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2016 National Signing Day Primer

James Franklin spent his first few months on the job in 2014 luring recruits away from other programs to join him in State College. The end result was the 24th-overall recruiting class, according to 247Sports. The following cycle, Penn State took its efforts to another level, finishing with the 15th-best class. All indications pointed toward another rise up the rankings in 2016 given the Nittany Lions’ fast start, but the next week and change will determine whether that comes to fruition or not following a handful of costly decommitments.

With time ticking ’til recruits put pen to paper for National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 3, #DaPride16 currently sits at 17 members, good for 14th in the nation, with four early enrollees already on campus. Let’s take a look at who’s already on board and who Penn State could add down the stretch with 8 days to go.


The Nittany Lions have a signal caller they’re very excited about in three-star Jake Zembiec. Zembiec is enrolled in spring semester classes, giving him the opportunity to participate in spring practice like redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens last year.

Penn State would have taken a second quarterback in 2016, but its top targets committed elsewhere and the coaching staff feels really good about 2017 with four-star Sean Clifford already giving his verbal and four-star Kasim Hill a strong possibility.

Running Back

Penn State’s first commit this cycle — five-star Miles Sanders — was an enormous get, but securing the Pittsburgh native, who is no longer looking elsewhere, was even bigger. Sanders put on a show at the Under Armour All-America Game a few weeks back, solidifying himself as the nation’s top running back. The thought of Sanders and Saquon Barkley in the same backfield next fall must already be giving opposing defensive coordinators the chills.

Wide Receiver

After taking loaded back-to-back classes of receivers in 2014 (Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins) and ’15 (Brandon Polk, Juwan Johnson, Irvin Charles), Penn State significantly narrowed its focus this cycle to a select few (basically one). Four-star Sunshine State speedster Tre Nixon considered the Nittany Lions for quite a while before selecting Ole Miss Monday.

Expecting that Nixon would go elsewhere, Josh Gattis extended offers to a handful of prospects committed elsewhere. Three-star Dredrick Snelson is listed as a “soft” verbal to Minnesota right now according to 247Sports, but will officially visit Penn State this weekend. UCF and Maryland are also in the mix for the Under Armour All-American. Fellow three-star Dae’lun Darien committed to Temple in mid-November but a late offer from the Nittany Lions earned them an OV this weekend as well.

It would be great to land a receiver in the next few days, but it’s not a huge deal if it isn’t in the cards given Penn State’s gaudy depth at the position.

Tight End

The Nittany Lions already have a high-upside tight end in the fold with three-star Danny Dalton — the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year — enrolled for the spring semester. Dalton flipped his commitment from Boston College in late March shortly after a trip to University Park.

Penn State pursued top in-state talents Cary Angeline and Naseir Upshur early on, but it became apparent those two were looking elsewhere. Angeline’s commitment to USC in late June was rather surprising, but the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder has been firm on the Trojans ever since. Upshur hopped on an offer from Florida State after the Seminoles lost five-star Isaac Nauta, who recently enrolled at Georgia.

Offensive Line

Penn State is virtually all set along the offensive line with a pair of commits already on campus — center Connor McGovern and tackle Alex Gellerstedt. Freak athlete (probably a guard) and five-star recruit Michal Menet and tackle Will Fries reaffirmed their commitment to the Nittany Lions following Matt Limegrover’s hiring.

Menet and McGovern have a chance to play right away, a steep anomaly for offensive line prospects, given the violently lackluster efforts up front the past two seasons. A U.S. Army All-American, McGovern has a leg up due to his upcoming participation in spring ball, but Menet — an Under Armour All-American in his own right — has all the tools and physicality you look for in an early contributor.

Defensive Line

Heading into this cycle, Penn State recognized its dire need to stock up on defensive tackles. Sean Spencer went on a tear this summer by picking up three commitments in one late June weekend: Christian Colón, Michael Dwumfour, and Ellison Jordan. Colón’s academic situation forced the Nittany Lions to go in a different direction, while Dwumfour decommitted Monday morning, flipping to Michigan.

Jordan is a little undersized at 6-foot, 270-pounds, and was at times overmatched in practice at the Under Armour All-America Game, but has a great motor reminiscent of Nittany Lion great Jordan Hill. Give him a year or two in Dwight Galt’s strength and conditioning program and Jordan will have the chance to be special. The Nittany Lions offered Antonio Shelton a few days agom and the three-star prospect promptly decommitted from Illinois Monday. Penn State appears to be in the driver’s seat for the Westerville, Ohio, native.

