Penn State welcomed the majority of his 2018 football recruiting class last December, whittling coach James Franklin’s January schedule to a few concentrated duels. With more coaches chasing fewer players, Franklin planned to bulk up his travel party.
“I'm going to make sure I travel in numbers,” Franklin said in December, “because if a fight breaks out in the front lawn of a recruit, I want to make sure that [defensive line coach] Sean Spencer and [tight ends coach] Tyler Bowen, who is 6-7, are there with me. But seriously, I think it's going to be interesting. This next couple weeks and this last signing day is going to get really aggressive.”
Penn State will host a second signing-day function Wednesday, though this will be lower-key than December’s inaugural early session. With 22 players (including Nazareth High receiver Jahan Dotson) in its recruiting class already signed, Penn State awaits decisions from perhaps two more players on the traditional Signing Day.
Rasheed Walker, a four-star offensive tackle from Maryland, will announce his decision Wednesday between Penn State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech. And four-star receiver Solomon Enis, whose, father Curtis, played running back at Penn State, will announce his decision between Utah and the Lions.
Aside from that, Signing Day will be a less-extravagant affair at Penn State and across the country, though some coaches expended more energy wooing fewer recruits.
According to Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s recruiting director, more than 70 percent of the players in this year’s Football Bowl Subdivision recruiting class already signed their letters of intent. About 700 players remain uncommitted, with 12 of the highest-ranked announcing their decisions live Wednesday on ESPN.
“The player pool has shrunk from a pool to a puddle,” Luginbill said.
Franklin, who said he approved of the early signing period “under the right circumstances,” also voiced one concern many coaches had. Positively, players who signed early no longer required visits in January, freeing coaches to work on future recruiting classes.
But Franklin also worried that uncommitted players would receive an even stronger dose of contact, since more coaches would be seeking audiences with fewer players.
“In the past, those schools were trying to chase 20 guys,” Franklin said. “And now you're going to have 20 schools chasing one guy. … This last signing day is going to get really aggressive. I have a little bit of a concern about that, obviously, for the recruits. They're under enough pressure, and their families, to make what is probably the biggest decision they've made at this point in their life.”
Despite that, Luginbill said coaches who complained about the early signing period in December likely appreciate it now. With so many recruits already committed, coaches mapped their recruiting schedule for future classes rather than spending January making sure their commits signed.
“I think the coaches like it, maybe more than they want to admit,” Luginbill said. “We'll see over the course of the next several cycles, as we continue to go through this, what tweaks need to be made. But it has certainly enhanced their ability to broaden their recruiting scope outside of the 2018 class during the month of January.”
Luginbill was part of ESPN’s Fiesta Bowl broadcast in Arizona, where he discussed recruiting with Franklin. The coach repeated to Luginbill what he has said regarding recruiting for several years: Penn State’s future hinges on recruiting players on the offensive and defensive lines.
Penn State’s class includes three of the nation’s top-15 defensive linemen in ends Micah Parsons and Jayson Oweh and tackle PJ Mustpiher. The Lions also have two top-25 offensive linemen in tackle Nana Asiedu and center Fredrick Scruggs.
“I'm really impressed with how they filled their needs, the caliber of player that they're adding to the trenches,” Luginbill said. “That’s going to make them a formidable contender for Big Ten championships and the College Football Playoff on a consistent, sustained basis.”
Penn State has a consensus top-five recruiting class entering Wednesday's traditional National Signing Day.