All roads might not lead to State College, but enough big-time prospects seem to be making their way there that Penn State football fans are feeling it is getting closer to Christmas than Easter.
"It's not exactly something that's really new,'' said Cory James, who follows Penn State recruiting for Scout.com, of junior days. "Where is new is they seem to be getting kids to come in from farther away places. This time of year, you can't take an official visit which is paid for by the school, so you have to get guys to spend their own money to get there, and there's some kids coming up from Georgia and Florida.''
With probably around 10 more scholarships available for its 2012 recruiting class than 2011, Penn State has been much more aggressive in its early recruiting. Instead of going for more intimate one- or-two-player visit weekends, the Nittany Lions are entertaining a plethora of prospects in the weeks leading up to Blue-White weekend.
Things began in earnest last weekend, as Bishop McDevitt all-everything defensive end Noah Spence and Ohio offensive lineman Anthony Stanko were among a small group in University Park on Saturday. During his visit, Stanko became the first commitment in a class expected to eventually number in the low 20s.
"I just wanted to reacquaint myself with the coaches and players,'' said Spence, a five-star talent with 30 scholarship offers who made the trip with teammate Brock Dean. "It was nice. It was very nice.''
This weekend's list of probable/potential visitors numbers around 20, and, as James noted, includes several players from areas not usually associated with attracting unofficial visitors to Penn State. Among them is blue-chip tight end Kent Taylor from Land O'Lakes High School and Nick Tompkins, a running back from Brookville High School in Snellville, Ga.
"Taylor is coming up with his family from Florida,'' James said of the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder who told 247sports.com that he was zeroing in on a 10-team list that included Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Alabama and LSU. "That will be an important guy for them.''
Also on the list are Michigan defensive tackle Matt Godin and the Massachusetts trio of defensive back Armani Reeves, linebacker Camren Williams and receiver Canaan Severin. Linemen J.J. Denman and Chris Muller, tight ends J.P. Holtz and Brent Wilkerson, running back Drew Harris, wideout Eugene Lewis, safety Demetrious Cox, defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick and athlete Devin Fuller are anticipated to come in from the Nittany Lions more fertile recruiting grounds of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.
Harris, Lewis, Denman and Reeves already have drawn four-star rankings from Scout.com.
"Camren Williams and Armani Reeves will be two pretty big athletes from up in that area which doesn't usually have a lot of talent, but it's similar to Khairi Fortt and Silas Redd from Connecticut. It's not a big-time talent area normally, but, this year, it looks pretty good,'' James said.
In the coming weeks, players like Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt - like Taylor, a Nittany Lion fan growing up - Detroit corner Terry Richardson, Bloomsburg quarterback Blake Rankin and Pittsburgh offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty are expected to make the trek to Happy Valley. That list will probably grow as other prospects iron out spring visit plans to other schools, as well.
It will all culminate with the Blue-White Game on April 16. BlueWhite Illustrated.com is reporting that Virginia defensive tackle Korren Kirven will be on hand for that along with quarterback prospects Ian Fisher of Maryland and Brendan Nosovitch of Allentown, while Spence, Stanko, Rankin and Dean will make return visits.
Getting Spence to make two trips in a month - especially considering he's already been to Penn State several times - is considered something of a coup for the Nittany Lions.
"He seems to really like [Nittany Lion defensive line coach] Larry Johnson and Penn State,'' James said. "I was really surprised that he was coming back for the Blue-White Game. On paper, he's going to look like he's a pretty good Penn State lean. I thought he might be one of those guys who kept it a little closer to the vest.
"That [getting Spence to visit for the Blue-White Game] would be big for Penn State, because a lot of these spring games are scheduled for the same day, so you kind of have to choose one.''
Spence confirmed his intentions to return to Penn State for the spring game Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions will still have their work cut out to land him; among his approximately 30 scholarship offers are those from Miami, Florida, USC, Georgia, Tennessee and Notre Dame. He has no timetable to narrow his list.
Spence said he is thinking of visiting Michigan and making a southern swing to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the coming weeks. So, he'll have a lot on his plate.
"I try to make time for myself,'' Spence said. "I still try to stay humble. I feel blessed by all of this.''
James felt Stanko, the nearly-300-pound guard/tackle from Howland, Ohio, got Penn State off to a good recruiting start.
"Not only is he a good lineman, but he was an Ohio State fan. He gives them someone in Ohio who can get in kids' ears,'' James said. "I know Penn State is looking at William Mahone, he's a running back and a safety. I know he's been talking to Stanko. They usually don't do that well in Ohio, so it was pretty big for that reason.''
James isn't anticipating the floodgates to open with verbal commitments between now and the Blue-White Game, but he thinks a couple of players could make pledges in that time frame or soon after.
"Eugene Lewis has been high on Penn State. It wouldn't surprise me if he went up at any time and committed,'' James said. "Tommy Schutt's really high on Penn State. I know he's looking at making an early decision. I don't know if it will be by then, but maybe a month or two afterward is possible. You won't see more than four or five at the maximum.''