Stinging NCAA sanctions and a lack of four- and five-star prospects roaming Pennsylvania forced Penn State to extend its recruiting boundaries.
The program’s adaptability earned high marks from one veteran analyst.
CBS Sports Network’s Tom Lemming called Penn State’s 2013 recruiting efforts “outstanding” considering the circumstances. Coach Bill O’Brien is expected to add 12 players during Wednesday’s National Signing Day news conference at the Lasch Building. The group joins five players who enrolled in school last month, giving O’Brien 17 players in his first full class.
NCAA sanctions limit Penn State to 15 scholarships for incoming players from 2013-16. The five early enrollees count against 2012 recruiting numbers. So, unless a surprise fax arrives Wednesday, Penn State can add three more scholarship players to the 2013 class. The scholarships can also be saved for early 2014 enrollees who would count toward ‘13 numbers.
Lemming compared Penn State’s class to the one Southern California constructed in 2012, the Trojans’ first in a four-year probationary period for providing improper benefits to former star Reggie Bush.
“Obviously, Penn State is limited with the restrictions,” Lemming said in an interview with the Centre Daily Times. “But when it’s all said and done, they might be following the path of USC. With each passing year over the next couple of years, the restrictions will be less and less on the minds of the kids. You have to give them an A-plus for effort and B-plus for results.”
Penn State landed three players on Lemming’s Top 100 list: Cedar Cliff tight end Adam Breneman, Fork Union (Va.) quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Red Bank Regional (N.J.) defensive end Garrett Sickels.
“These are kids that have five-star potential,” said Lemming, a Chicago native who started covering recruiting in 1978.
The trio attended high schools in areas Penn State has traditionally deployed numerous recruiting resources. The class also includes three players from a region O’Brien and his assistants are trying to unearth talent.
Northview (Fla.) defensive back Neiko Robinson, Grayson (Ga.) defensive back Kasey Gaines and Hazel Green (Ala.) defensive linemen Parker Cothren are expected to send faxes from southern addresses. At one point, the class included four players from the Deep South. Bayside Academy (Ala.) linebacker Jonathan Walton orally committed to Penn State in December, but flipped his commitment after receiving a scholarship offer from South Carolina.
Multiple Penn State assistants, including former defensive coordinator Ted Roof, are southern natives. Robinson, Gaines and Cothren stuck with Penn State after Roof left Penn State last month to become Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator.
Lemming endorsed the Nittany Lions’ attempt to expand their southern presence.
“It’s what Penn State should have been doing all along,” Lemming said. “The last 10 years all of the national powers except Penn State have been doing it. I think it’s just smart. The talent has moved a little bit South. There’s talent in the Midwest and East, but if there’s an enormous amount of talent from Florida all the way to Texas, so why not recruit the area? It’s absolutely loaded.”
Lemming, who travels more than 50,000 miles per year evaluating prospects, said Robinson, Gaines and Cothren are good fits for Penn State.
“They aren’t the kind of guys that Alabama, Georgia or Florida would offer right away,” Lemming said. “But they are that next list that you evaluate and you know that they can possibly develop into four- or five-star players. They are all talented guys. They aren’t taking B-list guys. They are taking guys with potential.”
Penn State’s decision to lure southern players coincides with what Lemming called an “average” year for Pennsylvania talent. Central Valley wide receiver Robert Foster is the state’s top prospect, according to Lemming. Foster, ranked No. 32 nationally, will sign with Alabama. Breneman (No. 48), Clairton wide receiver Tyler Boyd (No. 78), Wyomissing linebacker Alex Anzalone (No. 84) and Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson (No. 93) are also in Lemming’s Top 100. Boyd and Johnson, who committed to Penn State before last summer’s announcement of NCAA sanctions, are expected to sign with Pitt. Anzalone enrolled at Florida last month.
Hershey offensive lineman Andrew Nelson, Central Dauphin linebacker Zayd Issah and Council Roth North defensive lineman Curtis Cothran combine with Breneman to give Penn State four scholarship players from Pennsylvania high schools. The Nittany Lions will add more than a dozen preferred walk-ons from across the state, including State College lineman Evan Galimberti, this summer.
Oakcrest (N.J.) linebacker Brandon Bell, Randolph (N.J.) Brendan Mahon, Mountain View (Va.) wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and Liberty Christian Academy (Va.) lineman Tanner Hartman are also signing with Penn State on Wednesday. Breneman, Thomas Johnson (Md.) running back Richy Anderson, College of the Sequoias (Calif.) quarterback Tyler Ferguson, H.D. Woodson (District of Columbia) defensive back Jordan Smith and Valley Forge Military academy defensive back Anthony Smith enrolled in classes last month.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.