Penn State Nittany Lions: Virginia Cavaliers

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As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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Football was a second option for Christian Wilkins. The ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle out of Suffield (Conn.) Academy with offers from Florida State, Ohio State and Stanford would have preferred a nobler path protecting the streets.

“It’s kind of funny, I wanted to be a Power Ranger,” says Wilkins, who at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, would have had little problem restoring peace as possibly the Green Ranger.

Despite tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, Wilkins, ranked No. 107 nationally, has a résumé with several prerequisites for a superhero ninja.


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Kareem Ali Jr. (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek) took a deep breath before crouching into position for the 40-yard dash.

The 2015 DB had arrived here, at Penn State's advanced skills camp Saturday, after cancelling his Notre Dame trip. He wanted to see Happy Valley more. He wanted to see the stadium. ("108,000? That got me," he said. "I want to play under that.") He wanted to talk to the coaches. He wanted a scholarship.

And this, the 40-yard dash, became his first opportunity to impress the coaches. He stared ahead, and his body twitched when his turn came. He felt fast those first few steps, pumping his arms and gliding across the indoor turf. In less time than it takes for some to roll out of bed in the morning, Ali Jr. already had crossed the finish line.


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Austin Clark (Lexington, Va./Rockbridge County) inched his face closer to the car window and craned his neck to get a closer look at Beaver Stadium on a humid Saturday morning.

This was his first trip to Happy Valley, so he tried not to reflect too much on a possible scholarship. He just wanted to show the coaches he could play. The 2015 offensive lineman would receive an offer later in the afternoon, but for now, he just stared at the stadium and imagined what it might be like if he stood on the sideline.

"My face was glued to that window," he said with a laugh. "The stadium was huge. I was in shock, just in awe. It was extremely cool."


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Ryan Bates, a 2015 offensive tackle out of Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood, often breathed heavy and was forced to wipe his glistening forehead when he first started meeting college coaches.

He was a nervous 285-pound prospect. And when Bates trotted over to two Penn State coaches on Tuesday, he was again panting and sweating -- but for a different reason.


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It was a Thursday night in late April and Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) was watching the NFL draft. A 6-foot-6, 295-pound prospect, Bookser is being recruited as a lineman on both sides of the ball.

Bookser was an offensive lineman by the end of the night Thursday.

“Ever since I saw the draft I decided to go O-line,” said Bookser, referring to the run on tackles in the first round, including three among the first five picks. “That was the biggest draft I’ve ever seen, so I was like if I can get that far it’ll definitely pay off.”

With more than 20 offers to his name, Bookser was already being recruited mostly as an offensive tackle, where he is ranked No. 14 nationally. As a two-way player for Mount Lebanon, Bookser likes defense a little more because he can play with a little more emotion on the defensive line. He understands why coaches project him best on offense, though.


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Regional recruiters are not the ones coming in to see a prospect the size of Sterling Jenkins (Pittsburgh/Baldwin). Colleges are sending offensive line coaches directly instead to size up the fastest-rising 2015 prospect in Pennsylvania.

There are not too many 16-year-old sophomores who stand 6-foot-8 and weigh 295 pounds, so coaches are the ones traveling to the Steel City to see Jenkins to properly gauge his stature. Baldwin coach Pete Wagner said colleges are surprised to see he is the real deal.


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RN Top 10: D.C. NFTC 

April, 22, 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.

ASHBURN, Va. – The East Coast and mid-Atlantic states represented well on Sunday as eight players earned invites to The Opening at the Nike Football Training Camp outside of Washington, D.C. Defense ruled the day, led by two five-star prospects from Virginia.

10. Nick Scott
Fairfax (Va.) Fairfax |RB| 5-11, 180

Scott stood out among a field of backs who were overshadowed by the prospects at nearly every other position. He earned the attention of coaches for his strong play and versatility but missed the MVP award, which went to Vincent Lowe (Chesapeake, Va./Grassfield), who also posted the top SPARQ score.

Scott committed to Penn State in February over an offer from Boston College.

ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert’s take: “He’s got a great frame, and what I like about him as a Penn State verbal, he’s a versatile player. He may not run by you, but he does a good job in route-running.”


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Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon) was wandering the halls when his high school coach told him he had a phone call to make and to head to the athletics office. Ohio State wanted to get in touch with him.

