The last time a Penn State recruit was set to announce his college choice on TV, Nittany Lions coaches had to sweat it out.
Running back Noah Cain would later say he didn’t know for sure he was picking Penn State over Texas until a few moments before he picked the Lions back on Dec. 19.
No such tension Saturday night into Sunday morning with D’Von Ellies.
The four-star defensive tackle from Maryland went public with his pledge to Penn State while playing in the Polynesian Bowl, a senior all-star game in Hawaii.
As it turned out, Ellies’ letter of intent — the document that made things official with the Lions — arrived before Cain’s.
Ellies had signed with Penn State back in the early window, but the program kept it under wraps to allow the blue-chipper to have his moment on TV in Hawaii, the state where he was born.
Last winter, another defensive lineman, Jayson Oweh, also kept his December signing a secret so he could announce at an all-star game.
Donning a Penn State hat, Ellies announced for the Lions over his other finalists, USC and Ohio State. His offers also included Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.
“I’m excited. I’m beyond ready to be done with high school and play on the next level,” Ellies said on CBS Sports Network during the game, which kicked off after midnight in the East. “Play as hard as I can and work with my teammates to become the best team in college football.”
Two of those new teammates were there with him at Aloha Stadium outside of Honolulu. Fellow Penn State signees Devyn Ford and Caedan Wallace also played in the game.
The 6-foot-1, 288-pound Ellies played at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md., where he was teammates with current Lions defensive tackle PJ Mustipher.
Mustipher posted a photo of himself and Ellies in McDonogh gear on Twitter with the message, “Time to work brother!”
Ellies checks in as the top-rated defensive lineman in Maryland (No. 7 overall) and the 22nd-ranked defensive tackle in the nation (No. 293 overall) in the 247Sports Composite.
“I’m just keeping it relaxed about recruiting,” Ellies wrote in a diary for USA Today earlier in the week. “It’s all about how this affects me. It’s down to Penn State and USC. The more people I talk to, the more I listen. Sometimes it doesn’t help you and sometimes it does, so you have to listen to all the help that comes to you.
“Well, it’s all about family orientation, the overall feel of the campus, the people in the locker room. Those are the factors by far that are going to help me make my decision.”
New Jersey lineman gives verbal commitment to PSU: Ellies was one of 19 players to sign with Penn State in December and the Lions picked up a verbal commitment from No. 20 on Friday in New Jersey defensive lineman Smith Vilbert.
Defensive line was one of Penn State’s priorities coming out of the early signing period and there are now four line recruits in the 2019 class with Ellies and Vilbert joined by signees Adisa Isaac and Hakeem Beamon.
Including Ellies’ commitment, the Lions now have 16 four-star recruits in the class, one five-star and three three-stars.
What initially looked to be a smaller class suddenly has the potential to go up to 25 or more because of a slew of early departures from the roster.
Depth has taken big hit: The Lions’ depth has taken a big hit since the 2018 season ended, with five starters leaving early for the NFL — RB Miles Sanders, OL Connor McGovern, OL Ryan Bates, DE Shareef Miller and DT Kevin Givens — and five backups announcing they planned to transfer — WR Juwan Johnson, WR Brandon Polk, CB Zech McPhearson, S Ayron Monroe and LB Dae’Lun Darien.
Four other reserves have said they have already found new homes — LB Jarvis Miller (UMass), S Isaiah Humphries (Cal), LB Brelin Faison-Walden (Charlotte) and OL Sterling Jenkins (FCS Duquesne).
At least three more have their names in the NCAA’s online transfer portal, which allows other schools to contact them while they consider their options — S Lamont Wade, TE Danny Dalton and OL Alex Gellerstedt.
Class ranked high: All of the attrition means Penn State will have a busy few weeks trying to close out the 2019 recruiting class, with the next signing window opening on Feb. 6.
It also means the Lions have a chance to finish with the Big Ten’s top-rated class.
Ellies’ addition has Penn State at No. 10 nationally in the Composite rankings, just behind No. 9 Michigan for the conference lead. But the Wolverines are at 27 commitments and don’t have much room to expand. Ohio State is lurking at No. 13 with just 16 recruits, a number that should grow.