A look at James Franklin’s recruiting success at Penn State
Nick Dawkins, a 2020 Penn State offensive line commit, shut his phone off before seeing “Avengers: Endgame” on Tuesday night and walked out of the theater three hours later to a flurry of messages. Another member was added to Dawkins’ 2020 OL-specific group text, The Wall of PSU.
“I looked down, and I saw that AJ (Parks) committed,” Dawkins said of the four-star Maryland guard. “The Wall of PSU is already welcoming him. ... I’m like, ‘Yessir, that’s another dog added to the line.’ It’s going to be a freak show.”
Parks, the No. 228 overall prospect in the current cycle, was the fifth offensive lineman to commit to Penn State’s 2020 class. Yes, the fifth. He joined four-star tackle Grant Toutant (No. 30 OT) and three-star guards R.J. Adams (No. 25 OG), Golden Israel-Achumba (No. 26 OG) and Dawkins (No. 50 OG).
The 2020 early signing period is eight months away, and the Nittany Lions have, theoretically, a full offensive line in tow. That’s a rarity. Ohio State and Wisconsin are close with four OL commits in the 2020 cycle, while Texas and Texas A&M have three. But five? Clemson is the only other program in the country to boast that.
Toutant — the class’ inaugural member back in November — said he didn’t see this run on linemen coming. “I was thinking maybe three or four,” the ESPN top-300 prospect added. Israel-Achumba called it both “cool” and “crazy.” Dawkins, meanwhile, saw the potential of a large OL group.
“The guys they have in there now, there are a lot of older guys. I thought they’d go after depth and youth,” Dawkins said before a brief pause. “But a full line this early?”
Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has been busy. And he might not be done, either, according to one expert.
“Most places will have three, four or five in a class. Question is, is Penn State going to take seven?” 247 Sports national analyst Brian Dohn said. “If you’re taking seven, then that’s significant. I would expect that they end up with at least six, maybe seven offensive linemen.”
At this point, the Nittany Lions are still in on five uncommitted 2020 linemen: Four-star tackles Michael Carmody (No. 12 OT), Anton Harrison (No. 16 OT), Zak Zinter (No. 21 OT) and Olu Fashanu (No. 33 OT), along with three-star center Josh Fryar (No. 5 OC).
Carmody, the No. 2 prospect in Pennsylvania, is the only one garnering predictions to head to Penn State, according to 247’s Crystal Ball. Three experts have the Mars Area product pegged for Penn State while three have him going to Ohio State. Carmody visited Happy Valley for Junior Day on Feb. 2, but received an offer from the Buckeyes on Feb. 14 and visited Columbus on April 13.
Dawkins said it “would be amazing” if Carmody joined The Wall of PSU group text.
“That’d be great. Another in-state guy, another Pennsylvania guy,” the Allentown native said. “But it’s all his decision. If he thinks Penn State is the best place for him — which it is — then that’s what he’s got to choose.”
Even if Carmody goes elsewhere — even if Harrison, Zinter, Fashanu and Fryar spurn the Nittany Lions — signing the current group of five linemen would be unprecedented for Penn State. Franklin has secured the signatures of four blockers in several classes since arriving in 2014, but never five. The Nittany Lions haven’t signed five or more linemen in a class since 2009, back when John Urschel was a two-star recruit.
Going heavy on O-line is somewhat of a necessity, too, for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s 2019 class, one that ranked 13th in the country, featured six defensive backs, two quarterbacks and two running backs. But the Nittany Lions inked only three offensive linemen, and one was JUCO tackle Anthony Whigan, who has two years of eligibility available.
There is impending turnover up front, as well. Three 2019 projected starters — left guard Steven Gonzalez (redshirt senior), center Michal Menet (redshirt junior) and right tackle Will Fries (redshirt junior) — could all be off to the NFL next January.
Of course, Dawkins, Adams, Parks, Toutant and Israel-Achumba won’t be replacing Gonzalez, Menet or Fries. Assuming all five stay committed, they’ll sign in December 2020 and likely redshirt that season. But replacing the likes of CJ Thorpe, Rasheed Walker, Mike Miranda and Juice Scruggs three years down the line isn’t out of the question.
At least, that’s the plan for The Wall of PSU.
“All five of us — eventually, at some point — could end up being the starting five,” Toutant said. “Someone would have to play center. I don’t know who that would be. ... But that would be crazy.”
Added Dawkins: “It’s absolutely insane the potential that we have. And then it’s turning that potential into the beasts that we all know we can become.”