Penn State Nittany Lions: Football Recruiting

Five-stars Hilliard, Cornell to announce

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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Five-star recruits Justin Hilliard (No. 13 in the ESPN 300) and Jashon Cornell (No. 16) will be making their college announcements live on ESPN.com at 10 a.m. ET. Tune in to see where these program-changing prospects will end up.


The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:

The Big Ten’s top freshmen will soon run on to their teams’ practice fields for the first time with the hope of making names for themselves. Nearly all of them have reported, so what is their mindset? And what do they think about their respective teams?

Before they reported, ESPN.com caught up with a handful of the conference’s elite freshmen – all were ranked within the ESPN 300 or earned an invite to the Under Armour Game – and asked them several questions to get a better idea of where they stand.

The participants were Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, the No. 7 quarterback in the 2014 class; Penn State WR Chris Godwin, the top player in his state; Michigan LB Jared Wangler, one of 90 players selected to the UA Game; Iowa WR Jay Scheel, the headliner of the Hawkeyes’ class; and Maryland LB Jesse Aniebonam, the No. 98 player in the ESPN 300.

Part 2 with those same players will run on Tuesday. Here’s what they had to say in this first installment:

What game are you most looking forward to this season?

[+] EnlargeClayton Thorson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsNorthwestern signee Clayton Thorson is looking forward to the Wildcats' game at Notre Dame.
Thorson: Obviously, every game is important, so you can’t overlook any team. But I’d say the game I’m looking forward to is Notre Dame. That’ll just be a cool environment to play in. You see everything about how great their program and history are, so it’ll be fun to be inside the stadium and play on the field. It’ll be a cool experience.

Godwin: Honestly, right now, I’m looking forward to the UCF game because it’ll be my first game, and I don’t really want to look too far into the future. I just want to take everything one day at a time.

Wangler: To me, Michigan State kind of stands out the most. It’s an in-state rivalry, and last year we didn’t do well against them – and I feel like, this year, we have a lot to prove against them. I feel like Ohio State is the token answer, and I feel like that’s a big game. But, Michigan State, that’s an in-state game and they’ve been beating us the last few years. That’s not acceptable.

Scheel: I’m really just looking forward to the first game and heading out of Kinnick. I’m really looking forward to just experiencing it for the first time, because a lot of players have told me how special it was for them. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to, with the fan base and everything.

Aniebonam: That would be between Penn State and Ohio State, our conference home opener. Back in the day, I dreamed about playing against Penn State -- maybe even, back in the day, playing for them. But I’m looking forward to playing against them. I followed them, as well as Maryland, and it just seems like it would be a really exciting event, a game full of energy. We’re playing them up there, and I think it’s going to be a really close game. And Ohio State, that’s our first home game in the Big Ten. And that’ll really set the tone. So, those two are going to be really exciting.

Who’s one under-the-radar freshman -- outside of the ESPN 300 -- in your team’s class that we should be watching?

Thorson: I’d definitely say Justin Jackson, no question. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois two years in a row, rushed for like 6,000 or 7,000 yards in his career, and he’s a great guy. Obviously, the recruiting sites put up their view on what a guy is, and a lot said he wasn’t top-tier -- but he is. He’s the real deal. I think that’s one guy that will surprise people.

Godwin: If I had to pick one, it would be Troy Apke. I feel like he’s a guy that people aren’t really talking about but could really help us out a lot as a group of wide receivers.

Wangler: Freddy Canteen. I think he’ll be an immediate impact guy. I know he enrolled early, and he’s already turning heads. So Freddy Canteen. Everyone should keep an eye on him.

Scheel: The one guy I played against was Parker Hesse. He played both ways, at quarterback and linebacker, and they were a really good team. His legs are big, and he’s so fast and big that it was hard to bring him down. I think he’s going to be good for Iowa.

Aniebonam: I would say Will Ulmer. He was (Washington, D.C.) Saint John’s quarterback this year, and I believe he’s one of those underrated players that once people give him a chance – once he steps in – that he’ll show he’s an amazing athlete and an amazing player. I had the privilege of playing against him -- we butted heads for all four years -- and it was great to find out we were going to Maryland with each other. He’s going to surprise people.

