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Don’t Panic About Penn State Football’s Recruiting Struggles…Yet

Penn State football has definitely had better stretches on the recruiting trail during the James Franklin era than its most recent drought.

The Nittany Lions failed to secure a high school commitment throughout May, a month that was capped off with five-star wide receiver and top Pennsylvania prospect Julian Fleming making his verbal pledge to Ohio State. Things went from bad to worse when offensive lineman Grant Toutant flipped his commitment from Penn State to the Buckeyes on June 9.

And then to top things off, a pair of four-star recruits from National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Maryland — Aaryn Parks and Joshuah Moten — decommitted from the Nittany Lions in the past two days.

Even with the commitments of four-star offensive lineman Olu Fashanu and Lackawanna College transfer Norval Black this month, James Franklin is currently in the midst of his worst recruiting slump in two years. That said, this stretch isn’t the end of the world or some damning statement about Franklin’s recruiting prowess.

James Franklin has proved himself to be a master recruiter and attracted some top-tier talent to Penn State. There’s no way he should lose any commitment — let alone three in a week — right? Well, things happen sometimes.

This is definitely not the first time Franklin has lost recruits during his six-year term as the Nittany Lions’ head coach. The 2018 recruiting cycle is a perfect example of things not always going swimmingly on the recruiting front in Happy Valley.

Micah Parsons and Justin Fields were two of the team’s highest-priority targets during that cycle, and they both initially chose Penn State. Both top prospects made their first commitments early, and both Parsons and Fields ended up decommitting less than two months apart from each other.

Fields ended up signing his letter of intent with Georgia, but Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class turned out just fine as the nation’s sixth-best haul when all was said and done. Parsons jumped back on board with the Nittany Lions as the class’ headliner, and he’s poised to have a breakout season at linebacker for the team.

Penn State successfully overcame losing two of the nation’s best prospects in six weeks two years ago, and there’s no reason why the team can’t overcome this year’s bit of adversity.

This might sound obvious, but I feel like it needs to be said: As strange as it may be, losing three prospects in five days doesn’t completely invalidate James Franklin’s pure quality as a recruiter. Spare us your pathetic Photoshops of 247Sports message boards and terrible takes about how Penn State’s football program is crashing and burning because a few high schoolers made decisions they think are best for their futures.

Whatever has happened this week doesn’t change the fact that James Franklin has brought in top-15 recruiting classes in four of the last five years. Losing a few guys shouldn’t change his main priority, which is shaping incoming recruits into great men before making them good at football.

My confidence in Franklin didn’t waver when he had a “down year” in 2018, and it sure isn’t wavering because a few four-star prospects decommitted from his program. He’s the right guy for the job, and his skills as a recruiter will always be his biggest asset as a coach.

Although it’s Franklin’s best to date, the 2018 class is only one of the feathers in his cap. Franklin has landed five five-star recruits and has never had a class finish outside the top 25 nationally. He accomplished the impossible of making players want to come to Happy Valley in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Quite simply, he made Penn State cool again.

And as of late, he’s started encroaching on the SEC’s recruiting territory, meaning the best is yet to come for his classes.

Based on the statements released announcing their decommitments, there’s no reason to believe Grant Toutant, Aaryn Parks, and Joshuah Moten changed their minds because of how horribly run Penn State’s program is.

In Parks‘ and Moten’s cases, both players talked about making their decision too soon and not giving other programs a fair shot to really recruit them. That, in my opinion, is a perfectly valid and understandable reason to re-open your recruitment.

Toutant’s comments, however, weren’t as reassuring. He decommitted from Penn State to “pursue an opportunity that is the best fit for me and my future,” which can easily be perceived as a polite way of saying Ohio State is better in his opinion. The Buckeyes are obviously one of Penn State’s direct competitors and do hold a few advantages over the Nittany Lions, given their recent success.

I’m sure none of these kids take their decisions lightly, either. Deciding where you want to go to college is stressful enough without coaches and recruiters pulling your arm in a million different directions, so the fact that some of these recruits change their minds isn’t surprising at all.

Things are obviously not going well for Penn State on the recruiting trail right now, but there’s also no reason to panic or call for James Franklin’s job.

It’s definitely strange to see a master recruiter like Franklin lose three commitments in five days, but the Nittany Lions have suffered worse defeats in recruiting during his tenure as head coach. I’m confident Penn State can and will recover from these losses and put together another top-15 recruiting class this cycle.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]


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