Penn State’s coaches were eating barbecue Wednesday when the recruiting roller coaster looped once more.
Aaryn Parks, a four-star offensive lineman from Maryland, announced on Twitter that he was decommitting from Penn State’s 2020 class.
Parks became the second offensive lineman in three days to announce his decommitment, part of the manic season that June recruiting has become. In State College, the coaches couldn’t discuss the news specifically (per NCAA rules) but appeared to meet it with the understanding that this isn’t December, when players can sign their letters of intent, and that the roller coaster will twist some more.
“We’re in a good place (with the 2020 class), but you’re never in as good a place as you think you are,” said Ja’Juan Seider, Penn State’s running backs coach and a key recruiter on staff. "Because, and I’ve always said this, we’ve got to recruit until the ink is dry. If the ink ain’t dry, we’ve got a long way to go."
Bad stretch: Penn State’s 2020 class is going through a bad stretch, with two decommits (one to Ohio State) and in-state receiver Julian Fleming’s announcement that he’s headed to Ohio State. The Lions currently have 10 players committed and are ranked 18th nationally, according to Rivals.com.
Penn State coach James Franklin, whose staff entertained several prospects on campus Wednesday, said that he’s “pleased” with his team’s recruiting progress while acknowledging its “ups and downs.”
“There’s going to be different storylines that pop up,” Franklin said at the team’s practice field. “But, like always, we’re going to stay positive and work through it and grind through it. We’re going to continue to develop the players we have and continue to recruit to create as much competition on the roster as we possibly can.”
Player decommits are common in college football, including Penn State, though they carry a sense of alarm. Seider has been through instances on both sides and maintains a steady plan to keep recruiting.
At Penn State, for instance, Franklin texts his coaches “Banzai!” when a recruit arrives at the football offices. That’s a signal to be ready to shower a player, and his parents, with attention. Seider called that a fun, and vital, piece of relationship-building.
Social media's impact: But Seider also wondered about the nature of recruiting, and commitments, and how both have been affected by social media. Speaking generally, and not mentioning players by name or situation, Seider said that sometimes he asks whether players truly like football or merely the attention that comes with it.
“Social media has taken [recruiting] to a whole other level, and kids are more influenced by other stuff than football,” Seider said. "They get affected by fans. Some of the kids get influenced by, I need likes and retweets by guys who haven’t paid one dollar to go watch them play, and they call themselves fans.
“It makes you wonder. I question, do they really love football or do they love what football does for them? You have to be careful with that and you have to monitor that.”
Parks' decision: In announcing his decision, Parks wrote that he opened the recruiting process because he “locked in too early without giving other universities an equal opportunity to recruit me.” Parks added that Penn State will “continue to be a top choice on my list.”
That’s a best-case for Penn State. Franklin always has said that, when players commit to him, they’re “no longer dating” and that Signing Day is akin to wedding day. But the coach also has said that, when players commit elsewhere, that just means that he knows who the competition is.
Seider reiterated that. The December signing day remains a long six months away.
“There are still a few of those kids who commit early who are going to decommit and want to look around," Seider said. "They say, ‘Hey, I rushed my decision.’ We try to tell them, 'Don’t commit if you’re not ready.
“What changes now? People are in their ear, or a relative is trying to push them to a school because they grew up liking the school but don’t understand the big picture. So yeah, it’s tougher."