At 8:36 a.m. Wednesday, Penn State head coach James Franklin leaned forward at the head of a blue cloth-covered table in the Lasch Football Building, his smile widening as assistants, administrators and supporters of the program cheered behind him. The head coach — facing a video chat with soft-spoken three-star offensive lineman Bryce Effner — welcomed yet another player to Penn State’s big board.
A big board that filled up quickly.
The Nittany Lions received signatures from 21 players on the first day of the new 72-hour early signing period, good for No. 3 nationally by Rivals and No. 4 by 247 Sports. A fine showing, no doubt — but the Nittany Lions aren’t done yet.
“We’ve still got a little bit more work to do,” Franklin said Wednesday afternoon, looking ahead to the second 2018 signing period, which begins Feb. 7. “There are still some moving parts out there.”
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Yes, the Nittany Lions still have a few openings. How many exactly? Offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis said there isn’t a set number, while Andy Frank — Penn State’s director of player personnel — said it will depend what happens after the bowl game.
“We’re going to have some attrition, whether that’s guys transferring or leaving for the NFL,” Frank said. “So in terms of calculating your numbers, you have to figure out, ‘OK, what do we think it’s going to be two or three weeks from now?’”
At the very least, Franklin and company already have an idea of what positions they’re looking for.
The head coach — emphasizing the positions in the microphone as if he were speaking directly to specific players — said the class has a “major need” at defensive end and could use another offensive tackle.
According to 247 Sports’ Crystal Ball projections, the Nittany Lions are favorites to land four-star New Jersey defensive end Jayson Oweh and four-star Maryland offensive tackle Rasheed Walker. Penn State is also in on four-star wide receiver Solomon Enis, the son of Curtis Enis — the former Nittany Lion back and first-round NFL draft pick.
To land players like Enis, Oweh, Walker or others, the battle will be more intense than ever. Franklin understands that, unlike the traditional National Signing Day, this early signing period sets up a February feeding frenzy for a small cluster of players.
“I worry a little about the second signing period because there are a few guys and a bunch of schools that want those few guys,” the coach said. “I’m going to make sure I travel in numbers, because if a fight breaks out in the front lawn (of a recruit’s house), I want to make sure that (defensive line coach) Sean Spencer and (6-foot-7 tight ends coach) Tyler Bowen are there with me.
“But, seriously, I think it’s going to be interesting. These next couple weeks and this last signing day is going to get really aggressive.”
Facing that reality, Franklin, Gattis, defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith and the staff are going to fight.
The Nittany Lions are happy with 21 signatures in the bag, but they’re not satisfied.
“We’re not going to leave one scholarship left on the table. That’s not the program or the people we are,” Gattis said. “We’ll devote all our needs to finish out this 2018 class strong and build toward the future.”
Added Smith: “This will be one of the best classes in the history of Penn State. Hopefully, this might be the class that takes us back to a national championship.”