Penn State Recruiting Update: Where We Stand
When James Franklin arrived at Penn State, he vowed to dominate the state, and dominate it he has. This recruiting mindset helped Franklin solidify the 2014 class and build a top-15 class in his first full recruiting cycle in 2015. Penn State now has the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, and there are still spots up for grabs. With any amount of luck, the 2016 class could be a very special one that could be integral in Penn State’s growth going forward.
IN THE FOLD
With 20 commitments in the class so far (and classes that generally max out at 25), Penn State will not be taking anyone who is less than spectacular to cap off the class. According to 247 Sports, Penn State has 12 four-star players in the class and eight three-stars. A punter and a kicker occupy two of the three-star spots, however, and their ranking is not indicative of their star rating, as it is rare for kickers and punters to be given stars at all. Across the four major recruiting services (247, ESPN, Rivals, and Scout), Penn State has two five-star players in defensive end Shane Simmons and offensive tackle Michal Menet.
The class spans across 11 states, Pennsylvania being the most represented of course, with six commitments. As I said before, this class is unbelievable and here are some highlights of the class (all rankings courtesy of 247 Sports, unless noted otherwise):
- Shane Simmons; Defensive End; Hyattsville, Maryland (DeMatha): Simmons is, in my mind, the headliner of this class. He has been committed for well over a year now and has helped Coach Franklin build this class with his enthusiasm for Penn State. Simmons is ranked as a four-star by 247, but was awarded a five-star ranking by ESPN as the No. 12 player in the country. Not only is Simmons the first Penn State player to be given a fifth star by ESPN since Christian Hackenberg, but he symbolizes a big leap forward for Penn State recruiting in the eyes of ESPN. ESPN airs college football’s signing day nationally, and holding a high ranking on their website is vital for exposure for the class. In any case, Simmons is a special player who has all the ability and intangibles necessary to be a great Penn State defensive player.
- Michal Menet; Offensive Tackle; Reading, Pennsylvania (Exeter): Menet is another player whose commitment was very important for Penn State. He is unanimously ranked as the best player in the state of Pennsylvania (and as a five-star by Scout), and to have him committed makes Franklin’s “dominate the state” mantra come to life. His highlight reel makes him look like a man among boys, and he is a much needed addition to Penn State’s offensive line. Some are already predicting that he could see the field as a freshman.
- Miles Sanders; Running Back; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Woodland Hills): Sanders is special. His positional ranking varies across services, but it is becoming clearer with each passing game that he is one of the top two backs in the country. His skill is reminiscent of Saquon Barkley in high school, using spins, hurdles, and jukes, but only when they are necessary. He is a fantastic all-around back who, along with Saquon Barkley, Andre Robinson, and 2017 back D’Andre Swift, could help Penn State to an embarrassment of riches in the backfield — not that we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
- Jake Zembiec; Quarterback; Rochester, New York (Aquinas Institute): Zembiec is Penn State’s sole quarterback commitment in the class, but he is a good one to have. His three-star rating is not indicative so much of his playing style, but rather the season-ending injury he sustained in his junior year. Zembiec was chosen to participate in the Elite 11 competition hosted by Nike, in which the top 18 quarterbacks in the country convene to showcase their talents in Beaverton, Oregon. To be recognized in this way clearly transcends any star rating and his play style backs up this decision. Franklin is excited to get him into the program as a dual-threat quarterback with a big arm. Zembiec also plans to enroll early.
- Quinn Nordin; Kicker; Rockford, Michigan (Rockford): You may remember Nordin for his incredible commitment announcement video, and you should, because it was amazing. Fortunately, Nordin has the talent to back up such a video, and is ranked as the No. 1 kicker in the nation. Gone are the days when Penn State would just get by on special teams. Alongside highly rated punter Blake Gillikin, the pair who go by “Quake” are prepared to lead Penn State’s kicking units for years to come.
ON THE BOARD
In the recent weeks, it seems that Penn State has narrowed its recruiting board in recognition of how strong the class already is. While Franklin could most likely take a full complement of 25 players in this class, it would appear that he wants to save the spots for what could be an even better 2017 class unless the remaining players are very special. With that being said, the following players are big time prospects who are, in my mind, definite takes for the coaching staff.
- Tre Nixon; Wide Receiver; Melbourne, Florida (Viera): Penn State does not have a wide receiver committed in the class of 2016 and that is by design. The current receiving corps is strong with young wide-outs like Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, and DaeSean Hamilton, so a wide receiver in this class in not a necessity. If Franklin takes one however, it will be the four-star Nixon, who has narrowed his college choices to Penn State and Georgia. While both are tempting options, Penn State was the first school to heavily recruit Nixon, which goes a long way with high school players. The 247 Sports crystal ball has Penn State as the 75% favorite to land his services, so his recruitment is certainly one to keep an eye on.
- Brandon Ferns/Aaron Hansford, Linebackers: These two players have had Penn State on their radars for a long time, and Franklin is pushing hard to land one of them in this class. Ferns from St. Clairsville in Ohio has Penn State in his final two alongside West Virginia. Penn State was in the driver’s seat for a long time in this recruitment, but Ferns seems to be leaning towards WVU recently because his brother plays there. I believe that Penn State is still in the race because if he was sold on West Virginia, wouldn’t he have committed already? Either way, his recruitment looks like one that could extend until signing day. Hansford, on the other hand, has seemed ready to commit for some time now. The linebacker from St. John’s College in Washington, D.C. was hot on Penn State until the annual Lasch Bash, when things seemed to cool down for him, though the Nittany Lions are still very much in contention for Hansford. James Franklin hopes that one of these two linebackers will be a Penn Stater come signing day.
- Damar Hamlin; Cornerback; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Central Catholic): Hamlin has been a top priority target for Penn State since the beginning. As a Pennsylvania prospect from the highly coveted WPIAL league in Western Pennsylvania, he is an important prospect for Franklin to land in this class. The race to earn the four-star’s signature seems to be narrowed down to Penn State and Ohio State. It’s the classic good versus evil battle, and it’s one that Coach Franklin and his staff are not willing to lose. If Hamlin commits to Ohio State, expect Franklin to continue in his pursuit until he puts pen to paper in February.
James Franklin knows that he has assembled a stellar class thus far, but be assured that he will not be resting on the recruiting trail until national signing day is over. Penn State’s class is by far the strongest in recent memory, and all signs point to it becoming stronger in the near future.