The problem, however, is depth at defensive tackle this coming fall with human bulldozer Austin Johnson declaring early for the NFL Draft and Anthony Zettel and Tarow Barney gone by way of graduation. Redshirt junior Parker Cothren and redshirt sophomore Antoine White are the favorites to inherit starting roles, but there’s little game experience behind them. Keep an eye on the progress of redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchholz, Kamonte Carter, and Robert Windsor this offseason, as each should factor into the rotation next fall.

Losing consensus All-American and new Penn State sacks leader Carl Nassib to graduation will certainly hurt the defensive ends’ production, but perhaps an even bigger void to fill is in the leadership department. Redshirt junior Garrett Sickels will assume the alpha dog role, helping to guide his younger teammates along. Redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown looked solid during his first season seeing the field and is the leading candidate to start opposite Sickels. Veterans Evan Schwan and Curtis Cothran will battle for significant playing time as well.

Penn State has a pair of ridiculous athletes committed at defensive end in four-stars Shane Simmons and Daniel Joseph. Simmons was stellar at the Under Armour All-America Game, showcasing elite speed off the edge. Simmons has noted that he’d like to redshirt in 2016 if possible to get his body ready for the college level, but make no mistake, he’ll be a star as soon as his time comes. Many recruiting analysts had Joseph pegged to sign with Michigan or Michigan State, but the Lake Forest, Ill., native selected the Nittany Lions in late June and has stuck to his commitment. He should turn into a solid compliment to Simmons on the opposite side.


Penn State has a pair of commitments in three-star outside linebackers Cam Brown and Shaka Toney, both of whom have ample experience rushing the passer in high school. Brent Pry’s bunch boasts a trio of veterans in Nyeem Wartman-White, Brandon Bell, and Jason Cabinda, but there’s not a ton of depth behind them.

Redshirt freshmen Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper will be relied on heavily, as will senior and former walk-on Von Walker. There’s a strong possibility Brown and/or Toney is forced onto the field next fall regardless of whether or not their frames are ready.

The Nittany Lions are battling it out with West Virginia for four-star middle linebacker and U.S. Army All-American Brendan Ferns, who was supposed to take his official visit this past weekend, but Winter Storm Jonas wouldn’t allow it. It’s pretty much a toss up where Ferns lands at this point, but the Mountaineers do have his older brother Michael on the roster at fullback.


The Nittany Lions are breaking in a new safeties coach in Tim Banks, who will be tasked with the development of starting free safety Marcus Allen and choosing a host of candidates (Malik Golden, Koa Farmer, Ayron Monroe) all vying for Jordan Lucas’ vacant strong safety spot.

Penn State has four-star legacy Andrew Pryts committed at safety for 2016 and 6-foot-5 three-star athlete Aaron Mathews could end up at either safety or linebacker after packing on some muscle. Three-star athlete Khaleke Hudson tried to commit to the Nittany Lions twice this past summer, but for one reason or another, the staff didn’t think there was space at the time. Michigan and Penn State are the perceived front-runners from the Semper Fidelis All-American, who’s also an accomplished running back.

Four-star Lavert Hill’s decommitment wasn’t out of left field given his ties to Michigan and Michigan State, but it leaves the Nittany Lions with only one committed cornerback, four-star Zech McPhearson. Four-star Pittsburgh Central Catholic standout Damar Hamlin is still considering Penn State, Pitt, and Ohio State for his verbal.

Special Teams

It’s no secret Penn State’s special teams units have struggled over the past few seasons, but luckily help is on the way. Three-star Atlanta, Ga., native Blake Gillikin is considered the second-best punter in his class, according to 247Sports.

The Nittany Lions also hold a commitment from three-star kicker Quinn Nordin, who was named a USA Today First Team All-USA selection, but with Jim Harbaugh sleeping over and an official visit to Baylor under his belt, Nordin could likely end up elsewhere. Thankfully Gillikin is a darn good kicker as well, but just in case, the staff offered Rutgers commit Alex Barbir recently.


With only 17 commits and room to add four or five more, Penn State’s Class of 2016 will undoubtedly grow over the next week. Prepare yourselves for a sprint to the finish.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]


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