Virginia has long been a recruiting hotbed. Coaches from Division I powerhouses routinely comb the Old Dominion State for prospects, and Penn State is no different.
James Franklin and his staff secured National Letters of Intent from four such recruits this cycle, making Virginia the second-most represented state in the Nittany Lions’ Class of 2017, behind only Pennsylvania with five. Three of those four are ranked within the top-11 from Virginia, according to the 247Sports Composite. Virginia Tech, which flipped four-star linebacker Dylan Rivers, is the lone program to match Penn State in accomplishing that feat.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Nittany Lions earned signatures from Yetur Matos, Ellis Brooks, Jonathan Sutherland, and Brailyn Franklin.
Matos has all the tools defensive line coach Sean Spencer looks for in a pass-rusher. The four-star defensive end out of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg stands 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and is one of the most intriguing prospects in this class. He set the school record for sacks during his senior season, capping off a tremendous prep career. Spencer and defensive coordinator Brent Pry are credited with leading Matos’ recruitment, which came to a close a few weeks after Signing Day 2016 on Feb. 27.
Penn State will have to replace both of its starting defensive ends from last season, as Evan Schwan graduated and redshirt junior Garrett Sickels declared early for the NFL Draft. Though there’s still a stockpile of talent at the position, it isn’t out of the question that Matos makes his way onto the field as a true freshman.
Sutherland hails from Ottawa, Ontario, but moved to Alexandria, Va., to play his high school ball at Episcopal. The hard-hitting safety picked the Nittany Lions on July 24 over offers from North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Pitt, and Rutgers, among others. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Sutherland has the versatility to play a variety of positions in the defensive backfield. He also has experience on special teams returning kicks.
The four-star Sutherland is considered the 23rd-ranked safety in the nation this cycle, according to the 247Sports Composite. His primary recruiter of record is safeties coach Tim Banks, who zeroed in on Sutherland early in the process as Penn State’s top target at the position. Though the Nittany Lions signed a handful of versatile prospects who could switch positions at some point, Sutherland is the bunch’s lone true safety.
The next prospect from Virginia to join the fold was three-star athlete Brailyn Franklin, who Penn State projects as an outside linebacker. He’s actually a Texan, though, as he transferred from Bowie High School to Battlefield in Haymarket, Va., prior to his junior season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder certainly fits the mold of what Pry wants at the linebacker position.
With stud athletes like Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer already in the rotation, it’s clear the present and future of Linebacker U is speed. Like those two, Franklin played a variety of positions at the high school level and. Though he’ll need to put on some weight when he arrives this summer, similar to fellow linebacker and early enrollee Brelin Faison-Walden, Franklin has the makings of a do-it-all ‘backer.
Depth at the middle linebacker spot is a bit of an issue moving forward, as Jason Cabinda will graduate following the 2017 season. Pry pulled off a huge recruiting win on Monday in four-star Ellis Brooks. The Benedictine College Prep standout from Richmond immediately shot to the top of Penn State’s board when Rivers bolted for Blacksburg.
At 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, Brooks has the size to develop into a terrifying inside presence, plus the smarts to call all the shots as the quarterback of the defense. The two-time state champion knows what it takes to win titles. He’s no slouch on the diamond either, as Brooks played baseball in the offseason as a form of cross-training.
Some of Penn State’s all-time greats hail from Virginia. For instance, Michael Robinson and Christian Hackenberg suited up for Varina and Fork Union Military Academy, respectively. Now, it’s time for the next generation to make their mark at Beaver Stadium.