Now that the ink has dried on James Franklin’s 2017 recruiting haul, which ranks No. 15 in the nation according to 247Sports, here are a few class superlatives.
Late Riser To Watch: Journey Brown
Brown hopped on his Penn State offer as soon as James Franklin and Charles Huff extended it. Though the three-star running back out of Meadville, Pa., flew largely under the radar during the recruiting process, make no mistake, the physical talent is absolutely there. He just ran the fastest 60-meter dash in Pennsylvania this year with a blazing time of 6.87 seconds — good for 10th in the nation.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder is the lone running back signee for the Nittany Lions this cycle. He’ll likely take a redshirt in 2017 as Penn State returns all four of its other scholarship backs, including Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley. As a junior at Meadville High School in 2015, Brown famously ran for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 107-90 win over DuBois. Regardless of the competition or lack of defense, that’s downright insane.
Two-Sport Star In The Making: Mac Hippenhammer
Hippenhammer, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound lightning rod from Fort Wayne, Ind., signed on the dotted line Wednesday after entertaining a late offer from home-state power Notre Dame. On top of his awesome name, the Nittany Lions are getting a receiver who simply has a nose for the end zone. Hippenhammer’s one of many signees in this class with special traits in the return game, as he routinely blew past defenders during his time at R Nelson Snider High.
But that’s not all that makes Hippenhammer an intriguing prospect. He’s going to play baseball (likely shortstop) for Rob Cooper in the offseason. Penn State’s head coach tweeted out the good news on Wednesday. Walk-on linebacker Jan Johnson, who also wrestles for Cael Sanderson, is the only other member of the football program to play two sports.
— Rob Cooper (@16RobCooper) February 1, 2017
Deepest Position Group: Defensive backs
Following four-star Tariq Castro-Fields’ announcement in favor of Penn State on National Signing Day, you can easily make the case that the Nittany Lion secondary added the most top-down talent of any position group this cycle. Early enrollee Lamont Wade is the headliner, and he’ll have a good chance to see the field next fall as a true freshman. The Under Armour All-American is a baller in every sense of the word.
Castro-Fields, who hails from the same hometown as Marcus Allen (Upper Marlboro, Md.), has plenty of length for a corner at 6-foot-1 and provides electricity in the return game as well. Safeties coach Tim Banks has a hard hitter coming his way this summer in four-star Ottawa, Ontario, native Jonathan Sutherland. He joins redshirt freshman defensive end Daniel Joseph (Brampton, Ontario) as the next generation of Canadian Nittany Lions.
Banks also hit a home run in snagging four-star corner Donovan Johnson out of Michigan. The Detroit Cass Tech standout and U.S. Army All-American has speed to burn at 5-foot-10, posting the fastest laser-timed shuttle at Nike’s The Opening last summer. Fairburn, Ga., standout D.J. Brown held a laundry list of offers, including one from Harvard, before picking Penn State in April. You can bet he’ll be ready to compete the day he steps foot on campus this summer.
Most Important Signature: Ellis Brooks
Four-star Ellis Brooks was arguably the most important signee for James Franklin this cycle, and here’s why. Penn State was already thin in terms of depth at inside linebacker, as Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith have just one year of eligibility remaining in 2017. Dylan Rivers, a four-star ‘backer out of Stephens City, Va., gave his verbal commitment to Brent Pry back on Senior Day 2015, but flipped to Virginia Tech less than two weeks before National Signing Day.
At 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, Brooks has the size and mentality to fill Cabinda’s spot when he graduates. Like Hippenhammer, the two-time state champion at Benedictine College Prep in Richmond, Va., played baseball during high school. The Nittany Lions have extensive competition at the outside linebacker positions, but landing a bruiser in the middle like Brooks over LSU, Maryland, and Oregon couldn’t have been a bigger get for Pry.
Biggest Recruiting Win: Fred Hansard
Penn State finished on the positive end of a flipped commitment in late November when four-star Fred Hansard decided Happy Valley was a better fit for him than Florida. The Princeton, N.J., native also held offers from a boatload of heavy hitters across America, including Alabama, USC, Michigan, and Ohio State, among others. After missing out on top defensive tackle targets like Christian Wilkins (Clemson) and Karamo Dioubate (Temple) the past few recruiting cycles, the Nittany Lions were understandably ecstatic to land Hansard on Wednesday.
He was the first defensive tackle commit to join this Penn State class, but three-star and fellow Garden State product Corey Bolds joined him early Wednesday morning. Checking in at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Hansard, who played his high school ball at the Hun School, has a college-ready frame for defensive line coach Sean Spencer to work with when he arrives. He may not have to play as a true freshman, but Hansard could be the next great defensive tackle to play at Penn State.