Penn State Nittany Lions: Recruiting

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin likes to tell recruits that he leaps out of bed at 4 a.m. and performs a back handspring.

That's an exaggeration, of course, a joke to give recruits an idea of his high-energy personality. But that also seems appropriate now, especially given how many flips he has produced from Vanderbilt's class to Penn State's.

He has flipped five pledges from his old school -- six, if defensive end Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca) sticks with PSU -- which is the second-most of this college football offseason. Only Washington's Chris Petersen possesses more (six), but he was hired in early December and boasted more than a month's head start.

Franklin has averaged more than a flip per week. And he also has reeled in eight hard verbals from eight different states in less than a month on the job. So his success has a lot of fans and fellow recruits shaking their heads and wondering just how he managed to achieve this so quickly.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeJames Franklin's enthusiasm is a key to his recruiting success.
"It's kind of surprising how many of us really did follow, but it's not surprising," said three-star quarterback Trace McSorley (Ashburn, Va./Briar Woods), who initially committed to Vanderbilt in July. "It's just the kind of guy Coach Franklin is. He's energetic; that's the reason everyone wanted to go play for him at Vanderbilt."

In separate interviews, four of those flips told ESPN.com that energy is exactly what sold them on Franklin. He's the kind of coach who awoke on a recent Sunday morning and high-fived and hugged visiting recruits at breakfast. He speaks quickly and loudly, as if he perpetually just polished off a six-pack of Red Bull.

Three-star offensive tackle Chance Sorrell (Middletown, Ohio/Middletown) said that energy is a big reason for his relationship with Franklin. He recalled with a laugh the time an assistant told him how Franklin pulled alongside a Tennessee car sporting a Georgia Bulldogs flag. Franklin stepped out of his vehicle, knocked on the window -- and asked the driver what it would take for him to attend a Commodores game.

"The way he's involved, you can just tell he genuinely cares about all of his players and everyone he meets," said Sorrell, who flipped to Penn State five hours after Franklin was introduced as the head coach. "He's very persuasive. It doesn't matter where you're from; he'll make you want to play for him."

Sorrell's future teammate McSorley said he spoke to about 10 head coaches over the course of his recruitment, and none came close to matching Franklin's energy. That's Franklin's trademark, his signature, and it's what's helped fuel Franklin as the pied piper of Vanderbilt commits.

McSorley watched part of Franklin's introductory news conference, when he loudly proclaimed -- several times -- that he intended to "dominate the state" and "dominate the region" in recruiting. Franklin's hour-long talk impacted the fan base so much that it led to the instant creation of at least three T-shirts with his adopted slogans.

One of the few people who wasn't surprised? McSorley. He knew Penn State's new head coach wasn't in a good mood or wasn't "on" that day. "That's just how he is. That's exactly the person he is. All the time."

Added three-star offensive tackle Brendan Brosnan (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine Township South): "It's the way he carries himself, with all that energy. That energy shows he wants to be there, that he's giving it his all every day. It's contagious; his energy is contagious."

This isn't to say Franklin's energy, or even Franklin himself, is the sole reason for all these commitments, but it certainly seemed to play the largest role. A lot of these commits believe in Franklin's vision of Penn State reclaiming its spot as a national powerhouse.

Seven assistant coaches followed Franklin to Penn State because they believe that as well, and recruits also believe in the theory that because Franklin brought success to Vanderbilt, he certainly can do it at Penn State. Penn State has a bigger fan base and better facilities -- Vanderbilt doesn't even have a players' lounge -- and plays in a less competitive conference. It's a program that offensive line coach Herb Hand deemed as one of the 15 "haves" in a college football world of "have-nots."

"The biggest piece of advice people gave me during the recruiting process is don't commit to a coach, commit to a school," Brosnan said. "And I agree with that a little bit.

"But I think a coach, especially in Franklin's case, plays a large part. He played a large part in Vanderbilt's success and, the way I see it, the ceiling for success is higher at Penn State. It really is."

RN Top 10: IMG 7v7 championships 

June, 24, 2013
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The RN Top 10 will appear throughout the camp and combine season and rank prospects based strictly on their on-field performance at that particular event. It does not reflect their overall prospect ranking.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championships brought in top talent from all over the country. Narrowing it to 10 was difficult, as top prospects such as linebacker Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South) and running back Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) didn't make the list. It's not because they didn't play well, but because 7-on-7 events are geared more for wide receivers and quarterbacks on offense and the defensive backs on defense.

