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A 15-year-old tight end from Virginia becomes Penn State's first recruit in 2023 class

DEREK LEVARSE
(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
Penn State

On the same day Penn State began preparation for the 2020 season, the Nittany Lions landed a recruit for 2023.

Yes, 2023.

That means Mathias Barnwell is just now finishing his freshman year at Spotsylvania High School in Virginia. But unlike most every other 15-year-old on the planet, Barnwell already checks in at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and maintains the athleticism to project as a tight end in college.

No surprise, then, that Barnwell’s nickname is “Mega.” And that nearly a dozen programs in major conferences have already offered him scholarships, one of which he has already jumped on.

“I am blessed and very humble to announce I’m a thousand percent committed to Penn State University,” Barnwell said Monday in a video posted to social media.

It wasn’t just the Lions who wanted him to come aboard despite having just one year of varsity ball on his resume.

His offer list in the 247Sports database includes USC, Tennessee and Nebraska as well as in-state schools Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Of course, the earliest Barnwell can actually join the Lions officially is December 2022, the early signing period for the 2023 class. That’s a whopping 30 months away.

In coach James Franklin’s tenure, these types of long-term commitments have gone both ways.

More recently, the Lions got a pledge early in 2018 from Maryland sophomore wideout Dont’e Thornton. He is just headed into his senior season and doesn’t have Penn State among his finalists after decommitting last year, saying that he had made too fast of a decision.

But Penn State’s 2016 signing class was kickstarted by two early commitments from top-100 overall recruits Shane Simmons and Miles Sanders, both of whom pledged in the summer before their junior years.

Both signed with the Lions, with Sanders plating three years and becoming a second-round draft pick. Simmons is still with the program, heading into his fifth season.

Even those examples aren’t as dramatic as Barnwell, who appears to be the youngest player in the modern era of recruit tracking to publicly commit to Penn State.

As such, Barnwell doesn’t yet have any ratings assigned to him by the major recruiting services. But early indications are that he could be one of the top prospects in Virginia for his cycle. Barnwell’s high school is in the same town that produced new NFL draftee Yetur Gross-Matos, who played at a neighboring school.

The Lions have hit some bumps in tight end recruiting for the 2021 cycle. They originally had a commitment from Florida’s Nick Elksnis, but he shifted gears and is line to stay home to play in college. Two other top targets recently had Penn State among their finalists before announcing for Wisconsin and Oregon.

The process begins: Monday marked the first day Penn State football was up and running in State College since the program shut down all activities on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The resulting sports lockdown across the country meant canceling all of spring practice and the Blue-White Game.

On Monday, the program was set to begin a phased return of players to campus — 75 to start with — to be tested for COVID-19. Players have been asked to quarantine themselves in the meantime and those who are medically cleared can begin voluntary workouts in small groups next Monday.

Voluntary means that the coaches aren’t allowed to get involved or receive reports from the strength staff.

A proposed timeframe for ramping up to actual football was released by the NCAA’s football oversight committee on Monday, with one option being a six-week preseason program that could begin in mid-July. That would leave the door open for the season to start as scheduled, though plenty of details still need to be ironed out.

Penn State’s opener is supposed to be Sept. 5 against Kent State at Beaver Stadium.