Penn State Dominates The State On National Signing Day
The whirlwind of recruiting began to wrap up Wednesday morning as the members of Penn State’s class of 2016 signed their national letters of intent. Twenty players officially committed to play for James Franklin; the War Room was full of excitement as coaches, players, parents, and more welcomed a new group of Nittany Lions.
Of the 20 players, four were the best in their state, six were top-five at their position in the country, and three were in Pennsylvania’s top ten (no other team signed more than one such player).
Kicking off the day at about 7 a.m., linebacker target Brendan Ferns committed to West Virginia over Penn State. The move was expected, there’s no denying signing another great for Linebacker U would’ve been the perfect start to the day.
After Ferns’ commitment elsewhere, Penn State’s NLI’s began pouring in. Defensive end Shane Simmons, the top player in Maryland, was the first to sign, followed soon after by offensive lineman Will Fries and linebacker Cameron Brown. Next was Antonio Shelton, who committed three days before National Signing Day.
Michal Menet signed next. He committed to Penn State when he was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania. He’s since been overtaken by Miles Sanders, who earned a five-star rating while ending the cycle as the state’s top player. Menet and Sanders are respectively ranked as the best offensive guard and running back in the country. Joe Moorhead and Matt Limegrover, the team’s new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, are surely salivating as those two players join a rushing game that already features Saquon Barkley.
After a year in which kicking and punting struggles were the norm, two scholarship specialists joined the program to hopefully right the ship. Blake Gillikin, ranked by 247 as the second-best punter in the nation, will compete with Chris Gulla and Dan Pasquariello for the starting spot. Kicker Alex Barbir also joined, already known for his strong Twitter game and his five-star rating from One on One Kicking Camps. Joey Julius led the team in scoring last year but looked shaky, while Tyler Davis was perfect in limited action. Like Gillikin, Barbir will be thrown into the fray immediately and should be the favorite to win the competition.
Two defensive out-of-staters signed next: four-star Maryland corner Zech McPhearson and four-star Illinois defensive end Daniel Joseph. Neither player should be a major factor on the team right away, but after a year or two they should be major contributors on defense.
Linebacker Shaka Toney committed next after giving the Nittany Lions a scare on National Signing Day Eve. Franklin said he was a “nervous wreck” when Toney tweeted that he’d make his final decision at 9:30 last night between Penn State and Pitt, even though he was already committed to the former. He reaffirmed his commitment and sent in his letter as expected on Wednesday.
Simmons’ fellow defensive lineman from his home state was up next — four-star Ellison Jordan. He only stands at six feet tall but with the lack of depth at the defensive tackle position (we miss Zettel and Johnson already), we might be seeing a lot of the talented Maryland native.
Anthony “TJ” Johnson signed next, a day after verbally committing. The three-star prospect joins McPhearson as the only other cornerback in the class. After Johnson was Dae’Lun Darien, a wide receiver who our friends at Black Shoe Diaries said has a bit of Allen Robinson in him.
The last two pieces of Penn State’s puzzle were both JUCO defensive linemen. Nassau CC defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis also committed the day before signing, and Lackawanna CC’s Brenon Thrift (appropriately named “Mr. Finishline” on Twitter) committed and signed during the National Signing Day festivities.
Two other notables pieces of news happened later in the morning. Former Nittany Lion running back Akeel Lynch announced his destination after declaring he’d transfer in mid-January. Lynch will have a chance to start at Nevada as a graduate student in the 2016 season. Also, former Nittany Lion commit Quinn Nordin signed with Michigan, teaching us all that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of a Jim Harbaugh sleepover.
James Franklin will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. We’ll have updates from that and further analysis throughout the day.