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True North Strong & Free: Canada Quickly Becoming Strong Recruiting Pipeline For Penn State Football

Recruiting is one of the most fundamentally important parts of having a successful college football program, and an easy way to succeed in that regard is securing commitments from players in specific geographic areas.

Some of Penn State’s strongest pipelines are inherently obvious. The Nittany Lions recruit their home state well along with New Jersey, the DMV (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia), and Florida in recent years thanks to Ja’Juan Seider.

Those five states are responsible for 63% of Penn State’s newest recruiting class, which was officially secured during the first day of the Early Signing Period on Wednesday. Although the Nittany Lions’ usual pipelines are flowing nicely, they’ve established a similarly-strong connection a bit further north.

“Canada is starting to turn into the northern tip of Pennsylvania from a recruiting perspective,” head coach James Franklin said on Wednesday. “We’re kind of on a little bit of a run.”

Four-star tight end Theo Johnson and three-star wide receiver Malick Meiga were the top-rated 2020 prospects from their home provinces of Ontario and Quebec, respectively. They both officially became Nittany Lions on Wednesday, and Johnson is expected to enroll early and join the team starting next semester.

After Johnson and Meiga join the team, Penn State will have five Canadian players rostered for the 2020 season. Safety Jonathan Sutherland and linebacker Jesse Luketa are from Ottawa, and defensive end Daniel Joseph hails from Brampton, Ontario. For those of you who are curious, Penn State’s men’s hockey program currently features six Canadians on its roster.

As evidenced by his @OttawasVeryOwn Twitter handle, Luketa is particularly proud of his Canadian roots. James Franklin thinks that’s helped his program successfully recruit from our friendly northern neighbors.

“Jesse Luketa is a very prideful guy in everything he does,” Franklin said. “If there’s a guy in Canada we want, he takes it personal. Our players take great pride. If they’re from New Jersey, they’re going to help us get the next great player out of New Jersey — or Maryland, D.C., or wherever it may be. Canada has really turned into that as well.”

Meiga is a 6’4″, 195-pound wideout who could very well pan out to be a deep threat at the collegiate level. He hauled in 38 passes for 882 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior year at Cegep du Vieux in Montreal, and the team posted a 10-1 record in 2019.

Elsewhere, Johnson was one of the Nittany Lions’ most prized recruits of the 2020 cycle. He made Penn State wait until December 9 for his official decision, but securing his commitment was a huge victory for offensive recruiting coordinator Tyler Bowen thanks to his raw talent and potential.

Johnson was selected to the Under Armour All-American game this year after helping Holy Names High School to a pair of titles in his senior year. He’ll also have an excellent veteran to look up to in Pat Freiermuth as he tries to compete for a regular role on offense next year.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have [Johnson]. I’ve gotten to know him and his family extremely well,” Bowen, who also serves as Penn State’s tight ends coach, said. “He’s looking forward to having a big brother and a mentor like [Freiermuth], and that supplements my coaching in the room. He’s looking forward to embracing the challenge of coming into that room and competing.”

The five Canadian players who are currently set to feature on Penn State’s 2020 roster definitely won’t be the first players from the country to play for the Nittany Lions. Perhaps the most famous Canadian son in Penn State football history is Pete Giftopoulous — the linebacker whose late interception of Miami’s Vinny Testaverde sealed the Nittany Lions’ 1987 national championship victory.

Running back Akeel Lynch and offensive lineman John Urschel were Penn State’s most recent Canadian imports before Joseph, Sutherland, and Luketa joined the team. Urschel played for the team from 2010-13 before his brief NFL career and retirement to pursue a career in mathematics, and Lynch was on the team from 2013-15 before transferring to Nevada.

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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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