Penn State Football’s Freshmen Report To Campus

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The remainder of Penn State football’s 2017 recruiting class checks into its new digs in University Park this weekend, joining a quartet of early enrollees who arrived for the spring semester.

Lamont Wade, KJ Hamler, Mike Miranda, and Brelin Faison-Walden graduated from high school last winter in order to go through spring practice with the Nittany Lions and get a head start on their studies. The 17 other true freshmen make the journey to State College this Saturday to begin the next chapter in their lives.

They represent 10 different states and bring an influx of talent that ranked No. 15 nationally and third in the Big Ten, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Penn State’s newest quarterback — Cincinnati native Sean Clifford — was the first prospect from the class to hop on board nearly two years ago. While an injury to his throwing shoulder kept him from competing in the Under Armour All-America Game, Clifford’s rehab appears to be right on schedule.

A strong contingent of skill players accompanied Clifford during the 2017 recruiting cycle, and will provide a boost of speed and open-field agility to the roster. Three lightning quick receivers, including Hamler, and a state-championship winning track star running back should have fans on the edge of their seats.

Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis will start molding his newest protégés Mac Hippenhammer and Cameron Sullivan-Brown later this summer when training camp rolls around. In the meantime, they’ll go through strength training and conditioning under the watchful eye of Dwight Galt. Journey Brown broke Pennsylvania’s 32-year-old record in the 100-meter dash in a time of 10.43 seconds, topping eventual Olympian Leroy Burrell’s mark by a hundredth of a second.

In addition to Hippenhammer’s lethal skills in the return game, he’s also quite the shortstop. James Franklin gave him the green light to play baseball for head coach Rob Cooper once football season’s over.

“He’s coming here to be a football player first…but from a baseball standpoint, this kid has a chance to make an impact in our program,” Cooper said at spring media day. “He’s obviously a great athlete.”

The Nittany Lions didn’t sign a tight end this time around, but loaded up on offensive linemen for position coach Matt Limegrover to mold.

There’s Miranda, who plays guard like an absolute steamroller and even saw some spot reps with the first team during spring ball. Under Armour All-American CJ Thorpe shares the same high school alma mater as Limegrover and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead — Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Tackles Robert Martin and Desmond Holmes each stand 6-foot-5, and while it make take a little longer from them to see the field than Thorpe and Miranda, they both boast considerable upside.

On Brent Pry’s defensive side of the ball, Penn State won a handful of recruiting battles it might not have a few years ago. At a major position of need, defensive tackle, Sean Spencer reeled in commitments from Florida flip Fred Hansard and New Jersey’s Corey Bolds (on signing day, no less). Both are 6-foot-3 bruisers who bully interior linemen at the point of attack.

Spencer also earned signatures from a pair of big-time defensive ends in Yetur Matos and Damion Barber, who each ranked inside the top 10 nationally among recruits at their position, according to 247Sports. Barber won’t join his teammates on campus until July 30, per Audrey Snyder of DKPittsburghSports, as he finishes up some classwork. Penn State has a trio of true freshmen to continue the “Linebacker U” tradition with rangy athletes Faison-Walden and Brailyn Franklin and inside presence Ellis Brooks.

The Nittany Lions paid close attention to the future of their defensive backfield, too. Wade, considered one of America’s top cornerback prospects, was dubbed the “Takeaway King” of spring practice after posting a team-high interception rate. He also kick started his rap career under the stage name Huncho with his debut single and video “Up.”

Joining Wade at corner are Georgia’s D.J. Brown and highly touted Upper Marlboro, MD, native Tariq Castro-Fields (another signing day commitment). Castro-Fields hails from the same hometown as senior safety Marcus Allen and was high school teammates with redshirt freshman corner Zech McPhearson at Riverdale Baptist. U.S. Army All-American Donovan Johnson played both ways for Michigan powerhouse Cass Tech, but he’ll start his career on the perimeter of the defense rather than running back.

Hard-hitting safety Jonathan Sutherland is Penn State’s next Canadian standout, as the Ottawa native moved to Alexandria, VA, in order to increase his recruiting exposure. The move paid off for Sutherland, who gained offers from a host of premier programs like Michigan and Miami before settling on the Nittany Lions.

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Penn State’s much-improved depth across the board likely means we’ll only see a handful of true freshmen play this fall, but this 21-player group will undoubtedly make its presence felt before long.

Photo By: Matt Sniegowski
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Ethan Kasales

Ethan Kasales is a townie who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. He's majoring in Journalism and has a passion for Spanish. Ethan's a lifelong Penn State football fan and loves talking all types of sports with whoever will listen. In the winter, when it's way too cold in Happy Valley to play golf, he teaches snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. If you ever want to learn how to ride, he'd love to teach you. Ethan enjoys whistling along to everything from Bruce Springsteen to Action Bronson. You can follow him @easyEKasales or email [email protected]

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