Each month, Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue will take a look at the Nittany Lions’ to-do list here on Land of 10. This outlook focuses on three priority concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts in the weeks ahead. We now move on to September.
While it may not be official until Sept. 22, autumn arrives unofficially this week as college football season begins and temperatures at Penn State dip below 60 degrees. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions move greater focus toward a new recruiting cycle, going from a star-studded 2018 class to an empty 2019 class.
This summer showcased the increasingly impressive reach of Penn State coach James Franklin and his staff. The Nittany Lions landed 10 commitments from six different states between July 6 and Aug. 10, surpassing 20 total 2018 pledges in the process.
Penn State carries 23 commits in a 2018 class listed No. 3 overall in 247Sports composite rankings. Scholarship spots are limited, but there is still work to be done. Elevated efforts in the pursuit of high school sophomores and juniors also draw attention.
Let’s take a look at three key Nittany Lions recruiting storylines to follow throughout September.
1. Establish official visit dates with top 2018 targets
Compared to most college football programs, Penn State’s 2018 recruiting efforts aren’t extremely compelling as the season gets underway. A large collection of blue-chip commitments creates stability.
There hasn’t been evidence of wavering from any of the Nittany Lions pledges, though some could opt to visit other schools. Things appear to be set with premier prospects such as 5-star receiver Justin Shorter, top-five running back Ricky Slade, and the elite tight end duo of Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz. Class leaders such as 4-star linebacker Jesse Luketa are focused on uncommitted players who could help push this group to even greater heights.
Official visits are a pivotal part of the recruitment process with high school seniors. These trips provide prospects and their families an opportunity to explore universities and football programs in great detail, without worrying about travel costs.
Players are allotted five official visits. Some use one to the school to which they’re committed, while others max out official visits, journeying to various campuses deep into winter as National Signing Day — Feb. 7 this cycle — approaches.
These multi-day stays create intimate interaction between recruits, coaches, parents and members of the team. Typically, a veteran player or two are assigned to each prospect as campus host(s).
Official visit experiences during the season feature game day as a centerpiece. Few environments in sports can compare to a filled Beaver Stadium on Saturday, and I believe the “White Out” game against Michigan on Oct. 21 will be one of the program’s largest recruiting events this year.
Since prospects must consider their high school schedules, it’s important for Penn State to schedule visits with remaining targets as soon as possible. Some play home games on fields that don’t feature lights, so Saturday afternoon games can throw a wrench into logistics.
Jayson Oweh, who attends Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.), confirmed he will use an official visit for Penn State’s final home game — a matchup with Nebraska on Nov. 18. He will announce a college commitment Jan. 4 at the Under Armour All-America Game. The same goes for 4-star Cleveland recruit Tyreke Smith, who lists Penn State in his top five and likely will look to lock in an official visit to Happy Valley.
Phoenix receiver Solomon Enis, son of former Nittany Lions running back Curtis Enis, will use an official visit for the game against Indiana on Sept. 30. Edge rusher Micah Parsons, a 5-star talent from Harrisburg (Pa.) who spent 14 months pledged to Penn State prior to April 23, told Land of 10 last Saturday he is eying a potential official visit to State College after the season.
Along with this bunch, 4-star offensive tackle Rasheed Walker of Maryland is another main concern when it comes to setting up official visits. Other names to know include receiver Jahan Dotson, cornerback Houston Griffith and safety Kwantel Raines.
2. Continue evaluation of in-state prospects
Penn State has extended 72 scholarship offers to players in the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes combined, according to 247Sports. It may come as a surprise to learn that only two of these offers were awarded to Pennsylvania prospects.
Keaton Ellis, a 2019 cornerback from State College, and Julian Fleming, a 2020 receiver from Catawissa, are the only in-state targets on the board right now among high school sophomores and juniors. The Nittany Lions claim seven 2018 pledges who play prep football in Pennsylvania.
During the past few months, I’ve consistently received questions about this disparity. While there’s no simple answer, it’s clear Penn State is exploring options across the country, which is what powerhouse programs should do.
J.K. Dobbins — the Ohio State running back who rushed for 181 yards Thursday night in his first college game — is from Texas. Alabama’s top-ranked 2017 signees — running back Najee Harris and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — are from California and Hawaii, respectively.
Penn State, carrying multiple commitments from both Florida and Texas in the 2018 cycle, is targeting top-tier recruits with confidence, regardless of region.
The team has already offered five of the top 10 players in 247Sports 2020 rankings. Offers also are out to 27 top-100 recruits in 2019 composite rankings. No Pennsylvania prospect in the 2019 class currently cracks the top 200, which is in stark contrast to a 2018 class that features seven such players.
The top three Pennsylvania products in 2019 rankings — linebacker Omar Speights, running back Patrick Garwo and safety Tykee Smith — enter their junior seasons without a Nittany Lions offer. But, like every junior, they are only midway through high school and only now entering the most important phase of a college evaluation.
For some perspective, let’s keep in mind superstar Penn State running back Saquon Barkley only held one Power Five offer — from Rutgers — when his junior season started. Expect Nittany Lions coaches to take a closer look at in-state recruits once a few games are on film, and perhaps some offers will follow.
— Keaton Ellis (@_keatonellis) June 17, 2017
3. Bring first 2019 commit on board
This also was an item on the August to-do list, though Penn State is still pursuing its initial pledge of the 2019 class. The Nittany Lions entered last season with four commitments from high school juniors, headlined by Parsons and Shorter.
While assessing which domino could be the first to fall, the spotlight shifts only slightly away from Beaver Stadium. State College Area High School standout Keaton Ellis landed an offer June 16, and the local cornerback could be tempted to pull the trigger on a commitment sooner rather than later.
This 6-foot, 170-pound speedster is the son of a former Penn State player, and his father works for the university. Syracuse is his only other Power 5 offer at this point. Expect him to be at several Nittany Lions games this season, spending time with other 2019 targets such as running back Jordan Houston.
The Flint Hill School (Oakton, Va.) rusher will attend Penn State’s game against Pittsburgh on Sept. 9. He, too, is the son of a Penn State graduate, and the Nittany Lions presented his first college offer in July 2016.
Penn State is off to a strong start with blue-chip prospects such as defensive tackle Antonio Alfano, cornerback Nyquee Hawkins, and linebacker Brandon Smith of Virginia. Early targets at quarterback include Taquan Roberson (Wayne, N.J.) and Garrett Shrader (Charlotte, N.C.).
I don’t anticipate Penn State will last long into the 2017 season without finding the first piece of its next recruiting class.