Penn State Nittany Lions: Kasey Gaines

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We’ve finally reached the end of this week’s countdown involving the top position battles to watch this spring.

Up next is a position that caused a lot of head scratching last season ...

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAYJordan Lucas seems set at one corner for Penn State, but the other starter is anyone's guess at this point.
No. 1 position battle: Cornerback

Departures: None

Returning players: Jordan Lucas (65 tackles, 16 pass deflections, 3 INTs), Trevor Williams (24 tackles, 2 INTs), Da'Quan Davis (5 tackles), Anthony Smith (1 tackle), Jordan Smith (5 tackles), Kasey Gaines (redshirted), Grant Haley (incoming freshman), Amani Oruwariye (incoming freshman), Daquan Worley (incoming freshman)

Breaking it down: There are other defensive backs who could slide over from safety -- such as Adrian Amos and Jesse Della Valle -- but, right now, it looks as if cornerback is the position with the question marks. Lucas will take up one starting spot. But the other? At this point, you might as well just throw the names in a hat and pick one out.

Back in 2012, Davis started the season as the No. 3 cornerback before fizzling out and seeing less time as the season progressed. He played in 11 games as a true freshman and just six as a sophomore. In 2013, Williams began the season as a starter before fizzling out and watching Amos move from safety to reclaim his spot. It sure seems like it’s time to write Davis off as a starter, but is it too early to write Williams off? If Williams, who switched positions from receiver last season, can’t bounce back, then this position truly gets interesting. It seems as if Jordan Smith would be next in line since he’s quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker.

Then again, Smith’s work could all be for naught. There are several incoming freshmen who could challenge for immediate playing time -- including safety Christian Campbell, who could also play corner -- once they arrive over the summer. This position battle might not be totally decided in the spring, but it should go a long way in answering some of the biggest questions on the defense.

Pre-camp edge: None. That’s right -- no one has an edge right now. That’s a big reason why this battle is the top spot on the countdown. This is one starting spot that’s ripe for the taking. The players who have seen the most time (Davis, Williams) haven’t played well, and there’s really no strong way to gauge the others since they’ve seen so little time. Williams might be in the best shape right now, but Jordan Smith should be right behind him. At this point, it seems as if those two corners might be the ones to keep a close eye on this spring ... but anything can happen at corner.

More position battles to watch:

No. 5: Kicker
No. 4: Tight end
No. 3: Defensive tackle
No. 2: Offensive guard/center

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- ESPN 300 receiver De'Andre Thompkins didn't know whom his Penn State coach would be on Monday night. The Nittany Lions' commit only knew the coach he preferred.

"I really hope [James] Franklin takes it," he told, five days before the hire became official.

He wasn't the only one -- four-star wide receiver Chris Godwin felt similarly -- because Franklin's reputation precedes him. He's the gregarious coach who calls recruits "homeboy" and the tireless recruiter who clips two cell phones to his boxers when he's preparing for a night's rest.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Don McPeak/US PresswireJames Franklin was the most successful coach at Vanderbilt in generations, and his outgoing personality is infectious.
He garnered Vanderbilt commitments from ESPN 300 prospects in Florida, Georgia and California. He convinced offensive tackle and Louisiana native Bailey Granier to choose Vandy over Alabama and Florida State. And he reeled in 22 four-star recruits during his time there -- a half-dozen more than Penn State. The Commodores managed a total of just one four-star prospect in the six previous classes.

Franklin's impact on the Nittany Lions' future recruiting classes -- and on overall recruiting in the Big Ten -- should be instant and far-reaching. An ACC coach told CBS' Bruce Feldman that, if Franklin wound up at Penn State, "He'd kill it in recruiting around here."

"He's very different because he's so approachable," said Ricky Bowers, a high school coach at The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., whose team won four consecutive state titles. "He's just different. He's friendly, likable and passionate.

"The only way you wouldn't like him is if you were jealous of him."

