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Penn State looks to start football recruiting surge during period of lockdown

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
James Franklin

The Blue-White Game was scheduled for next weekend — the end of Penn State’s spring schedule and the start of the Nittany Lions’ recruiting push.

There will be no spring game this year, canceled nearly a month ago as sports around the country began to shut down in March. But the coaches will look to get the recruiting surge going all the same.

More than a reunion for the fans, the annual scrimmage had also became a key recruiting weekend for the Lions when the calendar changed to incorporate an early signing period and allow official visits in the spring.

In recent years, Penn State has landed commitments from high schoolers in town for the game or set up pledges for later in the year.

“It’s one of the reasons why I think the Big Ten was so aggressive in the new recruiting rules that went into place last year with doing official visits in the spring — that we could get guys on campus when the weather was attractive and things like that,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “So (not having that) is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it.”

No visits through May 31: There will be no visits of any kind until at least June, as the NCAA has extended its dead period — no in-person visits by recruits to campuses or by coaches to recruits’ homes or schools — through May 31 for the time being.

But that doesn’t prevent phone calls and video calls between coaches and prospects, with video calls ramping up during this period of lockdown.

That contact is even more important now as there’s no telling just yet when things might change. And it’s why Penn State looks to have gotten some recruits to accelerate their timelines to give the Lions some momentum on the trail.

It started with a recent commitment from the top player in Maryland for the 2021 cycle, offensive lineman Landon Tengwall. He became the third member of the class for the Lions.

Reed commits to Lions: That number could double over the next few days.

A trio of defensive recruits from Michigan could end up with the Lions.

The good news for PSU started Thursday when four-star safety Jaylen Reed from Detroit verbally committed to the Lions.

Soon to follow may be twin brothers from Detroit in Kaleb and Kobe King.

Analysts from the 247Sports network have logged several recent predictions for all three to choose Penn State. They already got the Reed commitment correct.

Landing all three players would be a significant boost for the Lions, but the onus will be on the coaching staff to figure out a plan to keep things going in this dramatically altered landscape.

“Everybody is dealing with the same thing so I don’t see it being an advantage or a disadvantage for anybody,” offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said. “It would be great if I could get out and watch the quarterbacks throw. It’s great when the kids can come on campus and you can spend time interacting with them in person and getting a feel for them — whether or not they’re the right people for your program, and they can get a feel for whether or not you’re the right people for them.

“So that that is a challenge. But what we can do is get on the phone and FaceTime with these recruits and continue to recruit and educate them about what their life will be like if they decide to choose Penn State.”

Summer camps: Another avenue that seems likely to be closed off is the series of summer camps that Penn State and many other schools host throughout the offseason.

So far, Penn State hasn’t made any determinations on summer session classes or activities. But Ohio State is staying online only for its students through July. On Wednesday, Clemson made a similar choice and Wisconsin has canceled its camps specifically.

“In response to the COVID-19 situation, the University of Wisconsin is cancelling all youth programs through Aug. 15, 2020,” the school said in a statement. “This includes all Badger Sports Camps for summer 2020. The main priority of our programs continues to be the health, safety and wellness of our participants, student-athletes, coaches, administrators and staff as we continue to monitor all developing and relevant information on the virus.”

Getting creative: For now, the Lions and other programs will have to plan to get creative and assume that in-person recruiting won’t be an option for the foreseeable future.

“Embracing the technology is the best thing we can do,” Franklin said. “It’s one thing to call a player, it’s another thing to be able to (video call) and be able to interact and smile and see each other. So I think there’s value in all these things.

“We’re just trying to embrace as much as we possibly can to close ground on some of the schools that have gotten further into spring ball and further into (recruiting events) and things like that.”