NCF On The Trail: Miles Dieffenbach

Signing day in State College used to be a non-event. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't even have a news conference. Just four years ago, the school sent out a release listing the new signees with no additional information.

Things have changed dramatically under James Franklin, who has completed his first full recruiting cycle as Penn State's coach. Franklin was all over ESPN and social media, and Wednesday night hosts "The Signature Event" for the second year at Penn State. The second-year coach, who pledged to "dominate the state" in recruiting at his introduction, signed a class that could end up in the top 15 of the final ESPN RecrutingNation rankings.

ESPN.com caught up with Franklin on Wednesday to discuss Penn State's class.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com, Joe HermittJames Franklin has turned signing day into a celebration at Penn State.
How critical were the weeks and months after your hiring to put this class together?

James Franklin: This is truly our first class. This staff has a lot of connections and a lot of us are from this part of the country, so that was helpful. And we were able to get all these guys from Day 1, had some momentum early on, which was really, really important, and then we were able to finish strong as well. We've already got four of the top players in the country committed for 2016, and that's when you're able to really make an impact, when you've been recruiting guys for two or three years. You're able to develop relationships with the young man, the high school coaches, the families, the guidance counselor. But I think we've done a nice job, considering we've only been on campus for just over a year. Very pleased with the class.

What areas of the roster were your biggest priorities, given the scholarship situation?

JF: We played Michigan State last year with 41 scholarship players, so being able to get a few back was huge. Everybody knows O-line was a major concern for us. We had one scholarship offensive tackle in the senior, junior and sophomore classes. No seniors on scholarships, one junior and he came out early [Donovan Smith], and no sophomores. So we walked into an interesting situation. We were able to redshirt all those guys we signed last year and we have a group coming in for this year. That's important, but it's not something you're able to fix overnight. Those guys typically don't play until their redshirt sophomore year.

We were able to sign the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country in Paris Palmer. He's already on campus. That's big. We were able to get at one time the No. 1-ranked player in the state in Sterling Jenkins, and he graduated early. So we've got two 6-foot-8, 300-pound tackles on campus already. That's helpful. And then all those redshirts. We'll be better, but we've still got a way to go in terms of depth. But that was priority No. 1.

Could Sterling help you this coming season?

JF: I don't know. He's got the physical tools and the size to do it, but you really shouldn't play at a place like Penn State until your redshirt sophomore year. I remember Miles Dieffenbach telling me about some of the changes from when he first got here, how he could barely make the scout team roster. He says the freshmen we signed last year are in the two-deep, and we're hoping to be able to redshirt them. That's a great example of how the program has changed in the last five years. That's what we're working to get back to.

You had some young wide receivers and defensive backs contribute last year. Who among this group do you see making an impact?

JF: We were fortunate. You think about all the young players who were able to make an impact for us as true freshmen this year. That was exciting. We're real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we've got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn't play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You've got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He's already asking for the playbook. And you look at the safeties we signed and I could make arguments for all of those guys. It's always easier to get on the field quicker at the receiver and DB position. You look at the wide receivers we signed, we've got speed and length, which is always important.

You picked up a quarterback with Tommy Stevens. Where does he fit in with your future?

JF: We love him. He's on campus as well, graduated early, and everybody has been so impressed with him. I talked to the strength staff, they love him. I talked to the academic people, they love him. Everybody I come in contact with is just raving about the guy in terms of how positive and appreciative and hard-working he is. He has the makeup that we're looking for, his demeanor, his attitude and his intelligence, so that's exciting. We want to have five quarterbacks on scholarship, one in every class, and we only have three, counting him. It's interesting but it also creates opportunity for guys to play early.

The class is definitely rooted in the state and the region. What struck you most about recruiting and competing here as opposed to the SEC?

JF: One of the big reasons we were so excited about coming here is you have some built-in advantages. You drive six hours in every direction and there's a lot of good players, a lot of good high school coaches. You have an opportunity to be strongly considered for any of those guys. There's not a whole lot of places similar to us in terms of the fan support with 107,000 people at games, with the academic reputation, the history and tradition and facilities. We have a lot of really good things going for us.

Do you sense how much signing day has changed in State College since you arrived?

JF: We want to have fun with it. This is a day for the staff to celebrate all the hard work, and to celebrate these young men and how excited they are about their futures. It's an opportunity to connect with the community and people on campus and allow people inside to see how we do things and get to know us. All of those things are really, really important. More than anything, it's just having fun. This is our future. You can be the best coach in the world. You need great players, great people to work with.
National signing day is less than 48 hours away, and Big Ten fan bases are preparing to officially welcome the 2014 class. My interest in recruiting has increased during the years, but I likely will never reach the mania of many fans.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWilliam Gholston played three seasons for Michigan State, recording 142 tackles and 10 sacks.
The reason: There have been so many examples of supposed top recruits who go bust, and under-the-radar guys who become stars, especially in a largely developmental league like the Big Ten. Recruiting evaluation is an inexact science.