Franklin drove to Ensworth before the state title game just to wish Bowers luck. And Bowers said Franklin is that rare type of coach with whom he can just shoot the breeze on the occasional lazy day.

Franklin was characterized by others as an energetic recruiter with an infectious personality -- so Bowers wasn't surprised much by all the NFL attention. After all, Nashville-area recruits looked at Franklin as the man who built up the local college program out of the ashes. Lest you think that's an exaggeration, consider this: Before Franklin arrived in the Music City, the Commodores last boasted a nine-win season in 1915, a full decade before Joe Paterno was born. In the past two years, Vanderbilt has recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons.

"Good gracious, he's got everybody fired up about football," said Marty Euverard, the high school coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. "He just knows how to build relationships, and I think that's a key component. Some people have a gift; some don't. He's got it."

Penn State's old coaching staff tried to construct new recruiting pipelines. Former defensive coordinator Ted Roof attempted to circle back to his recruiting roads around Georgia and, when he left, safeties coach Anthony Midget focused on his old stomping grounds in Florida. Their spoils? Roof helped reel in two 2013 commits who remain on the roster, defensive back Kasey Gaines and defensive tackle Parker Cothren, from Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Midget didn't grab any in the most recent class.

Compare that untapped territory with Vanderbilt. The Commodores signed three players from California -- and that was just in the last class alone. Vanderbilt's current roster includes players from 21 states. No recruiting area has really been off-limits to the bald coach with the trademark frames.

"He's been able to cast a wide recruiting net at Vanderbilt, one that's broader than any net I've seen cast," Bowers told "He's honed in on schools that Vanderbilt has not traditionally been in on. When you first see him, he just has this personality, where you like him right away. He's just a nice guy and, yeah, he's a really good recruiter."

Franklin was able to attract top recruits to a cellar-dwelling program and turn it into something special. It's unknown what he can do with a former powerhouse -- whose fans once showed up in the thousands for a 7 a.m. pep rally, and showed up by the handful Wednesday night in snowy, below-freezing temperatures at the airport just to catch a glimpse of Franklin.

Nobody can say for sure the heights that Franklin can take this program, recruiting-wise. But Thompkins and Godwin aren't the only ones who are excited -- and Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, two teams in PSU's recruiting footprint, shouldn't be the only ones who are worried.

Q&A: 2013 signee Kasey Gaines 

March, 20, 2013
Defensive back Kasey Gaines (Loganville, Ga./Grayson) committed to Penn State in September and signed with the Nittany Lions as the 10th pledge of the 2013 class.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound prospect will enroll over the summer and compete at cornerback. He said he hasn't received a playbook, just a workout routine, but he's hoping to hit the ground running. He recently spoke with NittanyNation about his expectations for this season, the biggest adjustment on the field and moving more than 700 miles from home.

NittanyNation: I know you said that it hasn't really hit you that you'll be on campus in about three months. So does that mean you try not to look ahead and just focus on high school? Or do you think about suiting up inside Beaver Stadium a lot now?

How '13 commits want to be remembered 

February, 7, 2013
Now that Penn State's Class of 2013 is officially in the books, we decided to ask the commits about their future with the Nittany Lions.

NittanyNation posed the same question to everyone: How do you think -- or hope -- your class will be remembered in four or five years?

Here's what they had to say:

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O'Brien talks about 2013 signees 

February, 6, 2013
Coaches aren't able to talk about individual recruits until they sign their letters of intent. Here's how Penn State coach Bill O'Brien responded to questions about them Wednesday:

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NittanyNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
Signing day has gone smoothly in Happy Valley.

Here's a recap of how the letters of intent came in and how the class came together in Penn State's Class of 2013.

Follow the live blog after the jump.

(Read full post)

Polling the commits: Why choose PSU? 

February, 6, 2013
Christian HackenbergMiller Safrit/ESPN.comThe nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, felt a special bond with Penn State. Sixteen other prospects have also made that bond with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State's Class of 2013 ranks among the top 25 in the nation, and it's been one of the more surprising stories of the recruiting season. These prospects could've gone elsewhere -- some could've attended anywhere -- but they stuck with the Nittany Lions.

