The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sports to a skidding, worldwide halt, and even if there is a 2020 football season, which is far from certain, it’s still months away.
None of that mattered much on Monday.
Because, if you’re a fan of central Pennsylvania football at the high school and college levels, Monday turned into a big-news day — in more ways than one.
Two of the region’s most high-profile high school football recruits made some newsworthy college announcements on Twitter that should be of significant interest to the region’s thousands of Penn State fans.
First, Nolan Rucci, a junior from Warwick High School in Lancaster County, released the nine colleges still in the running for his services. Not surprisingly, Penn State made the cut.
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A few hours later, Anthony Smith, a sophomore from Shippensburg High School, revealed that he’s received an offer from the Nittany Lions.
Besides playing for District 3 schools and drawing interest from the Nittany Lions, Smith and Rucci have something else in common.
They’re both huge, and they’re likely not done growing.
Rucci is listed at 6 feet, 8 inches tall and 285 pounds, while Smith comes in at 6-7, 265.
Rucci may be best player in state: At this point, Rucci is the more highly regarded prospect, but that could change as Smith matures.
Rucci, of course, has a familiar name to PSU fans. His father, Todd, was a standout offensive lineman for the Nittany Lions who went on to a solid seven-year pro career with the New England Patriots.
Now his son, Nolan, is a five-star offensive tackle recruit who is considered by many to be the best high school player in Pennsylvania for the recruiting class of 2021. He helped Warwick to a 10-3 season last fall and a berth in the District 3 Class 5-A semifinals.
Not surprisingly, PSU will have to beat out some real Football Bowl Subdivision heavyweights for Nolan’s services. His other eight listed finalists are Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Stanford. According to 247Sports.com, the four favorites to land Nolan Rucci are likely PSU, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Clemson.
PSU is not the only finalist with a connection to the Lititz family. Nolan’s brother, Hayden, is a freshman tight end at Wisconsin who was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. For that reason, the Badgers may be the Lions’ toughest competition to land Nolan.
York-Adams teams familiar with Smith: Smith, meanwhile, is a familiar figure to York-Adams League football fans. Last year, his Shippensburg Greyhounds opened the season with dominating wins over Dover (41-7), West York (38-0) and Bermudian Springs (37-12) en route to an 11-1 season that ended in the District 3 Class 5-A quarterfinals. Later in the season, the school on the border between Cumberland and Franklin counties beat two other York County schools: Northern York (27-21) and Red Land (40-23).
Smith was a big reason for the Greyhounds’ success, compiling 73 tackles and nine sacks from his defensive end position. Smith can now boast of offers from PSU, Nebraska, Iowa and Bowling Green.
Welcome respite: Given the current unsettled situation, it’s uncertain when Nolan Rucci or Smith will make their college choices, although, given their scholastic classes, it would be shocking if Nolan Rucci didn’t make his choice first.
No matter what choices they ultimately make, however, the two towering teens from central Pennsylvania at least gave regional football fans something to talk about that didn’t involve “flattening the curve” or “sheltering in place.”
And, at least from this point of view, that’s a welcome respite.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.