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LEVARSE: PSU's strange recruiting saga continues, with big win for 2022, big loss for 2021

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

One recruiting class is limping toward the finish line. The next is rocketing to the top of the early national rankings.

Both classes belong to Penn State, a sure sign that the recruiting landscape is just as strange as everything else happening in college football right now.

Tuesday encapsulated the situation pretty well for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State’s impressive 2022 class landed another four-star recruit in Philadelphia’s Ken Talley, a hybrid defensive player out of Northeast High School who the Lions have recruited as a linebacker.

Talley’s commitment gives the Lions six juniors in the fold for the 2022 class, which is already up to No. 3 in the nation.

But just a few hours later, one of the country’s top seniors, Warwick offensive lineman Nolan Rucci, dealt another blow to Penn State’s hopes for its 2021 group when he chose Big Ten rival Wisconsin over the Lions.

One of the highest-rated recruits in the country at any position, Rucci could have given Penn State’s foundering class a major boost. But he announced that he will sign with the Badgers, where he can reunite with his older brother Hayden, a tight end.

“It was a combination of things,” Rucci told 247Sports. “Obviously having my older brother there was huge. Getting the chance to play with him on a Saturday night I think is a huge draw for me. Obviously lining up next to each other would be a unique experience.”

It’s particularly rough news for the Lions, as the 6-foot-8 Rucci is not just the top prospect in Pennsylvania for this cycle, but his father Todd, is a former Penn State standout.

That marks the second straight year that Penn State had a top-25 overall national recruit in its backyard, only to see them head elsewhere in the conference. Southern Columbia star receiver Julian Fleming signed with Ohio State last winter.

Penn State hasn’t landed a commitment for the upcoming class in nearly three months, and the 2021 group stands at 13 recruits with three months still to go before signing day. That puts Penn State at 33rd nationally and just eighth in the Big Ten.

And while the coronavirus pandemic has made life difficult on the recruiting trail — in-person visits between coaches and prospects have been shut down since March — that hasn’t stopped Penn State from catching fire for the 2022 class.

Talley is already the fifth four-star recruit in the group as rated by the 247Sports Composite. His pledge comes just four days after another Pennsylvania standout, Downingtown West offensive lineman Drew Shelton, committed to the Lions.

Shelton and Talley rank No. 4 and No. 7, respectively, among Pennsylvania juniors in the composite. Central York’s Beau Pribula, the top-rated quarterback in the state for 2022, is also on board.

It’s already an upgrade on the in-state situation from 2021. Penn State has had a tough time locally beyond just losing Rucci as Pennsylvania’s top talent is headed off to Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia and Florida. Pitt has two top-10 recruits committed while Penn State’s highest-rated is No. 11 in athlete Lonnie White.

Three of the Lions’ 13 pledges for 2021 are from Pennsylvania. They already have three in-state prospects lined up for 2022.

The Lions also have commitments in 2022 from Ohio wideout Kaden Saunders, Milwaukee tight end Jerry Cross and Atlanta tight end Holden Staes.

Talley is the first defensive recruit to join the class. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he is ranked as the country’s No. 165 overall prospect for 2022 and the No. 11 weak-side defensive end in the cycle. Pro scouting parlance would label him as an edge rusher, and schools have been recruiting him mostly as a linebacker.

With more than 20 scholarship offers to his name, Talley narrowed it down to Penn State, Tennessee and Arizona State before picking the Lions. Michigan, Texas A&M and West Virginia were also high on his list.

Helping Penn State’s cause in this one was former All-Big Ten defensive end Deion Barnes, who is on staff as a graduate assistant. Barnes is a Northeast alum himself who also served as the school’s defensive coordinator before returning to the Lions.

Talley chose to announce his decision on Tuesday to honor his late grandmother on her birthday.

“I will grind ten times harder, go to college for free, make it to the NFL and play for her favorite team,” Talley wrote on social media when she died in March.

He mentioned her again on Tuesday.

“Happy birthday grandma,” he wrote. “Love you forever. This day (is) for you.”