They'll officially become part of Penn State today. So, we asked them, why did you want to commit Penn State? Here's what they had to say this week:

  • QB Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union, Va./Fork Union, four stars, No. 15 in ESPN 150: "You know, I just got this gut feeling that it was home for me. Everything fell in line for me moreso than the other schools. I liked a lot of other schools, but I loved Penn State."

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Lions spotlight: S Kasey Gaines 

January, 29, 2013
Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Safety Kasey Gaines, Loganville, Ga./Grayson, 5-foot-9, 165 pounds.

[+] EnlargeKasey Gaines
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comSafety Kasey Gaines, who committed in September, is a bit undersized but has good instincts.
Committed: Sept. 19, 2012.

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Signing day primer: Penn State 

January, 23, 2013
With two weeks left until signing day, NittanyNation takes a closer look at what fans should know about the state of the class and this Penn State team.

Team needs: Defensive coordinator John Butler made it clear he wasn't happy with the secondary's depth last season. At cornerback, untested true freshman Da'Quan Davis was the backup, and the safeties opened the year as the team's weakness.

That's not the only concern. With Matt McGloin's departure, Steven Bench is now the most experienced quarterback on the team. And he threw just eight passes last season. Linebacker is also a position that could use a few extra bodies, especially with Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges making a run at the NFL.

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Looking ahead: Safeties

January, 11, 2013
Over the past week, NittanyNation has taken a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.
[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Mike Hull
Rich Barnes/US PresswireMuch will be expected of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong in his senior season for the Lions.

  • Who: Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis both return as starters and rising redshirt seniors. Willis was known as the quarterback of the secondary, while teammates called Obeng-Agyapong the most improved player since Week 1. Ryan Keiser is a solid special teams player and might be next in line if someone goes down. Then again, there's certainly enough young players here to push for time as backups. Jake Kiley and Jordan Lucas (listed as a CB but could also play S) appear to be the furthest ahead, while incoming freshman Neiko Robinson should be a solid addition to the scout team for now. Kasey Gaines is almost guaranteed to redshirt.

  • Strengths: These starters are experienced, and they made some nice improvements in the second half of the season. Willis added a lot to the communication of the defense, and it was pretty evident when he was out of the lineup. Obeng-Agyapong made longer strides than anyone else on defense, and there's a lot of potential here in a quartet consisting of incoming freshmen and redshirt freshmen.

  • Weaknesses: Although the safeties made great strides last season, they were still the Achilles' heel of this defense. PSU had to resort to more zone coverage because they seemed to lack awareness and were a liability on third downs. Neither safety recorded an interception, and they need to shore up the middle of the field better than in 2012.

  • Surprise player: Kiley. Bill O'Brien mentioned him by name on Monday, and he's also been a player who's received quite a bit of praise since preseason camp. He likely won't see much time this season, but he could still end up being a three-year starter. This year will go a long way in determining his development and future role. Somebody needs to replace Willis and Obeng-Agyapong in 2014.

  • Overall: This will obviously be an improved group from last season because both starters return and finally have more experience under their belts. The graduation of Jake Fagnano doesn't hurt that much, and fans can expect to see above-average production out of the safeties. This isn't a strength of the defense -- not by any means -- but it should no longer be a liability. Obeng-Agyapong especially has a lot of potential, and these two starters will be looked upon as leaders in the secondary.

Roof's departure affects Southern pipeline 

January, 10, 2013
Ted Roof's surprise resignation Wednesday won't send this defense reeling, in part, because John Butler is a fiery, competent coach. But his departure will definitely be felt in one key department -- recruiting.

Roof was Penn State's pipeline to the South, a man whose reputation commanded the attention of recruits, especially those in Georgia and Alabama. With his absence, so goes an important part of that pipeline.

