Some have fully established themselves as leaders and some are hoping to fill big shoes before the Nittany Lions kick off the 2018 season with a tussle against Appalachian State on September 2nd. And yet, some are names you either don’t know because you don’t follow recruiting too much or forgot about because they spent the past year in what I like to call ‘redshirt purgatory.’ For them, purgatory all but ended for the highly regarded Class of 2017 as soon as the Fiesta Bowl trophy was lifted above James Franklin's head back on December 30th and in a few short days, we all get to reacquaint ourselves with a group that’s been tagged “The Blueshirts” by Nittany Nation.
Of the 21 that committed to Penn State in February 2017, three saw the field last season. Lamont Wade, Tariq Castro-Fields, and Yetur Gross-Matos, respectively. That leaves a grand total of 18 that were tucked away from the bright lights of high school stardom and being the big men on campus, to being part of the practice squad in Happy Valley. If you follow social media, you can feel homesickness from some and see the angst of not playing from others as they made the year-long transition to college. As Penn State wrapped up its 12th practice of 15, a few have already stood out and have eyes wide open in anticipation. KJ Hamler (#1) a.k.a. “The Human Joystick” has electrified more than once this spring as a slot receiver and O-Lineman CJ Thorpe (#69), whose father Chris is a Letterman, has been mentioned for bringing a new level of aggression to the trenches.
Damion Barber (#90) and Fred Hansard (#53) have added their names to the mix of WildDogs trying to replace the production left behind inside by Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran, along with Cory Bolds (#92). At linebacker, Ellis Brooks (#13) is reportedly making a strong push to replace the leadership left behind by Jason Cabinda, and both Brailyn Franklin (#44) and Brelin Faison-Walden (#25) will add solid depth with the loss of Cabinda, Brandon Smith and the release of Manny Bowen.
DJ Brown (#24) and Donovan Johnson (#3) are two speedsters adding their names to the hat at cornerback and although Saquon may be gone, #26 lives on as Jonathan Sutherland has been mentioned by several for his intensity at practice and looks to see plenty of playing time at safety; another position that has a gaping hole with both Marcus Allen and Troy Apke moving on.
Mike Miranda (#73) almost saw time at guard last year but was able to preserve his redshirt. Des Holmes (#75) and Rob Martin (#72) are two big bodies that add to the newfound depth that promises to finally make the O-Line a position of strength once again. Miles Sanders has rightfully gotten all the love this spring at running back and all eyes await the arrival of 5-star freshman Ricky Slade. With all of that being said, I have words of warning for you heading into the Blue-White game: Don’t sleep on Journey Brown (#32) who is my pick for MVP.
Mac Hippenhamer (#12) is a two-part star who moonlights with our Diamond Lions on the baseball field in the summer and looks to be a name to remember at wideout in the fall along with Cam Sullivan-Brown (#81). Last, but certainly not least, QB Sean Clifford (#14) was able to elevate himself to the third-team in 2017 but with Trace firmly entrenched as the starter and Tommy nursing a minor injury this spring, expect this weekend to be his official coming out party.
For all the Lions you now know on a first-name basis, most spent a year in 'redshirt purgatory' themselves before they made their first impressions on Nittany Nation. So, make way for the 2017 Blueshirts my friends. These Lions are hungry and ready to bite!