On the day Penn State introduced him as its head football coach in January 2014, James Franklin offered his first — and still most popular — recruiting mantra.
He and his assistants were going to “Dominate the state,” he insisted.
It’s fair to say the Nittany Lions didn’t dominate Pennsylvania this time, after they signed 27 prospects in their 2020 recruiting class as part of the early National Letter of Intent signing period Wednesday. According to Rivals.com, Franklin and his staff signed just one of the state’s top six prospects and three of the top nine.
In a year when Pennsylvania had just one elite prospect — five-star receiver Julian Fleming, who Penn State desperately wanted before he committed to Ohio State — Franklin and his team focused on another mantra that has developed quite a bit more quietly during his time in Happy Valley.
Dominate where you can, when you can.
You can say what you want about this class, the largest the Nittany Lions have signed in a decade, but one that still failed to crack the top 10 nationally in the Rivals and 247sports ratings — they finished just outside of the top 10 in both. But it’s a clear indication Penn State’s recruiting footprint is slowly, but certainly, becoming more global, more diverse and complete than it has ever been in the past.
Adding depth at every position: In a year when the Nittany Lions wanted to add depth at every position on the field, they signed Micah Bowens, a four-star quarterback from Nevada. They signed two four-star running backs, Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee from Florida.
Arguably the receiver prospect most likely to see the field this season, the sticky-handed Parker Washington, starred in Texas. The next in what has been a pretty good run of tight end prospects, Theo Johnson, is coming to Penn State from Ontario. Their best defensive back prospect, Enzo Jennings, is out of Michigan. Safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who is enrolling early and might be game-ready at a position of need by next fall, continues the Lions’ recent trend in pulling top talent from downtown Scranton at Lackawanna College.
None of this is unheard of, of course.
That’s the point.
“You go to Alabama and get a player, and he has success here, it helps when you go back the next time,” Franklin said.
Lack of Pa. talent forces change in plan: When the talent isn’t overflowing in Pennsylvania, it doesn’t just affect Penn State. It affects Pittsburgh and Temple and Ohio State and Rutgers and Maryland, too. That makes the push for talent in Penn State’s Washington-Maryland-Virginia hotbed more fierce. It pushes rivals into New Jersey and New York City. By nature, it forces you to change your plan.
Penn State didn’t land a player from Alabama in this class, but it might have been able to based on the success cornerback Christian Campbell and defensive end Torrence Brown, two former Franklin recruits, had in the program. It’s hardly a stretch to think that what two young, Canada-born Penn State players — linebacker Jesse Luketa and special teams maven Jonathan Sutherland — have done as played some kind of role in landing Johnson and raw-but-athletically gifted receiver Malick Meiga, who is from Montreal.
“We must do a great job in the state; that will always be priority number one,” Franklin said. ”But then, we have to be willing to go other places, whether that is Canada, whether that is Germany, whether that is Nevada, whether that is Florida. I think you guys have seen how our recruiting has changed, probably from the previous regime to us, and really from the first couple years that we got here to more recently. We’re excited about it. We’re going to continue to do a really good job there and be creative and be willing to solve problems.”
Reason for encouragement: It will be years before anyone knows how this class pans out.
On the whole, recruiting classes aren’t an instant gratification entity, and this class might have more projects than it does sure-bet prospects anyway. But the most encouraging thing about this group that Penn State fans should take is how they came together, where they came from, and what that could mean for the program’s future.