards this month.
1. DE/LB Micah Parsons (6-3, 235) – uncommitted
High School: Harrisburg
Micah Parsons holds steady in the top spot of our Pennsylvania rankings through the first three games of his senior season. A high-profile and spotlighted recruitment receives abundant attention, but don’t let it overshadow his accomplishments and consistency on the field. Parsons is the catalyst for a powerhouse program that appears primed to reach its second straight state championship game. He overwhelms opponents while attacking from linebacker and defensive end, adding to the more than 40 sacks and 60 tackles for loss Parsons recorded through his first three prep campaigns. A compelling athletic skill set also makes him a high-impact running back, and there’s a case to be made for him as the state’s premier player at that position, too. He scored 3 rushing touchdowns in each of the past two games, and considering the exceptional receiver performances he’s posted on the 7-on-7 circuit, some college programs could be tempted to create an offensive role to supplement his defensive work. Parsons is working to graduate early and enroll at the university of his choice in January. Getting a head start in spring camp may set the stage for him to become a prominent part of a collegiate defense next fall. Penn State and Ohio State hosted him earlier this month, while Alabama and Nebraska are among other programs under consideration.