Seventy-seven days sure can fly by.
Unless, of course, you’re a member of the Penn State football staff and it’s recruiting season. Then, those days might feel a bit more weighted with pressure.
The Nittany Lions’ incoming Class of 2017 hasn’t had a verbal pledge since Georgia cornerback D.J. Brown’s commitment on April 25. It’s comprised of eight players, including four-star quarterback Sean Clifford.
The Class of 2018 hasn’t had a commitment since offensive tackle Chris Bleich pledged on April 7, and stands at two members.
Yes, it’s July. But while the Nittany Lions seem stagnant, other Big Ten schools are moving, and Penn State has slipped in 247 Sports composite national rankings to No. 42. The Nittany Lions’ 2017 class is No. 10 in the conference, only ahead of Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota.
“The guys are recruiting their tails off. We’ve been selective because we’re not going to sign a class of 25, 26, 27 guys. So we’ve been a little more patient than probably years in the past,” said head coach James Franklin after a satellite camp stop in New Jersey in June. Franklin, of course, began his tenure at a sanction-impaired Penn State with the reputation of a talented and sure-footed recruiter, a huge selling point for a program that desperately needed to rebuild.
So what’s the issue? Prospects are certainly being offered, it’s just that many are committing elsewhere. Most recently, Matt Dotson, a hotly sought-after four-star tight end prospect, chose Michigan State over the Nittany Lions.
And now, there are no sanctions limiting scholarships. The NCAA even lifted a ban on satellite camps a week after placing the ban, thus continuing the opportunity for coaches to unofficially be in the presence of hundreds of prospects over the course of a summer.
It’s not for lack of recruiting activity, either. Outside of regularly-scheduled recruiting efforts and trips, Franklin and his staff have either traveled to, co-hosted or hosted around 14 camps this summer, and have been compiling plenty of information on future prospects, especially for the classes beyond 2017.
“Right after we get done with a camp, you know, we have all of the numbers and we sit down and compare, whether we’re on the bus or have a staff meeting the next morning,” said Franklin. “To be honest with you, the camps are more about the next two classes than this class. We’ve already pretty much identified the guys in this class, there will be some guys who pop up here or there, but this is a good way to get started on (later classes).”
One sensible rationalization for this recruiting drought is the uncertainty facing Penn State in the upcoming year. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s uptempo spread promises big numbers and is sound on paper, but after two mediocre years during which the Nittany Lions’ offense swirled the drain, it’s natural for recruits to be skittish.
“I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens,” said Franklin. “A lot of people got excited about the spring game. I think people see the numbers and stuff, but there are still people that want to see what the offense is going to do this year on the field.”
The upcoming weekend will be a big opportunity for Penn State to gain traction in the recruiting trenches. The staff will host two camps, one on Friday and one on Sunday, and both Lift for Life and Lasch Bash are set for Saturday (last year’s Bash yielded two linebacker verbals, Cam Brown and Shaka Toney). State College will be bustling with entertainment thanks to Arts Fest, and the team is prepared to host several prospects.
But can the staff close the deal? Time — and plenty of it, as there are still 204 days until signing day — will tell.