As we prepare for the faxes to roll in, especially from the Big Ten prospects in the ESPN 300, it's always interesting to take a look back at how the top Big Ten recruits from four years ago performed. There wasn't an ESPN 300 back in 2010, just an ESPN 150, which included 15 Big Ten players. Some became stars, some never got started and others haven't closed the book on their college careers.

Let's take a closer look (positions listed according to ESPN recruiting profiles):

Top 50

  • No. 12: Demar Dorsey, S, Michigan -- Although Dorsey signed with Michigan, he was denied admission to the school. He had a checkered past but reportedly was given no specific reason for the denial. Dorsey appeared headed to Louisville but never made it and played for Grand Rapids Community College in 2011. He planned to transfer to Hawaii in 2012 but never played for the Warriors.
  • No. 42: William Gholston, DE, Michigan State -- Gholston played three seasons for the Spartans, recording 142 tackles, including 30 for loss and 10 sacks. He started 24 games and stood out in bowl wins against Georgia and TCU. After a big performance in the 2012 Outback Bowl, Gholston appeared on several preseason watch lists but underachieved at times during the 2012 campaign. He skipped his final season and was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Nos. 51-100

  • No. 56: Rod Smith, RB, Ohio State -- Smith redshirted the 2010 season and has been in a reserve role the past three seasons, playing briefly at linebacker in 2012. He has 83 career rushes for 448 yards and four touchdowns. Smith once again will compete for the starting job this fall.
  • No. 66: Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State -- He played two years for Penn State, recording 50 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, before transferring to Cal in 2012 when the NCAA imposed sanctions on PSU. Fortt sat out the 2012 season because of injury and had 64 tackles (3.5 for loss) in nine games last season before suffering an arm injury. He declared for the NFL draft last month.
  • No. 70: Dakota Royer, DE, Penn State -- Royer didn't play at linebacker in his first two seasons, moved to tight end after spring ball in 2012 and moved back to linebacker early in camp. He then decided to walk away from football, remained on scholarship and graduated in May.
  • No. 80: James Louis, WR, Ohio State -- Louis redshirted the 2010 season and then opted to transfer from Ohio State to Florida International. He never played for FIU and is no longer listed on the roster.
  • No. 82: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa -- He appeared in every game during the past four years and started the past two-and-a-half seasons, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches as a senior in 2013. Fiedorowicz had 91 career receptions for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns, including six this past season.
  • No. 88: Evan Hailes, DT, Penn State -- Hailes redshirted in 2010 and played two games in 2011, recording two tackles. A series of blood clots, which first surfaced in the spring of 2011, ended his career in 2012. He remained with the team in a coaching role.
[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe reviews have been mixed for Devin Gardner, who passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2013.
Nos. 101-150

  • No. 112: Rob Bolden, QB, Penn State -- Bolden in 2010 became the first freshman quarterback in 100 years to start a season opener at Penn State. He made 16 starts in two years at Penn State but transferred to LSU after the NCAA imposed sanctions on the program in 2012. Bolden has yet to play for the Tigers and has one season left.
  • No. 118: Miles Dieffenbach, C, Penn State -- Dieffenbach redshirted in 2010 and didn't play in 2011 before starting 23 games the past two seasons at left guard. He'll likely enter the 2014 campaign in the same spot.
  • No. 128: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan -- Gardner appeared in 12 games as a reserve quarterback in his first two seasons before alternating between wide receiver and quarterback in 2012, starting the final four games under center. He started 12 games at quarterback in 2013 and passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns, delivering several huge performances and also some duds. Gardner, who received a medical redshirt for the 2010 season, returns for his final year this fall.
  • No. 131: Darryl Baldwin, DE, Ohio State -- Baldwin worked as a reserve defensive lineman in 2011 before moving to offense in the spring of 2012. He played mostly special teams in 2012 and backed up left tackle Jack Mewhort the past two years. Baldwin could move into a starting role in his final season.
  • No. 137: Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State -- After recording just 22 receptions in his first two seasons, Brown emerged as the Buckeyes' top option in the passing game as a junior and senior. He combined to record 123 catches for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2013 from the coaches.
  • No. 147: Andrew Rodriguez, G, Nebraska -- Rodriguez played mostly in a reserve role for his first three seasons and then started every game as a senior in 2013, alternating between right tackle and right guard for an injury-plagued Husker line. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media.
  • No. 148: C.J. Olaniyan, DE, Penn State -- After redshirting in 2010, Olaniyan recorded 18 tackles and a sack during his first two seasons. He started every game last fall at defensive end and led Penn State in both sacks (5) and forced fumbles (3), recording 11 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. He'll enter his final season projected as a starter.

More misses than hits in the group, although several players still could finish their college careers as stars.

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