It all began over 18 months ago with Miles Sanders. Sanders, the running back out of Pittsburgh who rose to become the number one-ranked back in the country as he concluded his high school career. He was the first to commit to the Nittany Lions in the class of 2016, and remained true to his word despite the nation’s elite banging at his door as his name grew in prominence. Defensive end Shane Simmons (Hyattsville, MD) soon followed, as did quarterback Jake Zembiec (Rochester, NY) who chose Penn State over Michigan State. Penn State’s biggest area of need continues to be on the O-Line and that need was once again addressed. Reading’s Michal Menet is the nation’s top-ranked guard and Connor McGovern (Lake-Lehman, PA) is the top-ranked center. Along with Will Fries (Cranford, NJ) and Alex Gellerstedt (Dublin, Ohio), this quartet stayed committed despite the loss of former offensive line coach, Herb Hand. In fact, Menet reportedly responded to an opposing Big Ten schools overture by telling them, “If you want me, you better take the Penn State O-Line job.” That, my friends, is loyalty at its finest.
Special teams, a close second behind the O-Line in terms of need, was taken care of with commitments from both the second-ranked punter, Blake Gilliken and the nation’s seventh-ranked kicker, Alex Barbir; both of whom hail from Georgia. Defensively, the Wild Dogs strengthened themselves by picking up Ellison Jordan (Baltimore, MD) and Daniel Joseph (Chicago, IL). They also received late commits from Antonio Shelton (Westerville, Ohio), Brenon Thrift (Lackawanna C.C.) and Tyrell Chavis (Nassau C.C.); both JUCO’s with immediate eligibility. Linebacker U added more depth with Shaka Toney (Philadelphia) and Cam Brown (Burtonsville, MD). The No Fly Zone just got better with the addition of Zechariah McPhearson (Upper Marlboro, MD) and Anthony Johnson (Euclid, Ohio). In addition to Sanders and the O-Line quartet, Penn State added Danny Dalton (Marshfield, Mass.), the Massachusettes Player of the Year at tight end and gained a late flip from Temple in Dae’lun Darien (Baltimore, MD) at receiver. Often overlooked but no less crucial, especially given their history at Penn State (Do the names McGloin and Nassib ring a bell?) are the walk-ons or run-ons if you prefer (my ode to Bill). And the Nittany Lions added four preferred walk-ons in this cycle with speedy wideout, Issac Lutz (Reading, PA), record setting QB Michael Schuster (Camp Hill), O-Lineman Hunter Kelley (Neshaminy) and New York linebacker Jason Vrancic, who is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.
Overall, the Class of 2016 finished ranked anywhere between 15th to 20th nationally, and 3rd in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Michigan. More importantly, the Nittany Lions finished well ahead of Pitt, who seemed to make it their mission late in the game, to target anyone and everyone that Penn State either had committed or were looking to gain a commit from. With the end-of-season changes that occurred in Happy Valley, the vultures came out hot and heavy. For a team that finished 7-6 for the second year in a row, it’s nice to know we remain such a highly valued target, even for the likes of Michigan State who made it to this year’s playoffs before getting trounced by Alabama. Word is, both Sparty and Pitt collaborated on the recruiting trail to try and destroy this class to no avail, not to mention all the shenanigans that Harbaugh pulled along the way. Through it all, Franklin and Co. stayed the course with honor and integrity. The man that some of you like to refer to as a “used car salesman” quietly kept his promises and brought in a class that want to be Nittany Lions and want to lead Penn State into its next phase of Success With Honor. This week we celebrate the addition of 24 new members of our family. Along this long and winding road, I have also discovered a newfound respect for the man we call FrankLion and this week, we also celebrate him.