PSU's recruiting 'grind' nearly over
Time has flown by since the end of Penn State football’s season, and now, there are only the waning hours of the weekend left before the team inks a fresh set of talent to the 2016 roster — National Signing Day is on Wednesday.
Head coach James Franklin and his staff hit the ground hard immediately during the contact period — pausing, of course, during the NCAA-regulated dead period from Dec. 14 to Jan. 13. The coaches were on the road immediately after the regular season ended to check in on commits and offer other prospects.
“It’s a grind,” said receivers coach Josh Gattis, at the time. “After the last game, you don’t get a chance to put that game to rest because you’re moving on to recruiting. So we hit the road and we’ve been going for the past two weeks, so it seems like a lot of time that we have been away from our (current) players.”
That time, and after the contact period opened back up, was full of the natural rises and pitfalls that come with recruitis — including rumors of “negative recruiting” from other Big Ten teams regarding Penn State’s rapid shifts in personnel after the season and bowl game.
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ve been getting a lot of negative recruiting,” said Franklin during his end-of-year press conference last week. “It’s kind of really been that way since we arrived, about Penn State, about some of the challenges that we’ve been through.”
Franklin said he and the administrative staff did “everything they could” to make sure the program didn’t miss a step in the recruiting process despite the loss of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand. The coaches hired to fill those spots, Matt Limegrover and Tim Banks (Brent Pry was promoted to defensive coordinator while Banks is coaching safeties) hit the road within hours of their hiring announcements to introduce themselves to recruits.
“That’s one of the things I’m really proud of the staff. We were able to get guys in position as quickly as we possibly could, thanks to the support of our administration and President Barron,” said Franklin. “I think the fact that we were able to get these guys on staff as quick as possible, not too fast that we weren’t able to make the right decisions and hire the right people, but got them here, and those guys were able to get on the phones as quick as possible, have contact and interaction with the recruits and their parents, and then we were able to get them into their homes as quickly as we possibly could.”
Still, there was criticism from the extremely vocal group of those who closely follow the recruiting process and its minutiae. This increased when it became clear that the nation’s top kicker, Quinn Nordin, was edging closer to decommitting from the program (he committed over the summer, and announced his decommitment last week after getting a home visit from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and then visiting Baylor), and when Penn State lost out on a very athletic and versatile recruit in McKeesport, Pa.’s Khaleke Hudson.
Franklin hasn’t outwardly let any of that bother him. In fact, he maintains that he and his staff don’t partake in negative recruiting and are as positively-minded as ever — but he understands why programs do it.
“There are a lot of people that their backgrounds and their success is on the line,” he said. “If Penn State is not successful it’s going to help a lot of those other programs be successful. We just focus on Penn State. We focus on all the positives we’ve had here, all the unique opportunities that we’re able to extend to families and young people, and then obviously all I ask is if (recruits) are getting negative things and you’re hearing negative things, just share them with us. Just let us know what you’re hearing and what people are saying to allow us to be able to explain, and what we’re always going to do is we’re going to be transparent. We’re going to tell you the truth and allow you to make an educated decision.
“That’s just how we’re going to handle it. I think in the long run, when you take that path, it’s going to pay the dividends you want, and I think the negative stuff is going to catch up to you at some point, and you’re going to burn bridges.”
As of Saturday night, Penn State has 17 verbal commitments and room for around six more — and has welcomed a handful of young prospects to State College over the weekend for an official visit.
Four of those are technically already signed, as early enrollees who are taking classes this semester: Quarterback Jake Zembiec, tight end Danny Dalton, offensive tackle Alex Gellerstedt and center Connor McGovern.
That leaves 13 who have yet to be inked. CBS Sports recruiting affiliate 247 Sports offers a comprehensive list as follows:
Miles Sanders, running back, Pittsburgh
Michael Menet, offensive guard, Reading, Pa.
Shane Simmons, defensive end, Hyattsville, Md.
Ellison Jordan, defensive tackle, Baltimore
Daniel Joseph, defensive end, Lake Forest, Il.
Andrew Pryts, safety, Hermitage, Pa.
Cameron Brown, linebacker, Burtonsville, Md.
Zechariah McPhearson, cornerback, Upper Marlboro, Md.
Aaron Mathews, athlete, Clairton, Pa.
Will Fries, offensive tackle, Cranford, NJ
Shaka Toney, defensive end, Philadelphia
Blake Gillikin, punter, Atlanta
Alex Barbir, kicker, Cumming, Ga.
According to 247 Sports composites, the class ranks at No. 16 in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.