Penn State Football 2017 Defensive Recruiting Primer
Penn State just wrapped up its “Junior Day” recruiting weekend and if the early results mean anything, they show James Franklin and his staff have been busy since the season ended. Joining the already committed linebacker Dylan Rivers were defensive ends Yetur Matos and Damion Barber, building a solid foundation for the defensive side of the ball. Let’s take a look at who else could be joining them in Happy Valley.
Penn State brought in two impressive defensive ends last class in Shane Simmons and Daniel Joseph, and the Matos/Barber haul in the 2017 class looks to be just as impressive. Still, look for James Franklin and defensive line coach Sean Spencer to push for one more defensive end.
Leading the way appears to be Joshua Kaindoh (Brandenton, FL), a 6-foot-6, 250-pound thoroughbred. Kaindoh has called the Nittany Lions his leader in the past, but his recruitment will most certainly go down to the wire with Florida State and Ohio State being the other two main contenders. A good season with signs of improvement from Penn State could be pivotal in Kaindoh’s recruitment.
One last name to remember is Chase Young (Hyattsville, MD). Young plays at DeMatha Catholic, which has traditionally been a good school for Penn State (senior tight end Brent Wilkerson, sophomore running back Mark Allen, and incoming freshman defensive end Shane Simmons all attended DeMatha). It’s still too early to say where Penn State — or really any other school — stands in his recruitment, but Young will probably pop up on campus in the coming months.
The Nittany Lions had a big defensive tackle class in 2016, bringing in Ellison Jordan and Antonio Shelton and JUCO recruits Tyrell Chavis and Brenon Thrift, but to say that’s the most talented group would be a stretch. Because of that, expect Penn State to be active on the defensive line interior this recruiting year.
Topping the board might be Fred Hansard (Princeton, NJ), who already displays Division I size at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds. Like many of these prospects, it’s still too early to say for sure which schools are the true contenders, but Hansard’s recruitment is shaping up to be a Big Ten battle between Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Rutgers.
One of the more intriguing prospects might be Jordan Williams (Virginia Beach, VA). Williams is only 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and currently plays defensive end, but it’s expected he’ll grow into a defensive tackle. Penn State was Williams’ first offer, but he’s seen powerhouse programs like Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida, and USC extend scholarships since. The Nittany Lions should be in the thick of things throughout Williams’ recruitment.
Fellow Virginian Elijah Conliffe (Hampton, VA) is another defensive tackle high on Penn State’s board, and the 6-foot-4, 284-pound defensive tackle just visited State College this past weekend for the Junior Day. Conliffe boasts offers from Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech, but the Nittany Lions have made a real impact in his recruitment thus far.
James Franklin has made the WPIAL — and especially Pittsburgh — a priority since he was hired in 2014. Terry Smith was the former head coach at Gateway, while new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover are both Pittsburgh Central Catholic graduates. So it’s not surprising Penn State has extended an offer to PCC’s Kurt Hinish. The 6-foot-3, 283-pound defensive tackle is ranked as a mid-three-star, but he has an impressive offer sheet of Baylor, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions should be tough to beat for Hinish’s verbal, but watch out for the Fighting Irish in this one.
Penn State already has Dylan Rivers committed, but the Nittany Lions could definitely use some more help at linebacker. Jason Cabinda, Jake Cooper, Manny Bowen, Cameron Brown, and Shaka Toney will be the only scholarship linebackers on the roster for the 2017 season, making linebacker a pretty big need for this recruiting cycle.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, there are a number of prospects in the region with strong interest in Penn State. Starting with another Pittsburgh Central Catholic player, David Adams would be a big coup for the Nittany Lions. Adams is an old school, tough linebacker in the Paul Posluszny mold. His recruitment could come down to the Nittany Lions, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh with all three schools legitimate contenders for the WPIAL linebacker.
Avery Roberts (Concord, DE) is another four-star linebacker who is high on Penn State’s board. Roberts has been to Happy Valley a number of times — most recently for Junior Day — so it’s safe to say the Nittany Lions have made a good impression in the early going. That being said, Roberts has only been to mainly local schools so until he sees some schools he’s interested in out of the region — namely Nebraska — it’s difficult to say how well Penn State sits with the Delaware product.
Although 2016 signee Anthony Johnson could grow into a safety down the road, Penn State took no true safety in last year’s class. So while there’s a positional need, there aren’t a ton of names standing out right now as viable options. Damani Neal (Sterling, VA) continues to be one of the more notable, but after looking like a Penn State lean in the summer, things have appeared to cool down. Neal could obviously still end up in the class, but things aren’t as clear as they once seemed to be.
Besides for Neal, Derrek Pitts (Charleston, WV) is a name to definitely keep an eye on. West Virginia isn’t exactly a hotbed for Division I talent, but Pitts is one of the better prospects in the Northeast, garnering attention from Maryland and West Virginia in addition to Penn State. He just visited for the Junior Day as well, so there’s interest from both sides here.
The cornerback front is actually pretty similar to safety. Penn State will certainly be taking a couple cornerbacks, but as of right now legitimate options are scarce. Still, at the top of the list is almost assuredly Lamont Wade (Clairton, PA), who’s one of the most sought after corners in the country. Wade has a terrific relationship with Penn State’s cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, but Ohio State and Pittsburgh will be tough to beat.
While Wade is one of the highest ranked prospects in the country, Tariq Castro-Fields (Upper Marlboro, MD) could be one of the more unknown prospects. Although unranked on most recruiting services, Castro-Fields picked up an offer from Penn State during the Junior Day. He does have a tie to Penn State, with his former teammate Zechariah McPhearson set to join the Nittany Lions this fall.