Penn State Football

Penn State football notebook: Football, basketball have top-10 2016 classes

Earlier this week, top Pennsylvania basketball recruit Tony Carr announced his commitment to Penn State.

“I started to look deeper into things and weigh my options a little bit heavier, I just realized that was the best place for me,” he told City of Basketball Love. “I feel like I can go to Penn State and prosper as a young man, not only on the basketball but off the basketball court.”

The 6-foot-4 self-described “pass-first point guard” out of Roman Catholic high school in Philadelphia was the third player in the Nittany Lions’ 2016 class to commit, joining three-star forwards Joe Hampton and Nazeer Bostick (who is Carr’s current teammate and was a big factor in his decision). According to ESPN’s recruiting database, Carr is the highest-ranked player to commit to the Penn State men’s basketball team since the database began.

With Carr’s commitment, the Nittany Lions’ recruiting class jumped to No. 7 nationally and No. 2 in the Big Ten, as of the latest 247Sports composite. It’s a big jump from the No. 42 national ranking and No. 8 Big Ten ranking of the class of 2015.

Penn State’s football recruiting class of 2016 is also ranked No. 7 nationally and second in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports, and is a solid 18 members deep so far.

Coach James Franklin and his staff have recruited energetically since beginning their respective regimes at Penn State. Whether signed or verbal, the Nittany Lions have received 70 commitments since 2014, including the first member of the 2017 class, four-star quarterback Sean Clifford from Ohio, who gave his verbal mid-July.

Methods to recruiting madness

At Big Ten Media Days last week, Franklin gave a bit of insight as to the depths in which he recruits, especially in the modern age of social media.

Franklin’s large and engaging presence on Twitter hasn’t gone unnoticed by the public. He doesn’t just use it for interaction with the Penn State loyal fanbase — for him, Twitter is also tool to help Franklin and his staff gauge the many personality traits of a high school kid, especially those outside the region.

“Is he posting things (that are) inappropriate or is he posting things at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. on a school night?” he said last week. He said it’s a good sign, however, if posts come at around 5 a.m., and he’ll even direct message his current players at that time on a weekend — he can learn a little about a kid if he gets a response.

“I think (social media) makes it much easier,” said Franklin. “You’re able to tap in, and have a window to that kid or that person that you normally wouldn’t have.”

Obviously those aren’t the only “tells” of the personality of a recruit. Franklin says they’re a part of searching for certain patterns and trends, and their correlation with each other. For example, several late-night inappropriate posts combined with a poor transcript and a few absences at school could be “pieces of the puzzle” when getting to know that player.

Franklin said the depth of getting to know a recruit can dig all the way down to talking to the custodians and lunch ladies at a school, and the rival high school players, as well as looking through retweets, mentions and favorites on Twitter — and the times at which those things are happening.

The Franklin model

Franklin said if it were an option, he’d be in favor of an early signing period, however, but only if it followed a specific model.

“My model is this,” he said. “You have an early signing period, but it’s only for the kid that grew up always wanting to go to Penn State, and is going to Penn State. He doesn’t want to go on any other official visits besides Penn State. He’s the kid who’s committed early and just wants to sign.”

Franklin said in his opinion, there should be a signing period sometime in July or August just for those players.

“To me, that would help everybody,” he said. “We’re not babysitting or wasting money on a kid. Other schools aren’t recruiting a kid that they’re never going to get, it’s the kid that says ‘I’m going to Penn State, I’ve always wanted to go to Penn State, I don’t want to go on any other visits.’”

Keeping up with the kids

Speaking of incoming players, Thursday’s Media Day will mark the official start of the preseason for Penn State football, and with that comes a fresh look at the crop of freshmen Franklin and his staff have brought in — a 2015 class that ranked No. 14 nationally and second in the Big Ten.

The staff has had six weeks to work with the freshmen, who, according to strength coach Dwight Galt, have been “hit with everything” he had.

Members of that class include running back Saquon Barkley, who players and coaches alike have raved about, and touted running back Andre Robinson.

With Akeel Lynch as the only truly experienced back, and Franklin’s wish to have three strong options at the position, there’s an opportunity for either of the newcomers (or both) to make their presence known.

“That’s going to be an interesting storyline,” said Franklin. “Those young, hungry running backs who have no game experience at all … who’s going to be No. 2? Who’s going to be No. 3?”

The first official preseason practices will also offer a look at tackle Paris Palmer and any developments he’s made since the Blue-White game, as well as at Stanford transfer Kevin Reihner, who is expected to be a helpful contributor when added to the year of experience under the belts of Penn State’s offensive line.

Whether the players are brand new to the program or experienced leaders, Franklin said there’s a depth to the team now that is exciting.

“We have a two-deep at every position now that’s available to play in games,” he said. “Some positions (are) three deep, which I know sounds crazy.”

And all of them, he said, will have “the itch.”

“(We are) getting to that point in the year when everybody has the itch and is ready to get going,” Franklin said. “The funny thing is, we’re trying to get our guys to be as present as they possible can be. ... They’ll be telling us the same thing two weeks from now, that they’re ready to stop hitting each other and play another opponent.”