If you could change one rule with the recruiting process, what would it be?

Thorson: The recruiting process comes so fast now, and guys don’t have a chance to grow into themselves. So I think one thing I would change is that the recruiting process would start a little later -- I would say coaches wouldn’t be allowed to contact guys until you’re going into your junior year of high school. I think that’s when you could make calls and stuff and talk to these coaches because guys are getting scholarships and letters when they’re in eighth grade. That’s crazy.

Godwin: Probably making official visits sooner, so that players don’t have to squeeze all of their visits in during the season.

Wangler: I think there should be an earlier signing day -- like maybe they should have two signing days. Just because it gets everything set in stone quicker because I know, when it gets closer to signing day, a lot of schools are pressuring kids and putting a lot of stress on them, and it’s kind of unfair to the kid. I feel if they really want to go somewhere, they should be able to.

Scheel: My recruiting process went pretty smoothly, so I don’t know if I would change anything about it. I guess, maybe being able to sign earlier -- just because you’re committed doesn’t mean that you’re really locked in to there. You need to sign. So if you want to sign right away, I think you should be able to do that.

Aniebonam: If I could change a rule -- I’m pretty sure you’re only allowed to take five officials -- I would change that. I know it’s probably a money thing because those cost money for the schools, but I don’t know where that rule came from. If you could take more visits than that, you’d get a better feel for more schools. I honestly don’t think anyone would need to take more than 10. But a lot of guys, those four- and five-stars, have a lot of options and they may be interested in a lot of schools. So, if they can get a few more solid official visits, that could make the difference.
Penn State's momentum on the trail continued Saturday with the addition of ESPN 300 prospect Manny Bowen. Read on to see how the outside linebacker fits into James Franklin's plans:


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With another 600-plus player evaluations now in the books, the second phase of the spring evaluation period is complete. Camps and combines across the country are now coming to a close, and on-campus college camps are in full swing. We’ve now had several months to evaluate and re-evaluate the 2015 class based off sophomore and junior film study, as well as in-person scouting to see how prospects pass the eye test.

New additions to the ESPN 300 are well into the double digits, which resulted in several changes throughout the rankings. As usual, some prospects will move up or down relative to the movement from other prospects and the new entries. Here’s a look at the big movers in the updated ESPN 300:


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College coaches and recruits are always quick to proclaim their school as the best at developing certain positions. Whether it’s DBU or Linebacker U, recruits have a definite perception of which school stands out at their position.

Prospects from across the country were polled on which school has been the best at developing each position over the past 10 years. Did your school make the list?


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Notebook: Columbus NFTC 

June, 1, 2014
Jun 1
10:20
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The top prospects from all over the Midwest came out to perform at the Columbus NFTC. When you gather that much talent in one place, it’s only natural that a lot of recruiting news will follow.

ESPN 300 linebacker Justin Hilliard was one of five prospects who earned an invitation to The Opening, and Hilliard discussed whether or not he has narrowed his top-five down even further.

He was one of many uncommitted recruits who made news on the day, as did running back Mike Weber, defensive end Jashon Cornell and offensive lineman Matt Burrell.

Those prospects became targets at the camp for some of the committed recruits on hand. One of the main targets was No. 1-ranked running back Damien Harris, who will soon have news of his own.

List to narrow for Harris


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On Friday, ESPN 300 linebacker Josh Barajas switched his commitment from Penn State to Notre Dame. Below, Craig Haubert gives his take on what Barajas' change of heart means for the Irish:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: We’ve reached the end of the spring evaluation period, and college coaches will head home from the road today and shift their focus to upcoming summer camps. There was plenty of movement over the last six weeks as Penn State, Clemson and USC made plenty of noise, but Texas A&M Aggies and Alabama were the stories of the spring.


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The Big Ten has some excellent individual recruiters within the conference, but individual efforts are only as good as the program as a whole. So which are the top five best recruiting jobs in the Big Ten?

Here is a look at the list, and why each team ranks where they do.

