UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The crazy thing is they haven't even left Happy Valley yet, not for the already-stacked recruiting class of 2015. No, Penn State coach James Franklin and his staff have enticed nine players to commit in an NCAA-mandated "quiet period."
In human terms, that means they haven't been able to visit these recruits. They can call, but in quiet periods the players essentially visit Penn State.
"We were talking, my guys and I, [Wednesday] night," said coach Brian Gilbert of Whitehall High School in Lehigh County, Pa. "Look at the recruiting they've been doing, and they haven't even been out on the road yet. ... The recruiting has come to them."
Gilbert was returning Wednesday night from where else: Penn State. He and Whitehall receiver Saquon Barkley, who committed in February, had been invited to a spring practice. Barkley, who had been recruited by former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, dropped his commitment to Rutgers after a visit to Penn State.
Barkley is a four-star wide receiver. Of Penn State's nine committed players, six of them are rated four stars by the recruiting website 24-7 Sports. 24-7 ranks Penn State's class of 2015 No. 4, behind Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU. According to 24-7, West Virginia, with 10 recruits, is the only team with more committed players at this point. Texas A&M, Texas, LSU and Tennessee also have nine (of course, none of those teams have a new coach, like Penn State, or NCAA sanctions). Most big-conference teams have three or fewer committed players.
Penn State is usually like those teams at this point in the year. Looking at commitment dates from the recruiting website Rivals, Penn State had only one recruit commit by the end of March a year out from signing day from 2005-2011. For the Class of 2012, it had three recruits commit by the end of March 2011, five for the Class of 2013 by the end of March 2012 and three for the Class of 2014 by the end of March 2013.
Familiarity certainly has helped Franklin. Since taking the job in January, he has stressed the importance of relationships, and most of these 2015 recruits either had a previous relationship with Penn State or with Vanderbilt. According to various media reports and recruiting sites, seven of the nine committed recruits had been offered or at least recruited by O'Brien's Penn State staff. Four of the nine committed recruits had been recruited by Franklin's staff at Vanderbilt.
But still ... nine? In less than three months on the job?
"When some people jumped on board, then everybody starting wanting to, including myself," said Ryan Buchholz, a defensive end recruit from Great Valley in Malvern, Pa.
Buchholz's high school coach, Michael Choi, said Buchholz and the other recruits have been sold on a believable, exciting vision of Franklin's program that Franklin says will lead to conference and national championships. His conviction to do whatever it takes to reach those goals could be why so many players have committed in such a short time.
"There's a feeling as if you need to make that commitment quickly because he's going to get his guys and he's going to do it as quick as he possibly can," Choi said.
The pressure, though, doesn't really feel like pressure. Recruit Trace McSorley of Briar Woods in Virginia, part of the Class of 2014, said he liked Franklin because of his personable attitude and energy. He felt like he could carry on a normal conversation with him.
As for the energy, everyone talks about that. Charlie Pierce, who coaches McSorley and 2015 Penn State recruit Brandon Polk and has known Franklin for several years, said Franklin's personality draws people to him. Gaithersburg coach Kreg Kephart, whose player, Kamonte Carter, committed for the Class of 2015, said Carter's decision happened the same day he visited Penn State.
It takes energy to make a mark on a football program in little more than two months, and that same energy apparently sells.
"Kids are young and very impressionable and I think a high energy level to a 16- or 17-year-old, they want to be part of that energy," Kephart said. "They want to buy into that ... "