Historically, the coaching staff hasn't ventured farther south than Virginia, so Penn State wasn't a favorite among recruits unaccustomed to building snowmen. Most didn't see the university as an option -- until Roof showed up.

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Penn State's 2013 class: 5 things to know 

December, 23, 2012
There's still about 44 days left for PSU to pick up two more players for the Class of 2013, but there's already some things we know about this group.

NittanyNation takes a look at five things that have already come into focus here:

Adam Breneman
Josh Moyer/ESPN.comAdam Breneman, the nation's No. 1 tight end, is part of a talented Penn State offensive nucleus in the Class of 2013.
1. The future for this offense is bright. If ESPN's No.1-rated passer, Christian Hackenberg, was the only offensive prospect in this class, that statement might still be accurate. But throw in the nation's No. 1 TE in Adam Breneman, the No. 10 OG in Brendan Mahon and the No. 18 OT in Andrew Nelson -- and that's the best combination in the Big Ten.

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Official visits to Penn State this weekend 

December, 6, 2012
More than a dozen recruits and commits will converge on Happy Valley for their official visits this weekend, and Penn State's coaching staff is hoping it might earn at least one more commitment.

A majority of Penn State's 13 commits will drive or fly to campus Friday and then leave Sunday. The staff is hoping their loyalty rubs off on a quartet of uncommitted prospects, as this weekend is undoubtedly one of the most important -- recruiting-wise -- of the season.

Here's the visitors' list:


DaeSean Hamilton, WR
Stafford, Va./Mountain View
Four stars, No. 51 at position
Synopsis: He's already gone on official visits to Wake Forest and Virginia, and he might also see Virginia Tech. He wants to make a decision before the New Year, so this visit could likely go a long way in helping him decide. He's never before been to Happy Valley.

Zayd Issah, LB
Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin
Three stars, No. 118 at position (ATH)
Synopsis: He's been to Penn State multiple times, but he figured it was worth attending an official visit to see if it offered a different perspective or deeper look. He'll take an Oregon official after this -- and possibly another to Arizona State. But, at this point, it's probably a race between the Ducks and Lions.

Deondre Singleton, Cornerback
Lawrenceville, Ga./Archer
Synopsis: Penn State is clearly Singleton's best offer. When asked last month why he hasn't yet committed, he said he just wants to a visit a school first before he makes a decision. It would be a surprise to see him land elsewhere; a commitment could be coming soon from Singleton.

Jonathan Walton, LB
Daphne, Ala./Bayside
Synopsis: He went on an official visit to Minnesota last week, but it's clear PSU has a very good chance to land the linebacker. He took on a part-time job over the summer so he could afford to fly himself to Penn State for a camp, and he said he wanted to see the campus and get a feeling for what student life would actually be like -- since Penn State was deserted when he came up before.


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Rounding out PSU's 2013 recruiting class 

November, 14, 2012
With national signing day just three months away, Penn State has been making a late push for more 2013 commitments.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at five prospects who already hold offers and could soon make their decisions:

CB Deondre Singleton, Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer

Competing schools: Air Force, Appalachian State, Marshall, Miami (Ohio)

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Q&A: 2013 DB Singleton on PSU offer 

November, 7, 2012
Penn State StadiumJustin K. Aller/Getty Images2013 defensive back Deondre Singleton hopes to visit Penn State in December.

Cornerback Deondre Singleton (Lawrenceville, Ga./Archer) received a Penn State offer last month and is now planning some of his official visits -- and hopes to soon visit Happy Valley.

NittanyNation recently caught up with the 2013 DB to speak with him in-depth about his college recruitment and why he hasn't yet committed to PSU. He holds three other FBS offers from Air Force, Marshall and Miami (Ohio).

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PSU's 46-Hour Dance Marathon Raises $13 Million
Penn State students participated in a fully student-run dance marathon, raising $13 million for families with kids fighting pediatric cancer, and ESPN's John Buccigross gave a nod to all the effort put forth for his 'Bucci's Star' segment.