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PSU fills needs with top 20 class

Written by Frank Bodani/York Daily Record | Feb 4, 2016 3:34 AM
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Penn State head coach James Franklin stands on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Michigan in State College, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(University Park) -- James Franklin would not be deterred by how the Nittany Lions lost out on more recruiting targets -- and lost more of their own verbal commitments -- as National Signing Day approached than at any other time in recent memory.

The ultra-positive head coach quickly spun his penultimate recruiting news conference to the good of what Penn State is bringing in with its 2016 class. Wednesday was the first day high school football players could make their verbal commitments binding, all but ending this cycle even as the next one has already begun.

"I'd like to focus on (how) the last two recruiting classes were clearly two of the better recruiting classes in the last five years (at Penn State). I know you don't want to talk about that, but I'd love to talk about that," he said.

"Obviously, everybody knows ... I don't need to get into the challenges. Those things have been talked about enough. So what I'd like to talk about is all the tremendous progress, all the great families and all the great football players that are joining us."

And much of what he proclaimed is true.

Franklin not only convinced Woodland Hills' Miles Sanders -- the No. 1-rated tailback in the nation -- to pledge for Penn State, he and his re-shaped coaching staff bolstered three of their team's most significant needs with this 20-member group: special teams and the offensive and defensive lines.

Overall, the class is rated around 20th nationally, a strong showing for a team with back-to-back 7-6 finishes, including four straight losses to end the 2015 season. The Lions are bringing in a scholarship kicker and a punter, who both could break into the starting lineup this fall.

They also made a late surge for help on the defensive line, landing Ohio's Antonio Shelton and junior college transfers Tyrell Chavis and Brenon Thrift. Most importantly, Chavis seems to possess the size, strength and experience to step in right away and help fill the void left by NFL-bound Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson.

The offensive line haul has long been documented as one of the best in the suddenly stacked Big Ten, if not the nation.

One of those stars is Connor McGovern from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. His father, an assistant football coach and the school district's superintendent, was in Penn State's Wednesday morning "war room" when his son's letter of intent was official..

"So he got up behind the podium and announced his son and he got emotional, his dad introducing his son coming to Penn State. So to me, that's what it's all about," Franklin said.

And McGovern and Reading's Michael Menet might not be the only potential stars of the group, either. Also watch for New Jersey's Will Fries, a 6-foot-6, 270-pounder who could play guard or tackle in college.

"Not only do I think he's the most underrated guy in this class, I think he can be just as good as Menet and McGovern, and maybe better," Ryan Snyder, a Rivals.com recruiting analyst said during Penn State's National Signing Day show.

However, recruiting has also been built into a glitzy big business -- and another way for fans to root for their team against their rivals. And the biggest sticking point with this class comes from the way it finished. For much of the recruiting cycle, the Nittany Lions hung around the upper-tier of the nation's Top 10 programs.

But those four straight losses and shuffling the coaching staff combined even with whispers about Franklin's job security seemed to spur a negative trend. The Lions lost highly rated verbal commitments in cornerback Lavert Hill, defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate, defensive end/receiver Aaron Mathews and safety Andrew Pryts down the stretch.

They also missed on Pittsburgh-area prospects Khaleke Hudson to Michigan and Damar Hamlin to Pitt, as well as Ohio linebacker Brendan Ferns to West Virginia.

They slipped from the Top 10 to around 20th in the rankings from the nation's major sites. They finished decidedly behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten.

Franklin, of course, preferred to focus on positives and the building. He used an analogy from his new offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, to drive that home:

"At first you kind of overcome the storm and then you become the storm, and that's what we're really trying to do," Franklin said. "Overcome some of the adversity that we've been through and then become the storm later on."

Penn State's 2016 recruiting class

Alex Barbir, kicker, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Cumming, Georgia

Cameron Brown, outside linebacker, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Potomac, Maryland

Tyrell Chavis, defensive tackle, 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, Nassau Community College, Garden City, New York

Danny Dalton, tight end, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Dae'lun Darien, wide receiver, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Baltimore, Maryland

Will Fries, offensive line, 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Cranford, New Jersey

Alex Gellerstedt, offensive line, 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, Dublin, Ohio

Blake Gillikin, punter, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Atlanta, Georgia

Anthony Johnson, cornerback, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Euclid, Ohio

Ellison Jordan, defensive tackle, 6-foot-1, 260 pounds, Baltimore, Maryland

Daniel Joseph, defensive end, 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Lake Forest, Illinois

Connor McGovern, offensive line, 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, Lake-Lehman High

Zechariah McPhearson, cornerback, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Michal Menet, offensive line, 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Exeter Township High

Andrew Pryts, safety, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Hickory High

Miles Sanders, tailback, 6-foot, 200 pounds, Woodland Hills High

Antonio Shelton, defensive tackle, 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Westerville, Ohio

Shane Simmons, defensive end, 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Hyattsville, Maryland

Brenon Thrift, defensive end, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Lackawanna Community College

Shaka Toney, outside linebacker, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Imhotep Institute Charter

Jake Zembiec, quarterback, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Rochester, New York

 

*This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record

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