The 6-foot-6, 295-pound two-way lineman was a little surprised. Not that the Buckeyes were interested but that his coach Mike Melnyk, a former Michigan placekicker, was telling him about it.


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Mike Grimm (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) felt his palms sweat as he stepped in line for one-one-ones at the U.S. Army National Combine. He didn't know what to expect and felt uneasy around a group of unfamiliar faces.

The 2014 offensive tackle alternated between staring at the ground -- "That's how I was getting in the zone," he said -- and watching other players spar in the drills. The air was a cool 42 degrees outside but, inside the Alamadome, he felt comfortable.


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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Class of 2014 running back prospect Johnathan Thomas (Danvers, Mass./St. Johns Prep) posted one of the top 40-yard-dash times at the Under Armour National Combine on Friday. The 5-foot-10, 196-pound athlete turned in a blazing 4.47 40 time.

Thomas is expected to be one of the top prospects in Massachussetts and he's already hearing from some of the top schools in the northeast.

"I have offers from Boston College, UMass, Virginia and UConn. Penn State is showing a lot of interest," Thomas said. "So is Virginia Tech."

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SAN ANTONIO - - ESPN Watch List offensive tackle Mike Grimm (Bethel Park, Pa.) was on a mission to represent his state on Friday at the U.S. Army National Combine, and he did just that.

Grimm (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) won 10 of his 12 1-on-1s to cap off a very impressive day.

“I just wanted to win all of my 1-on-1s and show everyone what’s going on with Pittsburgh,” he said. “I think I did pretty good. I ran a 5.5 40. I had a vertical of 23.5 and won all but two 1-on-1s.”

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UVa commit Cook scheduling officials 

December, 30, 2012
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Safety Malcolm Cook (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) remains committed to Virginia, but he said he plans to "shop around" before signing day.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect will take an official visit to Virginia on Jan. 18 before visiting Virginia Tech a week later. Cook is also in the midst of scheduling an official to Wake Forest, and he's also considering trips to Syracuse and TCU.

"I'm going to go to those schools and shop around, but right now I'm committed to Virginia and [head coach] Mike London," he said. "I want to see what those places have to offer. I don't think that'll change my mind -- I don't think there's really anything that could change my mind -- but I just want to see."

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Former Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, who was granted a release from his scholarship Nov. 30, has been in contact with Penn State -- but future scholarship restrictions have prevented any kind of transfer.

"There's been definite interest and some discussion," said his father, Frank, a PSU alum, "but my understanding is just the scholarship numbers are going to affect it. I think if that was different then we'd be very much heading down that path."

Penn State will have just 65 scholarships available in 2014, and it's set to have three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster by then.

Michael Rocco would have to sit out in 2013 due to transfer rules but could compete in 2014 as a redshirt senior if he opts to stay within the FBS. His father said he's already moved out of Charlottesville, and he'll make visits this week and next before enrolling in a new school.

The elder Rocco declined to name the schools still under consideration but said they involve the FBS and FCS. Michael last spoke with Penn State about a week ago, and his father said that no longer remains an option because of the restrictions.

"Penn State needed an additional quarterback for the spring, and Mike was ready to do that," Frank Rocco said. "Nonetheless, he's going to be somewhere in a couple weeks."

Michael Rocco threw for 2,671 yards in 2011, the most for a first-year starter in school history, and led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record and its first bowl game since 2007. But Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia, and the two battled against one another for playing time throughout the 2012 season.

The Cavaliers finished a disappointing 4-8 this past season, and head coach Mike London fired four assistants.

S Malcolm Cook re-opens recruitment 

December, 5, 2012
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Malcolm Cook (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union) hasn't officially decommitted from Virginia following the firing of four assistants, but the safety said he's re-opening his recruitment.

In the last 48 hours, the prospect has received 11 offers and entertained visits and phone calls from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and USC. He planned to speak with the Trojans after basketball practice Wednesday, and he chatted in-person with Penn State assistant Charles London on Tuesday.

"It doesn't really matter to me about other schools looking at me," he said, when asked whether this new attention was a consolation. "The reason I committed to Virginia was because of the defensive coordinator, Coach [Jim] Reid. So I was really hurt by Coach Reid not being there.

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Penn State 2015 Class Debuts At No. 3
Craig Haubert discusses recent additions to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class and first-year coach James Franklin's success on the recruiting trail.Tags: Adam McLean, Ryan Bates, Penn State Nittany Lions, James Franklin
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