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Penn State assistant coach Tim Banks establishes recruiting foothold in his native Detroit

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Tim Banks

Penn State safeties coach Tim Banks grew up in Detroit and attended high school there before going on to play for Central Michigan. His 24 years of college coaching experience has enabled him to establish strong recruiting ties in his hometown.

That connection has paid off for the Nittany Lions, particularly this month. Three high school athletes from the Motor City have given oral commitments to head coach James Franklin. Three Detroit-area players are on the current roster, and wide receiver KJ Hamler, from suburban Pontiac, is waiting to hear his name called in an early round of the NFL Draft.

Since Franklin took over the program in 2014, Penn State has enjoyed recruiting success within a five-hour drive of campus in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. But the Nittany Lions’ ability to pluck players out of the Big Ten footprint in the Midwest also has been rewarding.

With coaching stops at three Midwestern schools -- Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Illinois -- before coming to Penn State, Banks knows the territory.

“I think the proximity is a big advantage that we have when you’re talking about recruiting the Midwest,” Banks said earlier this month on a conference call. “For me personally, I think even though I have this voice, I’ve been recruiting for a long time and I’ve made a lot of great relationships around the country, particularly in the Midwest. Relationships are everything. I’ve had a chance to develop a lot of great ones and ones that really bode well for me in a university.”

Hamler, who attended Orchard Park St. Mary’s, the same high school as former Nittany Lion and current NFL star Allen Robinson, before finishing at IMG (Fla.) Academy, signed a national letter of intent in 2017 along with cornerback Donovan Johnson of Cass Tech in Detroit.

The Michigan pipeline reopened in 2019 when linebacker Lance Dixon of West Bloomfield, a Detroit suburb, signed his letter of intent, and it continued in the 2020 freshman class with Enzo Jennings of Detroit and Oak Park High and defensive end Bryce Mostella from Kentwood in the western part of the state.

The Lions received 2021 commitments earlier this month from three Detroit players over a two-day period: safety Jaylen Reed of Martin Luther King, Banks’ alma mater; and a set of twins, cornerback Kalen and linebacker Kobe King of Cass Tech.

Banks, who is not allowed to speak about recruits until they sign their national letters of intent, said being successful in Detroit is difficult because of the competition for athletes in the area.

“I think if you’re in the Midwest, with a Big Ten footprint, you’re fighting all the major players,” he said. “I grew up there. I played in the area. I coached in the area. I think that’s awesome, but at the same time you still have to do a great job of vetting the right people and making sure that the kids truly understand what Penn State brings to the table.

“I don’t take it for granted because that’s where I’m from. I know the young men that come out of that area. A lot of them are very blue collar and hard working. They’re just looking for an opportunity to continue to grow, not only as an athlete but academically. Penn State obviously gives that in spades. I feel like we have a really good product to sell and a great opportunity to sell. A lot of kids have been receptive to that.”

Recruiting has been a particular challenge for all the nation’s coaches since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, with in-person visits to college campuses and coaches’ visits to players at their homes both prohibited indefinitely. In addition, players are taking their time before choosing a school.

Penn State had just three oral commitments entering the month of April, but came up with four in a two-day period a couple of weeks ago. Banks said a key is to continue to build relationships remotely with players and their families.

“Probably, to be honest, the only thing that’s really missing is the opportunity to get guys on campus,” he said. “Obviously, when we get to Happy Valley, it is a plus anytime we can have them around. But at this point, it’s just trying to work really hard to stay connected through social media, texts, and phone calls when we can.”