Penn State coaches are scouring the country, looking for a certain type of football player. They want leaders, student-athletes and players willing to play any role assigned to them.
The Nittany Lions got two more on Friday.
Wise High School’s (Upper Marlboro, Md.) Marcus Allen and De La Salle Collegiate’s (Warren, Mich.) Jared Wangler verbaled to the Nittany Lions hours apart. Their commitments pushed Penn State’s 2014 recruiting class to nine players. Penn State can add six more before signing day in February.
Multiple recruiting services first reported the commitments, which are nonbinding until players sign letters of intent.
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The additions of Allen, a safety, and Wangler, who projects as a linebacker, helped land Penn State’s recruiting class in the top 15 in the country as ranked by ESPN’s Recruiting Nation. Penn State is ranked 14th. Michigan (third) and Ohio State (13th) are the only Big Ten schools ranked higher than the Nittany Lions. Michigan and Ohio State have eight and seven verbals in their current crops, respectively.
Allen — at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds — is a four-star recruit as rated by 24/7 Sports and had offers from Arizona, Boston College, Clemson and Connecticut. He joins athlete DeAndre Thompkins and wideout Chris Godwin as four-star prospects in the 2014 class. Wangler, a three-star recruit, joins Troy Reeder as the second linebacker in the class.
“Recruiting nowadays is about how many stars did this guy get, how many offers does this guy have?” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said during a Coaches Caravan stop earlier this week. “Recruiting is very much individual even though you’re recruiting a guy for a team sport. So when they come to Penn State we obviously have to talk to them a lot about, ‘Remember now, you’re an important member of the team. You’re a role guy on this team.’ ”
O’Brien said he and his staff have put an added emphasis on recruiting character players with leadership qualities.
“The times that I’ve been around winning teams, it’s always been with the majority of those rosters being high character guys that were good football players. They cared about being a good teammate,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to do this with good, tough, smart kids that understand the meaning of being a good teammate and that’s part of recruiting.”
O’Brien relayed that message to Wangler before the dead period — a head coach cannot recruit in May — kicked in earlier this month.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Wangler, who had offers from Bowling Green, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan, chose Penn State in the end after O’Brien and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden both spoke with him.
“Coach O’Brien and Coach Vanderlinden kept stressing how they’re recruiting not only great athletes, but great people as well,” Wangler told the Centre Daily Times. “That kind of stood out to me and showed me what kind of people they are and how they really care about you as a person and not just an athlete.”
Although NCAA sanctions prevent the Nittany Lions from having more than 65 scholarship players and prohibit them from playing in a bowl game over the next three seasons, Wangler said he didn’t really consider the sanctions as reasons to not attend Penn State.
“It doesn’t really affect my decision at all,” Wangler said. “The sanctions will pass by by the time I’m a sophomore or a junior. I just feel like Coach O’Brien has the whole program going in the right direction.”
Penn State is further ahead of where it was last year at this time. Coming off the darkest year in program history, with the uncertainty of possible NCAA sanctions looming and a first-year head coach taking over for a legend, the Nittany Lions had corralled just six players by this time last year. After the sanctions were announced last July, some players withdrew their commitments.
While some players already on the roster decided to transfer out of Penn State, there remain those who wish to join a program with a fresh future ahead of it. Penn State went 8-4 last season and O’Brien won multiple coach of the year awards.
Allen is listed as a safety in recruiting profiles while Wangler is slotted in the same spot. But Wangler said after talking with Vanderlinden he believes he’s a better fit as a linebacker. Wangler is no stranger to the spot as he’s played outside linebacker with De La Salle Collegiate.
Allen could not be reached for comment. Attempts to reach his high school coach, DaLawn Parrish, were unsuccessful.
“Coach Vanderlinden kind of described me as a space linebacker, kind of like (Mike Hull) for Penn State right now,” Wangler said. “Just playing in space, coming off the edge and blitzing a lot and also covering receivers and coming up into the box and making plays.”
With one more year of high school ball to play, Wangler said his focus will be on improving his speed and his ability to shed blockers. Ideally, he’d like to add 10 pounds of muscle to his frame too.
Once Wangler arrives in Happy Valley, he’ll already know one of his teammates pretty well. Sophomore defensive end Anthony Zettel is Wangler’s third cousin.
“I’m looking for a good fit for me as a player and a person as well,” Wangler said. “I’m going to go and spend the next four or five years of my life there and Penn State is just a great fit.”