Countless phone calls, hundreds of text messages, copious home visits and on-campus hosting sessions, a multitude of airplane rides, helicopter flights and hundreds of miles traveled by car, van and SUV — the fruits of the Penn State football staff’s months of labor have been realized.
The Nittany Lions signed 22 players on National Signing Day on Wednesday to complete their 2015 recruiting class. Three had already inked their names on National Letters of Intent and are currently working out with the program. As the spring and summer months arrive, their new teammates will join them.
Josh Gattis can’t wait.
“It is Christmas for us,” Penn State’s receivers coach said Monday. “We’re a bunch of kids ready to open up our presents as soon as they come on campus. It’s an exciting time. It’s been a long year. Recruiting goes year-round. We’re looking to celebrate this Wednesday when this new class becomes part of the actual Penn State family.”
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They did so by signing their letters and faxing them to Penn State’s “War Room” located on the second level of the Lasch Building — Penn State’s team headquarters. Some waited for nearly a year to do so. Take Archbishop Wood offensive tackle Ryan Bates or Suffield (Conn.) safety Jarvis Miller for instance. They committed back on Feb. 15, 2014.
Many of Bates’ fellow Pennsylvania stars followed suit as head coach James Franklin made good on his introductory pledge to “dominate the state” in recruiting. Penn State will sign 11 of the Top 20 in-state prospects including six of the Top 10 according to 24/7 Sports’ composite rankings.
The 2015 class has a total of 11 Pennsylvania players in it, the most since the 2004 class included 10.
Among them are six four-star newcomers — running backs Saquon Barkley (Whitehall) and Andrew Robinson (Bishop McDevitt), cornerback John Reid (St. Joseph’s, Philadelphia), defensive end Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley), Bates and fellow offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins (Baldwin). Jenkins has already signed and is enrolled along with Lackawanna Community College offensive tackle Paris Palmer and Decature Central (Indianapolis) quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Wide receiver Irvin Charles (Haddonfield, N.J.) was the first player to send his signed letter. It arrived on Penn State’s fax machine at 7:29 a.m. The remainder of his new teammates quickly followed with Altoona defensive end Kevin Givens completing the class by around 11 a.m.
This class came together quite nicely if projections and rankings hold up as prospects work their way through the program and earn time ont the field. By press time, Franklin’s first full recruiting class was ranked 13th overall and second only to Ohio State in the Big Ten arms race by 24/7 Sports’ composite rankings. All-in-all, Penn State will sign 13 four-star recruits in this class.
“We don‘t feel good. We feel great about this class,” Gattis, who’s also the team’s offensive recruiting coordinator, said. “We really feel like we addressed all of our needs, all of our concerns and really developed some great depth in this class.”
And Penn State coaches had more time to do it and more resources to use. Franklin revealed he made multiple trips with a rented helicopter in order to see multiple games in the same weekend during the season. Use of the helicopter wasn’t necessary over the last month, Gattis said.
It might’ve come in handy last year, however.
When Franklin took over for Bill O’Brien last January, he and the rest of the staff, had little time to fill out O’Brien’s final recruiting class. This year, they didn’t have to scramble as much in such unfamiliar recruiting waters.
“It’s different,” Gattis said. “I think we’ve kind of caught up a little bit. We’re still kind of behind as far as developing the relationships out in the recruiting areas but we work tremendously hard. Recruiting is a major priority for us. It doesn’t matter what we have to do we’re going to go out and find the best student athletes possible for us and for the Penn State football program.”
Penn State had a solid crop of players committed before the turn of the new year. By the time Penn State beat Boston College 31-30 in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl, only five spots remained.
“Finishing strong is important,” Franklin said before the bowl game. “We’ve got a strong foundation in this recruiting class but we’re going to have to finish strong. These last five spots are going to be really, really important to see how we finish.”
Penn State coaches did so by wrangling five recruits over the last nine days.
Two of them — Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers and Givens were committed to Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions will renew their rivalry with the Panthers on Sept. 10, 2016.
While most of these players will have to wait to see extended playing time, it’s not out of the picture that some of them will be ready by then. If not, Penn State coaches will be patient. Like the players, they’re in it for the long haul.
“We plan to be here a long time,” Gattis said. “This is not just a four- and five-year decision. We stress to all the families, this is a 40-, 50-year decision. This is a decision for life that’s going to take care of them well past football and well past playing in Beaver Stadium.”