1. Ohio State

Proximity to out-of-state talent: Geographically, Ohio State is in a good spot. It’s only a few hours from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. It also isn’t too far from Illinois, so the campus is easily accessible for most Midwest prospects. That doesn’t always matter with Ohio State, though, as the Buckeyes typically have a lot of in-state talent and are recruiting the South heavily.


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Penn State coach James Franklin wants a bigger presence in Georgia -- so what better way to recruit the Peach State than joining forces with another program?

Franklin and his staff plan to coach at Georgia State’s high school camp in June. Schools aren’t allowed to hold their own camps at a greater distance than 50 miles from their own campus, so this gives Franklin and his staff a chance to work one-on-one with prospects who normally wouldn’t make the trek to Penn State.

“It’s genius on their part. You get to get face time with the talent down here in the heart of SEC country,” said Georgia prospect Russell Ude. “They can sell their brand to recruits at a school that doesn’t compete with them.”


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Where’s Olivia Pope when you need her? Washington D.C.’s top fixers would have a hard time repairing the damage that has been done to the Rutgers brand over the last 13 months.

It started with a messy transition in basketball where the school fired Mike Rice after videos surfaced showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players, and then failed to fully vet new coach Eddie Jordan.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
AP Photo/John RaouxCoach Kyle Flood and Rutgers had the No. 56-ranked recruiting class in 2014.
It continued recently when new athletic director Julie Hermann declared that it "would be great" if the state's largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, went ahead and died. The school then took another major PR dagger over the weekend when it rescinded a commencement speaker offer to Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers’ football player who was paralyzed during a game in 2010. (LeGrand will speak at the school).

Outside of a disappointing 6-7 season in 2013, the Rutgers football program has not been a part of any of the negatives that have touched the university over the last year. But many in the New Jersey high school community agree the university’s issues have impacted the football program’s success on the recruiting trail.

“I think the football program has been unfortunately painted with the same brush so to speak,” Erial (N.J.) Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson said. “All the football recruits see is all the negative stuff going on with the school. I think it definitely has hurt them with all the things that are going on. Coach [Kyle] Flood and those guys have had to face the brunt of something that was everybody else's mess. It’s made it awfully difficult for them on the recruiting trail.”

Hinson is right. The Class of 2015 has gotten off to a disastrous start in-state for the Scarlet Knights. After ESPN 300 quarterback Brandon Wimbush committed to Penn State on Tuesday, it means Rutgers likely won't land any of the top four players in New Jersey. The only top-10 player in the state to commit to Rutgers at this point is three-star quarterback Michael Dare, while Penn State has already landed four in the top 10.

The 2014 class wasn’t much better as Rutgers signed only one of the top 15 players in the state and future Big Ten rivals Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State raided New Jersey for talent. Rutgers’ 2014 class also made national headlines when it lost 12 decommitments during the final push to signing day.

"I know Rutgers is a really special place, because I graduated from Rutgers, my wife graduated from there, my brother-in-law graduated from there and my father-in-law was a three-sport letter winner there," Hinson said. "But all the stuff that's been floating around about Rutgers has made a lot of recruits sour on them. It has nothing to do with football, it's just recruits hearing folks asking all the time 'What's going on up at Rutgers.' For one reason or another, they’ve not been able to fix some of the PR issues that they’ve faced and it’s really hurt them with recruits."

Penn State was faced with similar challenges, albeit on a much grander scale after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal that rocked college football in 2011. When Bill O’Brien was hired he had an impossible job of putting together a recruiting class in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

But the players, the university and the community rallied behind the program, helping O’Brien land a serviceable 2011 class and even better 2012 and 2013 classes. It set the table for James Franklin, who was hired in January. Penn State finished with a top-25 class in 2014 and the 2015 class ranks as the nation’s fourth best and got stronger Tuesday with the additional of Wimbush and Sterling Jenkins, the top-ranked prospect in Pennsylvania.

Instead of trending downward, the Nittany Lions are now one of the hottest recruiting programs in the country, and many observers believe they’ve been able to rebound from scandal better than Rutgers because of that support from the community and fan base.

