Penn State is putting together one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for 2015.
From the early returns, though, the Nittany Lions' 2016 class might even be better.
As Big Ten football media days were wrapping up in Chicago and new Lion coach James Franklin was all over the interview circuit, Penn State got some great news for the future when Shane Simmons, a 6-foot-4, 223-pound defensive end from DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md. ranked in the top 30 prospects nationally by three of the four major scouting services, announced his intention to play for the Nittany Lions via webcast Wednesday afternoon.
"I have the greatest connection with the coaches. I know a few players Adam McLean, Ayron Monroe, Jonathan Holland. When I got on campus, it just felt like home. It felt like it was DeMatha," Simmons said after putting on a Lion baseball cap, raising his hand and exclaiming "We are." "It's a really good program, great tradition, too."
A consensus five-star recruit, Simmons already had close to 30 scholarship offers from coast-to-coast. His other four finalists were Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Maryland - the Seminoles were considered the favorite before Simmons took a trip to Penn State earlier this month, and it seemed the Lions were constantly gaining momentum from that point on.
"It's close to home. It's far enough where I can become a man and my parents can still come and see me," Simmons said. "I've been at every college I wanted to and Penn State just felt like the right one to me."
"Coach Franklin has really been close to me even when he was at Vanderbilt. He still kept a close connection. ... He's humble. He's not cocky at all and he really relates to his players. His whole coaching staff is young and hyped."
ESPN Big Ten recruiting analyst Tom VanHaaren was one of the moderators on the webcast. He thought the value of Simmons' addition couldn't be understated.
"It's great because you landed a top recruit in the next class, really at a premium position. Shane can be very versatile. He could be a defensive end or even an outside linebacker, but, at Penn State, he'll probably be a defensive end, and a nice pass rusher for them," VanHaaren said. "There's not really one good thing about landing Shane Simmons. There's a lot of them, and it continues their (recruiting) momentum on the east coast."
ESPN rates Simmons as the 30th best player in his class. Rivals.com has Simmons ranked highest, placing him at No. 25.
"Simmons is long and gets up the field quickly. He does a good job of recognizing the play and staying true to his assignment. He has a decent swim move and gets to the quarterback with speed off the edge. He changes direction well and his length allows him to swallow up ballcarriers," analyst Brian Dohn wrote in an evaluation for Scout.com, which ranks Simmons 70th. "Adding strength and a rip move will make him much more difficult to block."
Finding pass rushers always is important, but elite defensive ends have become an even bigger priority with more and more college teams running spread option offenses.
"He's really good off the edge. He's got a lot of athleticism, and I think that's what a lot of college teams are looking for right now," VanHaaren said. "With guys like (2015 top 10 recruit) Josh Sweat or Shane Simmons, there's a lot that can be done with those guys within a defense. With the way college football is going with athletic quarterbacks, you need more athletic guys on defense as well."
Van Haaren expects Simmons to bring value off the field, too.
"He's from a really good program in Maryland, and Coach Franklin has made that area a priority," VanHaaren said, noting Penn State already has received pledges from four top Maryland players in his first two full classes, neither of which is completed. "He's probably going to help them on the recruiting trail. He's got a lot of teammates who are very good prospects, so he'll try to recruit those guys, but he also knows a lot of the top guys in the area, as well."
Simmons' announcement came hot on the heels of the commitment of Woodland Hills rising junior Miles Sanders, rated as one of the top 10 running backs in the class. Following the lead of fellow D.C. area star Adam McLean, who has been working the recruiting lines hard for his 2015 class, Simmons has vowed to promote the Lions to players like rising senior offensive line teammates J.P. Urquidez and Terrance Davis, as well as Bullis quarterback Dwayne Haskins - Haskins is one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the 2016 class.
Asked on the webcast if he intended to help recruit for Penn State, Simmons answered "Oh, yeah. Of course."
"I'm trying to win a championship (at Penn State)," Simmons said. "It's a great school. I'm trying to build a great program here just like Coach Franklin so come join me and win a championship."