National signing day 2.0 is in the books, and Penn State has a recruiting class worthy of the hype.
James Franklin and his staff inked the No. 5 class in the country, per 247 Sports, on Wednesday. After a remarkable early signing period, four-star offensive tackle Rasheed Walker completed what stands as the highest-rated group in Franklin’s tenure.
The Nittany Lions boast 23 new faces. Three five-star talents and 12 four-star snags highlight the class, but Penn State found a few diamonds in the rough, as well.
Fresh off signing day, we caught up with four future Penn Staters: four-star tight end Pat Freiermuth (North Andover, Mass.), three-star defensive linemen Aeneas Hawkins (Cincinnati) and Judge Culpepper (Tampa, Fla.) and kicker Jake Pinegar (Ankeny, Iowa).
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The newly minted Nittany Lions discussed everything from why they chose Penn State to their favorite show on Netflix.
Get to know Beaver Stadium’s future contributors, starters and stars:
Q: What put Penn State over the top for you? When it came down to it, what really sold you and made you want to pick Penn State over all the other schools?
Freiermuth: Definitely just the atmosphere — the family atmosphere — around the whole program, school and fanbase. It’s a great campus, great campus life. I mean, everything about it I just fell in love with. I’ve been about Penn State since Day 1. That’s why I chose it.
Hawkins: For me, I grew up with four sisters and cousins all over my house. The biggest thing I look forward to is the family environment, and it’s somewhere I can be with my family. I have a lot of family in the Pittsburgh area. Just being close so everyone can come see me play. The other two things I’ll say were the coaching staff and recruiting class. Those were big for me. They’re big on competition and being the best that they can be. That was huge.
Pinegar: When I went up there, I really enjoyed the coaches and how they went out of their way to welcome me and make me feel at home. The other players, too, with the recruits coming in. It was more than just football. It was the camaraderie that everyone had, that family relationship.
Culpepper: Definitely the first visit I took there. I was blown away by everything they had going on between the coaches, the campus, the program. It was unrivaled. It was amazing. And I was a big fan. Ever since then, they were in the forefront of my mind a lot going through the process. That was that. They just stood out. At the end of the day, that’s how I made my decision.
Q: Everyone in your recruiting class brings something to the table. You guys are there for a reason. But who is one guy in the class you’re really looking forward to practice with and be around on a daily basis? Is there one guys who really intrigues you?
Freiermuth: Probably (quarterback) Will Levis, to be honest. He’s not really a highly rated guy. I think he’s only like a three-star. But he can ball. I’ve thrown with him a couple of times, and he has a nice zip on the ball. He’s definitely slept on. His film, if you watch it, I think it’s unreal. I think he’s going to ball out after Trace (McSorley) and Tommy (Stevens) leave. He has a chance to get some good reps in and get some good film out there.
Hawkins: I’ll start off with the D-line, because that’s most relevant for me. I think P.J. (Mustipher is) a big one for me. Obviously I’m excited to have Jayson (Oweh) and Judge, but P.J.’s a guy I’ve known for a long time, so I’m excited to have him there with me. Overall, though, I’ve got to say (wide receiver Justin) Shorter. That dude is just built differently. I’m excited to watch him play.
Pinegar: I’m excited to watch Micah (Parsons), Justin (Shorter), Jesse (Luketa) and Ricky (Slade). Those four guys just because they have a lot of accolades and a lot of respect coming in. I’m just kind of excited to see the way they work, their work ethic, their attitude and just their skills.
Culpepper: I mean, I’ve never seen any of the guys play except for film. That’s one of the things I’m really excited to experience, is being with a bunch of guys I don’t really know. Going out and playing football. I know it’s a little bit different in the north than it is in the south, but it’s still football.
Q: Do you have a favorite Penn State football player of all-time?
Freiermuth: Kyle Carter or Jesse James, probably. I’ve been kind of watching film on tight ends in the NFL and college and see what pointers I could get from them, and I mean, Kyle Carter’s game reminds me a lot of myself. I’m definitely trying to take what he does and add it into my game.
Hawkins: This sounds corny, but Saquon (Barkley) is the answer for me. That’s my guy. Honestly, I wasn’t a big Penn State fan until they really started recruiting me. I watched them play when I could, but it’s got to be Saquon.
Pinegar: I don’t think I’ve had a favorite, but the most exciting to watch has to be Saquon. It’s a pretty well-rounded answer.
Culpepper: I’ve got to go with Sean Lee, the linebacker from the Cowboys. That guy is awesome. My dad met him, and I’ve been meaning to give him a call. My dad’s old defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is now the defensive line coach with the Cowboys. He invited my dad down. My brother plays for Syracuse, so dad and the Syracuse defensive staff went to the Cowboys to see how they run their defense and what they do to run the Tampa 2 better. So my dad met Sean Lee, and this was before I was committed. He said, “You know, my son really likes Penn State.” Sean was like, “Oh my God, that’s the best place.” My dad got along with him really well, and that guy is really awesome. I like the way he plays.
Q: I’ll go with a little rapid fire here to end it. Go-to on Netflix?
Freiermuth: Probably “Coach Snoop.” It literally came out a few weeks ago. Snoop Dogg has a youth football program, and they did a documentary on it. It’s all about the kids they help out from the projects of Los Angeles. It’s pretty interesting.
Hawkins: My go-to is still “The Office,” but I got into “Black Mirror.” That’s really good. You’ve got to check it out.
Pinegar: Favorite thing to watch on Netflix? “Prison Break.” Every episode leaves you hanging.
Culpepper: “Stranger Things.” It’s new, and everyone was talking about it. I had to watch it.
Q: Favorite athlete?
Freiermuth: Tom Brady. He’s the G.O.A.T.
Hawkins: I’m not going give you a football player. That’s too easy. I’m going to go with Floyd Mayweather. That’s my all-time favorite. I was nervous for the first two rounds (against Conor McGregor). But he’s a competitor, man. From a personal perspective, I know he has a lot of money, and he likes to spend it how he spends it. He gets wild at times. But growing up, just watching him train and how he approaches things and how methodical he is, I appreciate it. He’s not a huge dude, but he’s a technician. He’s a good athlete, and it shows.
Pinegar: Julio Jones. Actually, no. Take that back. LeBron James. I’m a LeBron guy.
Culpepper: J.J. Watt. It’s gotta be J.J. Watt. That guy is an animal with the way he works and the way he performs. It’s unlike anyone else.
Q: Pregame song?
Freiermuth: “Right Above It,” by Drake and Lil Wayne. That’s my go-to.
Hawkins: “Public Service Announcement,” by Drake. And I’m a big “Thunderstruck” guy. I used to watch my dad’s high school highlights a lot, and that was the first thing that came on.
Pinegar: “No Complaints,” by Drake and Offset.
Culpepper: “Indestructible,” by Disturbed. It gets me going.
Q: Last thing — do you think believe that in your time at Penn State, you guys will win a national title?
Freiermuth: Yeah, I totally, 100 percent believe we’ll win a national title. We’ve got a core group coming back, and even if we don’t win it this year, I think Coach Franklin will do a great job of rebuilding, and the class above us is unreal. So I definitely think we’ll win a national championship. One hundred percent.
Hawkins: Absolutely. I don’t doubt it. We’re going to play some great teams. But I’m confident in the guys they’ve recruited. I’m confident in Coach Franklin and what he believes in. I think we’re one step away, and I think we’ll get there.
Pinegar: I definitely think so. We have a bunch of great guys in there now, and the guys coming in, I think it’s a possibility that we can make it happen.
Culpepper: There’s not a doubt. That’s a given.