High school recruits flocking to Penn State for visits. Will it pay off for Nittany Lions?

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Penn State head coach James Franklin during their NCAA football practice, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

After more than 15 months of not being able to conduct face-to-face meetings with high school recruits, Penn State football coach James Franklin went right to work when in-person recruiting resumed June 1, welcoming dozens of players to Happy Valley and hoping some will come back as new Nittany Lions.

Franklin has scheduled the maximum four weekends of official visits in June, a run that concludes this weekend. He also has met with players who have come to campus on unofficial visits, some of whom are asked to work out for the coaches.

Most of the guests are from the class of 2022, all of whom could only speak with coaches on Zoom or FaceTime last year and up until May 31 this year.

"They haven't had a chance to really get out and spend a lot of time with the coaches or see the campuses or get the presentations and learn about the academics, and just see what it's like to travel to the schools," Brian Dohn, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said Tuesday.

"You have four weeks to not only recruit for '22 and bring in all your official visitors and unofficial visitors. But you're trying to run camps and evaluate maybe some '22s. You want to make sure you're either going to move on them or not move on them while also trying to set things up for '23 and '24 and get some early evaluations on those kids. So it is a ridiculous amount to pack into a four-week window."

Franklin feels his program has an advantage when high school recruits come to Happy Valley, something he didn't have during the pandemic.

"Where we're located, it's not like we have a bunch of recruits that live within an hour of campus," he said in a media session in April. "This is a place you've got to come and see. I'm a huge believer that we are, in my mind, what you think of when you think of the true college town on a postcard. It's one of those things you've got to come and see and appreciate firsthand."

Dohn called getting recruits on campus "a major recruiting point" for Penn State.

"There's no way around it," he said. "Penn State needs to get kids on campus whether it's officially or unofficially."

Of course, the key with all those visits is getting players to commit to Penn State. The month's initial oral commitment came Monday from Tyler Johnson, a 6-foot, 175-pound wide receiver from Ridgeway, Va., who has yet to be rated by the recruiting websites.

Johnson came in last Wednesday for an unofficial visit and impressed the coaching staff with his workout, which reportedly included a 40-yard time of less than 4.5 seconds. He was invited back Friday for an official visit and pledged to the Nittany Lions after returning home.

Dohn said Franklin and his staff have some big names they're going after. Two of them are Nicholas Singleton of Reading, rated the No. 1 running back in Pennsylvania and No. 8 in the nation, and Dani Dennis-Sutton of Owings Mills, Md., the No. 1-ranked strongside defensive end in the country.

Both players have received a lot of attention. Singleton had "a great visit" to Notre Dame, Dohn said, and will be visiting Alabama this weekend. Dennis-Sutton's decision is down to three teams: Georgia, Alabama, and Penn State.

One player who could decide in the Nittany Lions' favor is 6-foot-1, 180-pound safety Cristian Driver of Argyle, Texas, the son of former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. Franklin worked with Driver as the Packers' wide receivers coach in 2005 and the two are believed to have a strong relationship.

Franklin also is interested in some Philadelphia-area prospects, including linebackers Abdul Carter of La Salle and Keon Wylie of Imhotep Charter, and defensive backs Keenan Nelson of St. Joseph's Prep and Raleigh Collins of Neumann Goretti.

"I think you'll really know how Penn State's doing around July 15 with all these visits," Dohn said. "They're going well. Some of the kids they're after, you're talking about battling Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame. It's rare air, the guys you're recruiting against. So you're going to win some and you're going to lose some. But I would think by mid-July they should have a handful more kids in the fold, if not even more than that."