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Penn State Football’s White Out Fuels Recruiting Surge

Unless you’re from Centre County, you probably know how hard it is to get to State College from just about anywhere in the country.

You don’t just drive by Penn State on the way to New York or Philadelphia. You can’t just catch a football game while you happen to be in town. If you want to visit Happy Valley, you need to go out of your way and make a plan.

This is something head football coach James Franklin knows all too well. When COVID-19 shut down in-person college football recruiting, the Nittany Lions were left grasping for straws. Penn State’s recruiting efforts, especially in-state, took a hit. The 2021 class fell to No. 6 in the Big Ten, three spots below the year before and four spots under the year before that.

Now with Franklin and the rest of his recruiting staff back on the trail, Penn State boasts the country’s No. 1 2022 recruiting class, which is headlined by blue-chip prospects like Dani Dennis-Sutton and Kaden Saunders.

Saunders, a four-star wideout, will be one of the 300-plus recruits and visitors in Happy Valley this weekend for the first White Out game in nearly two years. The fanfare, atmosphere, and pure noise from the White Out — often dubbed the greatest show in college sports — plays a massive role in Penn State’s recruiting process, stretching its impact far beyond the field.

“This White Out game, year in and year out, goes a long way towards shaping our future,” Franklin said Tuesday. “You think about how many great players that have come to Penn State that talk about the White Out game having a big, significant impact in their recruiting process and in their decision.”

Toward the end of 2020, Franklin recognized that Penn State’s 2021 recruiting class was not up to the program’s typical standards. While guys like Landon Tengwall, Kalen King, and Christian Veilleux will almost certainly play a big role in the Nittany Lions’ future, the class, at the time, fell short of other year’s big successes.

Nobody likes excuses, but 2020 was as good a year as any to make them. Between opt-outs, medical retirements, strict COVID-19 restrictions, and family separations, last year was missing what usually makes Penn State football itself.

Franklin once said that it’s hard to get a feel for Penn State’s college-town vibe without visiting. You can’t walk through downtown, catch a wrestling match, or go to the Creamery over Zoom.

Fast forward to September of this year, and almost all those things are back in full effect. And, of course, the White Out is the crown jewel of the Penn State experience.

I truly believe that because it’s one of those experiences that’s jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, just a sense of community that you can’t find anywhere else,” quarterback Sean Clifford said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of reasons I came to school here…so to say it’s just because of one game would be lying, but it’s definitely something that’s completely different from any atmosphere anywhere else.”

Clifford, now entering his third season as Penn State’s field general, attended Penn State’s 2015 White Out as a recruit. Current offensive lineman Caedan Wallace attended the 2018 White Out as well, which set Beaver Stadium’s attendance record. He called it a “big moment” in his recruiting process this week.

Although Penn State lost both that 2015 game against Michigan and that 2018 game against Ohio State, running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said actually winning the game is the most important part of recruiting on a White Out day.

“The best recruiting starts with winning the game. None of that other stuff matters,” Seider said. “The atmosphere will take care of itself, but the kids still want to come to a system where you can sell your product, you can see the success on the field.”

Penn State is favored to take down Auburn at the moment, boasting a five-point spread on OddsShark. The euphoria and atmosphere that follows winning such a big game would undoubtedly have a lasting effect on visiting recruits.

A recurring theme amongst coaches and players in the program is that the White Out — and Beaver Stadium in general — is something you have to experience in person.

You can watch Michigan call a timeout on the first play of the game on your TV, but you won’t get a true sense of that atmosphere unless you’re among six figures’ worth of fans in the bleachers. James Franklin said Penn State is “a special place, but it is something you have to come and see for yourself.”

“It’s hard to describe because Penn State fans bring energy every weekend. It’s just hard to describe,” Clifford said. “I don’t really describe it to [the younger guys on the team] that much because I say you just gotta experience it when you experience it.

The White Out, Penn State’s fans, and the stadium’s atmosphere seem to have a profound effect on recruits, visitors, and players alike. There’s no better example of this than Adam Taliaferro.

The former Penn State cornerback’s career came to a premature end when he suffered a spinal cord injury against Ohio State on September 23, 2000. Despite receiving a 5% chance to ever walk again, he miraculously led Penn State back onto the field less than a year later, producing an all-time moment in Beaver Stadium.

Taliaferro has certainly felt the effects of harnessing the full Penn State community before. He sent out a tweet Wednesday highlighting the significance of the Dear Old State on his life.

“I see a lot of recruits are coming up to PSU this weekend,” Taliaferro said. “All I can tell those young guys is that I’m living proof that if you come to Penn State, you’re coming to a place that will have your back for life!”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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