Lions try to stay on roll with recruiting

Analyst Tom Lemming claims not to be surprised with Penn State’s early recruiting efforts now that he’s had some time to see Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien at work and to hear what high school players have to say about him.

He’s definitely impressed with what O’Brien and his staff has done this recruiting cycle in the face of NCAA sanctions by landing verbal commitments from a half-dozen 2014 prospects.

“Every one of the six they’ve gotten is a good player. They have to be, because of the 65 scholarship limit,” said Lemming, publisher of Prep Football Report and contributor to several websites. “These guys can’t afford to miss on anybody. The next six they get are going to be very important, too.”

Because of the limitations, the Lions probably have filled about half of their available slots for this class. Now the staff’s task is to build on that momentum and to finish as strong as they started.

“Moving forward, it’s always going to be a juggling act,” Sean Fitz of said. “They’re going to look at adding the best athletes, the best guys they can add in this class. Then, if you have to trim numbers off that, you have to do it.”

That became a question recently. The Lions were only expected to have room for two receivers. However, when Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year and consensus four-star wideout prospect Chris Godwin said he wanted to come to Penn State, too, after Mount Lebanon’s Troy Apke and North Carolina’s De’Andre Thompkins already committed, he was too good to pass up.

In addition to the receivers, Penn State’s current list of commitments includes running backs Mark Allen and Nick Scott and inside linebacker Troy Reeder.

With the Lions expected to hand out between six and eight more scholarships for 2014, the breakdown seems to be focused primarily on the secondary along with an offensive tackle, a defensive tackle and an outside linebacker. Those numbers could change slightly based on any outgoing transfers and whether or not 2013 linebacker recruit Zayd Issah decides to enroll at Penn State after his scholarship was temporarily pulled following a run-in with the law.

Steven Bench’s transfer might also have opened the door or created a need for the Lions to sign a quarterback. Penn State has made an offer to Canadian import Michael O’Connor, who has about a half-dozen other BCS-level offers and reportedly is very high on the Lions.

The numbers might become even clearer in the next month. Cornerback Daquan Worley of PIAA Class AAAA runner-up Coatesville could announce his college choice this week, and Alexandria, Va. defensive end Jeremiah Clarke is scheduled to make his at the end of May. Worley is believed to favor the Lions.

Michigan linebacker Jared Wangler is supposed to take an unofficial visit in the next few weeks, and Lion fans think this could result in a commitment, as well. Judging from the track record in this class so far, that’s a fair assessment.

“In the last two months, Penn State has been able to impress a lot of guys who come up to visit. It seems whenever somebody comes up to visit, they leave with high interest in Penn State,” Josh Moyer of ESPN’s Nittany Nation website said. “It’s really a testament to the staff.”

Worley is a group of about a half-dozen defensive backs with whom the Lions have development a strong relationship. Baltimore’s Troy Vincent Jr., son of the former NFL high first round draft pick, visited University Park with his parents last week, and Maryland safety Marcus Allen was at Penn State twice during spring practice. Two prospects from strong western Pennsylvania programs that haven’t sent a lot of talent the Nittany Lions’ way lately – Aliquippa’s Dravon Henry and Gateway’s Montae Nicholson – also are in the mix.

The Lions also are involved with Florida’s Al Harris Jr. The Vincent and Harris families are close from the time the fathers played together with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It seems to be a first-come, first-served approach to their commitments, with the Lions only able to take a maximum of three.

“Judging by the timing of the offers, they like [all of] these guys. They’ll take [any of] them,” Fitz said. “This isn’t the matter of they have one guy number one, so they’ll go after him first, then they have one guy number two, and they’ll wait for number one to decide and they’ll make a push. I don’t think, with the space they have available, they can afford to operate like that. I think all of these guys are pretty even. All of these guys can definitely play – you look at their scholarship offer list.”

The Lions seem to be positioning themselves well with defensive tackles Thomas Holley and Ricky Walker of Virginia. However, the story at offensive tackle isn’t as clear: Penn State is near the top of the lists of New Jersey’s Quenton Nelson and Tennessee’s Alex Bars, but the recruiting experts think both are likely to wind up somewhere else.

“I don’t expect either of those two going to Penn State,” Moyer said. “It would be a tremendous effort for the staff if they did.”

However, Lackawanna College’s Jermaine Eluemunor, a native of England, seems to like Penn State; He made a spring visit before realizing it was a minor NCAA violation, and it looks like he’s planning a return to Happy Valley over the summer. Eluemunor is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds and is 247Sport’s early No. 1 junior college prospect in the class.

Lemming, who been traveling through Penn State’s traditional recruiting corridor from Washington D.C. up through Philadelphia and into New Jersey in the last few days, said he’s been hearing prospects all over mention interest in the Lions, and that, if O’Brien stays long term, Penn State will be a major factor in recruiting when the sanctions end. He put O’Brien in a class with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

“O’Brien has brought the NFL game to Penn State,” Lemming said.