“When you get rocked like they got rocked, but you're able to still manage a commitment from the university, and more importantly from the fan base, the students and the community, it certainly can change how things are viewed by recruits,” Piscataway (N.J.) High coach Dan Higgins said.

“When you can fill the stadium each week it sends a big signal to everybody. You can't tear that place down, it doesn't matter what happens. The place is still special, and I felt it myself when I was there for the Wisconsin game. It was chilling to be there and understand that it's a lot bigger than just a scandal or a football team. That helped them survive with dignity and class, and there's no question that has impacted the athletes that have had Penn State on the mind the last few classes.”

Juwan Johnson, one of the Nittany Lions’ top commits in New Jersey and the No. 3 prospect in the state, agrees with Higgins. He said prospects all over New Jersey are aware of what’s happened at Rutgers because of the nonstop media coverage and he believes the way Penn State handled things has made it easier to buy into future success.

“I wasn’t bothered by the Penn State scandal because I knew they had rebounded from it really well from it and the school had more to offer me than Rutgers and other schools,” said Johnson, who picked the Nittany Lions over offers from Alabama, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Michigan State, among others. “I just don’t think Rutgers can compete with Penn State now with all that’s going on.”

Hinson, Higgins and a number of other high school coaches in New Jersey believe Rutgers’ transition to the Big Ten will eventually pay off on the recruiting trail. There are still other quality 2015 in-state recruits on the board like linebacker Manny Bowen, athlete Daiquan Kelly, safety Ronnie James, tight end Jake Pickard and others who list Rutgers among their favorites, plus all of the coaches were unanimous in support of Flood and his staff.

“He’s a very personable guy that can relate to coaches in New Jersey,” Higgins said. “He’s a former offensive line coach that worked his way up the ladder through hard work. Everybody here respects that, and I know there are a lot of people hoping he can fix things, push past all the other stuff that’s hurting the university and start keeping New Jersey kids at home.”
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Soon after Under Armour All-American offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins announced for Penn State, ESPN 300 quarterback Brandon Wimbush has also joined the Nittany Lions' class. Continue reading to check out Tom Luginbill's take on the news:


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The Nittany Lions have a new top-rated recruit in offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins. Read below to see how Craig Haubert expects the Under Armour All-American will develop in Happy Valley:


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The calendar now reads May (happy Cinco de Mayo to you, too) and it's a good time to check the recruiting scorecard for the 2015 class. Thirteen of the Big Ten's 14 squads are on the board -- Minnesota is still waiting for its first verbal pledge -- and several teams are filling up fast.

The James Franklin effect continues to boost Penn State, which not only has the most verbal commitments (13) in the Big Ten -- the second-most in the FBS behind Alabama -- but also the most ESPN 300 prospects (six). Nebraska also is in double digits for 2015 recruits, and Northwestern and Iowa also are off to quick starts.

Remember, February is a long way away and many things can and will change between now and national signing day, but here's where Big Ten teams stand right now:

PENN STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 13
ESPN 300 prospects: 6
Highest-rated recruit (according to ESPN Recruiting Nation): Offensive tackle Ryan Bates
Spotlight: PSU has added to its defensive line in recent weeks with a pair of defensive tackles from Maryland. Adam McLean, an ESPN 300 prospect, committed during Blue-White Weekend. Then, after a relatively quiet three weeks, Penn State added Jonathan Holland on Saturday. Holland has good size at 6-foot-5, and at 225 pounds could fill out some more.

NEBRASKA
2015 verbal commitments: 10
ESPN 300 prospects: 2
Highest-rated recruit: Cornerback Eric Lee
Spotlight: The Huskers had a nice surge toward the end of spring practice, picking up four verbal commitments, including one from quarterback Kevin Dillman. An ESPN 300 prospect, Dillman is a native of Sweden who started his high school career in California and will finish it in Texas. An intriguing prospect, to say the least.

NORTHWESTERN
2015 verbal commitments: 9
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete David Dowell
Spotlight: Northwestern picked up eight of its nine commits during a five-day stretch last month (April 11-15). The surge included the Dowell twins, David and Andrew, a running back. David played both cornerback and wide receiver for Saint Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio. He'll likely suit up in the secondary at Northwestern.

