Two weeks ago, at an alumni event in northeastern Pennsylvania, James Franklin admitted that even he couldn't have predicted the blistering recruiting run his program went on in late May, earning five 2019 commits in a five-day span.
"Somebody asked me the other day, 'Did you plan this out this way?' No, no," Franklin told The Times Leader. "There's momentum in football games, there's momentum in recruiting." And Penn State clearly has the latter.
After a relatively slow start on the 2019 trail, the Nittany Lions have come roaring back. Just one player committed on Blue-White weekend, when the expectation was three, four, maybe even five verbals. But since May 18 — when JUCO safety Jaquan Brisker and four-star running back Devyn Ford picked Penn State — things took off. Four-star defensive back Marquis Wilson committed on May 20, and a day later, five-star linebacker Brandon Smith and four-star safety Tyler Rudolph went with Franklin and his staff.
It was a torrid run, unmatched by any Big Ten school and surprising to many. But according to recruiting experts from 247 Sports, Rivals and Land of 10, this stunning hot streak has been brewing for a while — and another run might be on the horizon.
"This was a matter of time," Blue-White Illustrated's Ryan Snyder said. "It was expected to come."
Even though a lot of leg work had been done beforehand, what really kicked off Penn State's recruiting run last month was a loaded Blue-White weekend. Although the Nittany Lions earned only one commitment, from four-star offensive lineman Caedan Wallace before the April 21 scrimmage, Franklin and his staff hosted 160 unofficial visitors and a pool of official visitors. The latter is thanks to a new NCAA rule, which allows players to take officials in April, May and June. That, in turn, pushed back decisions that in any other year would have been made in March or on Blue-White weekend.
With that in mind, Penn State's staff used the time to plant seeds that would come to fruition in the coming weeks and months.
"You clearly saw momentum carry over," Land of 10's Tyler Donohue said. "Even if it didn't result in tangible additions to the class that weekend, a lot of those players who eventually committed, that was a turning point for them. You saw a lot of these guys set their commitment dates soon after."
Added Lions 247's Sean Fitz: "Devyn Ford, we put our Crystal Ball (Prediction) in right after that weekend with good reason. They had a pretty good indication that he was coming after that weekend. ... It was set up for everything."
What followed a month later were commitments from Ford, Brisker, Wilson, Smith and Rudolph. For good measure, four-star pass-rusher Hakeem Beamon chose the Nittany Lions on June 1. He was the sixth player and third top-300 prospect to pick Penn State in a 14-day span. Beamon brought the 2019 class to nine total members and a No. 12 national ranking, according to Rivals.
Now, outside of simply the sheer number of commitments in a small time frame, the most surprising aspect of Penn State's recruiting run, at least from the outside looking in, was where these recruits hail from. Brisker, while originally a Gateway High School product, comes from Lackawanna Community College. Smith, Ford and Beamon are Virginia natives, while Rudolph and Wilson will move south from Connecticut.
But take a quick look at any set of 2019 prospect rankings, and it's obvious why Franklin and company are focusing on their efforts in Virginia and across the region: Pennsylvania is having a down year. In 247 Sports' composite rankings, only one player — Philadelphia defensive end Omar Speights — has earned a four-star grade. By that measure, Hawaii, Indiana and Utah have more four-star talent than the Keystone State.
That, combined with Penn State's push into Florida with new assistant coach Ja'Juan Seider and the program's desire to capitalize nationally on its recent success, has led to more of an out-of-state focus that will likely continue in the 2019 cycle. As Fitz put it, "Penn State is really starting to flex its muscle regionally and expanding that footprint. ... Where the talent is, that's where they're going."
"It's sort of a double-edged sword," Fitz continued. "Penn State is recruiting so well right now that some of these (Pennsylvania) players are missing out because of it. They're setting their targets in Virginia and across the region for the higher-tier prospects. And Pennsylvania just doesn't have those guys this year. There's a lot of solid offer sheets across the state, but nothing that really blows you away. Even the top guys, they're not getting the Alabamas, the Ohio States and those big schools. There are no no-brainer kids."
Added Donohue: "Compared to last year, when Penn State signed six of the top-10 players out of Pennsylvania, it's definitely down in terms of players they've evaluated as worthy of a scholarship offer. It's an ebb and flow kind of deal."
Right now, Penn State has one rising high school senior from Pennsylvania committed to its 2019 class: State College defensive back Keaton Ellis. And it wouldn't be a surprise if the Little Lion is Penn State's lone scholarship freshman in 2019 from Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions — who have had at least three Pennsylvania players in every recruiting class dating back to 2010 — are pushing to earn commitments from more out-of-state players in the near future. This weekend, Franklin and Penn State's staff host several four-star prospects on official visits, including Texas safety Lewis Cine, Florida wide receiver John Dunmore, Oregon dual-threat quarterback Michael Johnson, Tennessee running back Eric Gray, Maryland wideout John Metchie and Michigan linebacker Lance Dixon.
Penn State is favored to land Cine and Metchie, per 247 Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions, while the rest are expected to end up elsewhere. Still, Snyder called this Penn State's "biggest weekend up until Lasch Bash," which will be held in late July, because of the potential it has.
Who knows? Perhaps it will set off another crazy recruiting run later this summer.
"May was always going to be a pretty heavy month for Penn State," Snyder added. "And I think it's going to be same here in June."