10. Chris Godwin
Middletown (Del.) High School | WR | 6-2, 203

Godwin, an Under Armour All-American, was one of the main reasons his Delaware team went 6-0 before finally losing a game. In this talent-filled tournament, Godwin showed why he is one of the top receivers in the country. He made several tough catches and displayed his 4.4 speed on a consistent basis. He displayed all the tools to be successful on the next level.

9. Sean White
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Unversity School | QB | 6-1, 199

With receivers such as Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, it's hard for White not to look good, but he was extremely accurate throughout the tournament and made several big-time throws. White did a nice job of taking what the defense gave him underneath and also showed the arm strength to make several tough throws over the middle. White has seen his recruitment pick up lately and it will likely continue to increase with performances like this.

8. Tyler Queen (2015)
Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb | QB | 6-2, 237

North Cobb was one of the few that brought their high school team, instead of an All-Star team from their region. Queen led his team to several victories and showed pinpoint accuracy on a majority of his throws. He displayed great touch on his deep ball and completed several long touchdowns on the day. It was easy to see why he is already a highly recruited prospect.

7. George Campbell (2015)
Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake | WR | 6-4, 184

Campbell proved why he might be the top receiver in Florida next year. He used his 6-foot-4 height to go up over defensive backs and come down with several long catches. It wasn't just the jump ball that impressed; his route running was good and he consistently got open. On top of his impressive offensive performance, Campbell made several plays at safety. This Under Armour All-American has a chance to be a special player as a senior.

6. Travis Rudolph
West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman | WR | 6-1, 186

Lessons Learned: IMG 7v7 

June, 23, 2013
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championships showcased some of the top talent from across the country. For the second consecutive year, Team Tampa won the national championship with a thrilling, one-point victory over a talented South Florida Express team.

The championship game featured at least 10 prospects with multiple scholarship offers. Here's a closer look at lessons learned over the course of the two-day event.

Team Top Recruits loaded in the secondary

Top Recruits, featuring players from Jacksonville and Orlando, had a secondary that could probably give some colleges trouble right now. Their secondary consisted of 2015 LSU cornerback commit Kevin Toliver II (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian), Florida cornerback commits Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla./Dixie County) and J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee), uncommitted safety Kendall Gant (Lakeland, Fla./Lake Gibson) and 2015 FSU safety commit Derwin James (Auburndale, Fla./Auburndale).

The Top Recruits offense couldn't match the talent of their defense and found it hard to score points as the tournament wore on. Toliver was quite possibly the best player at the event and will be one of the top players in the country next year.

Northern teams came to play


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Four-star quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) will make his college selection this Saturday, June 8. The 6-foot-5, 223-pounder has not narrowed down his choices yet but has offers from schools such as Missouri, Vanderbilt, Penn State, USF, Rutgers, Mississippi State and Syracuse.

ESPN's No. 123-ranked player said he is ready to get the recruiting process over with.

"The recruiting process is starting to wear on me," O'Connor said. "I've made up my mind and I'm ready to move on and get ready for my senior season."

O'Connor, the No. 3-ranked pocket-passer in the ESPN 150, is originally from Canada but played at the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn., last year. He transferred to IMG to work with former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, who is the head coach there.

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Penn State offers 2014 DE from Michigan 

February, 1, 2013
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Malik McDowellTom Hauck for ESPN.comClass of 2014 DE prospect Malik McDowell is attracting more and more attention nationwide.
Penn State assistant Larry Johnson usually doesn't usually travel to Michigan high schools to offer juniors. But then again, he doesn't often come across defensive ends like the recruit he saw Thursday either.


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NittanyNation mailbag: Sanctions, maybes 

February, 1, 2013
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Tyler BoydAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackTyler Boyd likely would have committed to PSU if there were no sanctions.

Welcome to NittanyNation's bi-weekly mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth.

William Amesbury (@WAmesbury16) writes: Where do you think the 2013 recruiting class would be without the sanctions?


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5 Questions: Run-on OT Austin Fiedler 

February, 1, 2013
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Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is Austin Fiedler, an offensive tackle out of Turbotville (Pa.) Warrior Run who recently committed to PSU as a walk-on. He's a 6-foot-6, 296-pound prospect and received heavy interest from Bloomsburg.


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Lions spotlight: LB Zayd Issah 

February, 1, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Linebacker Zayd Issah, Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds.

Committed: Dec.9, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 75. Three-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 123 at position (athlete), No. 134 in region, No. 26 in state.