IOWA
2015 verbal commitments: 8
ESPN 300 prospects: 1
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete Drew Cook
Spotlight: After adding four recruits in March, Iowa has been fairly quiet, other than picking up a familiar name in Brady Reiff. The younger brother of former Hawkeye star offensive tackle Riley Reiff committed in late April. Brady is a defensive end at Parkston (S.D.) High School. Riley also came to Iowa as a defensive end before switching to offense.

RUTGERS
2015 verbal commitments: 7
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Quarterback Michael Dare
Spotlight: The Scarlet Knights had a nice surge of commits toward the end of spring ball, including running back Charles Snorweah. Born in Liberia, Snorweah boasts good speed and has played both running back and fullback during his high school career.

MICHIGAN
2015 verbal commitments: 5
ESPN 300 prospects: 3
Highest-rated recruit: Cornerback Garrett Taylor
Spotlight: After losing two coveted recruits in the winter, Michigan picked up a key player in Taylor, the nation's No. 10 cornerback prospect. Taylor is the latest top prospect from Virginia to go blue, joining running back Derrick Green (2013 class) and quarterback Wilton Speight (2014 class).

WISCONSIN
2015 verbal commitments: 4
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Quarterback Austin Kafentzis
Spotlight: The Badgers traditionally have done a good job of securing their borders with top offensive line recruits, and they continued the trend with Jon Dietzen. A native of Seymour, Wis., Dietzen had offers from Nebraska, Miami and Michigan State but opted to stick with his home-state school.

MICHIGAN STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 4
ESPN 300 prospects: 2
Highest-rated recruit: Offensive tackle Kyonta Stallworth
Spotlight: The Spartans added only one recruit during spring ball but potentially a key piece in quarterback Brian Lewerke from Phoenix. Rated as the No. 9 pocket passer in the 2015 class, Lewerke picked MSU over several Pac-12 schools, Louisville, Florida and others. He's the second quarterback recruit to pick the Spartans, joining Jayru Campbell, who last week reached a plea deal after being charged with assaulting a school security officer.

ILLINOIS
2015 verbal commitments: 3
ESPN 300 prospects: 1
Highest-rated recruit: Offensive tackle Gabe Megginson
Spotlight: Megginson is a big get for coach Tim Beckman, who needs to attract more of the state's best players. Rated as the nation's No. 20 tackle prospect, Megginson had several Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 offers. Illinois' first three 2015 recruits are from the state, a good early sign for the embattled Beckman.

OHIO STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 2
ESPN 300 prospects: 2
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete Eric Glover-Williams
Spotlight: The class is off to a bit of a slow start, and Glover-Williams' status remains shaky because of some off-field issues. But Ohio State hasn't been a fast starter under coach Urban Meyer and still brings in top classes when all is said and done. Safety Ben Edwards changed his commitment last month from Ohio State to Auburn.

MARYLAND
2015 verbal commitments: 1
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Offensive tackle E.J. Donahue
Spotlight: Donahue remains the only 2015 prospect on Maryland's board, but the team picked up a nice addition for its secondary in junior-college cornerback Denzel Conyers, who signed with the Terrapins after visiting last month. Conyers boasts nice size at 6-3 and 200 pounds. The Florida native played last season for Butte College in California. He's expected to enroll in June and contribute this season.

PURDUE
2015 verbal commitments: 1
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Spotlight: Quarterback Elijah Sindelar committed in February and remains the only player on Purdue's 2015 board. Sindelar, a native of Princeton, Ky., is the nation's No. 14 pocket passer. He continues the trend of nice quarterback pickups for coach Darrell Hazell.

INDIANA
2015 verbal commitments: 1
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Spotlight: Indiana didn't have to wait quite as long for its first recruit as it did in 2013 as offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak picked the Hoosiers this past weekend. A native of Hamilton, Ohio, Stepaniak had several Big Ten offers but picked an IU team that quietly has produced terrific offensive lines under coach Greg Frey.

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College Football Player Rankings: 41-60
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