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RB Chiappialle runs-on to Penn State 

January, 31, 2013
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When Cole Chiappialle peeled off his yellow helmet after his final high school game, he figured he'd next step foot on a field at a Div. II school.

He figured he'd see scant crowds. He thought maybe he'd play at Cal (Pa.) University or Notre Dame College of Ohio. He wondered if he'd cradle that pigskin as an early starter.

But, more than anything, the tailback out of Beaver Falls (Pa.) Blackhawk thought -- and hoped -- for a bigger opportunity.

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Lions spotlight: QB Tyler Ferguson 

January, 31, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Quarterback Tyler Ferguson, Bakersfield (Calif.) College of the Sequoias, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds.

Committed: Dec. 14, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 77. Three-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: N/A

Picked Penn State over: Akron, Florida Atlantic and Houston.


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The One Who Got Away: Dan Kendra 

January, 31, 2013
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When college coaches gazed across the field at Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic's quarterback, they saw visions of Joe Montana and Joe Namath.

When the ball rolled off high schooler Dan Kendra's fingertips, fans thought of Dan Marino. When he circled his team in the huddle, he seemed like Jim Kelly. In 1994, Pennsylvania's favorite son was just 18 years old -- but he was already counted on to be the next great signal-caller. A surefire Hall of Famer whose father joked that even Joe Paterno wouldn't be tempted to turn this stout athlete into a linebacker.

Before the digital age, back in the era of pogs and Saturday morning cartoons, Kendra might have been the most recognizable high school player in the world. He was USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year, ESPN's Player of the Year, Parade's Player of the Year and SuperPrep's Player of the Year. He was everybody's player of the year.

[+] EnlargeDan Kendra
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesDan Kendra was a physical specimen who eventually ended up playing fullback at Florida State.
He was Tom Lemming and Max Emfinger's No. 1-rated quarterback. And National Recruiting Advisor also ranked the square-chinned kid -- who threw for 1,988 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for another 718 yards as a senior -- as the top QB in the country.

And, in December 1994, he was all Penn State's.


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A look at Penn State's incoming QB recruits 

January, 30, 2013
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Christian HackenbergCourtesy of Charles Thomas/Fork UnionWith size and arm ability, Christian Hackenberg will be groomed as Penn State's QB of the future.

Two months ago, Penn State had just one committed quarterback -- and that seemed like a pressing issue that might take a while to resolve. With just one QB officially on the roster in Steven Bench, depth was obviously a concern.

Well, it certainly isn't anymore. Bill O'Brien garnered commitments from five players who'll compete at quarterback. And he also convinced four other players -- who were the starting quarterbacks on their respective teams -- to play at other positions at Penn State.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at all these signal-callers:

QUARTERBACKS WHO WILL STAY QBs

Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Stats: Passing -- 156-of-291; 2,144 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs. Rushing -- 89 carries, 436 yards, 3 TDs.
Status: Committed (scholarship)

Synopsis: He's the top-rated high school quarterback in the nation. He can make all the throws, has a great arm, and his potential is endless. He just needs to familiarize himself with the playbook and better learn to read defenses. Opposing coaches said he had difficulty picking up disguised coverages and blitzes. He's obviously Penn State's quarterback of the future.


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Lions spotlight: LB Brandon Bell 

January, 30, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Linebacker Brandon Bell, Mays Landing, N.J./Oakcrest, 6-foot, 222 pounds

Committed: June 13, 2012

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WR Hamilton talks about his favorites 

January, 29, 2013
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On Friday, RecruitingNation took you behind the scenes on recruiting trips and polled various prospects about their favorite memories on the recruiting trail.

NittanyNation asked two Penn State commits about their favorite-everythings. So, we decided to list wideout DaeSean Hamilton's answers for every category right here.


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Bill O'Brien knew he wanted to focus on Penn State's run-on program months before the sanctions even hit.

He spent winters in New England watching Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker -- two unheralded players out of high school -- and saw them improve and contribute more as the season wore on. Forget recruiting rankings. Forget the pack mentality. O'Brien thought he could find some diamonds in the rough as run-ons, relative unknowns who could help this team win.

When those sanctions did finally hit, leading to fewer scholarships, O'Brien knew the run-on program would be more important than ever. His staff hit the recruiting trail hard and followed every lead it could.

This staff's effort helped uncover prospects such as prep quarterback D.J. Crook, who emailed the staff without any expectation he'd get a response. And, with the help of recruits like Crook, O'Brien is hoping to ensure this program remains one of the country's best.

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