Lions’ 2018 class continues growth spurt

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

Penn State’s 2017 recruiting class needed two commitments on signing day to finish up. The Nittany Lions’ 2018 class already is nearly half-complete.

And it’s exceptional so far.

“Aww man 2018 class is looking scary,” Lion 2017 four-star defensive tackle signee Fred Hansard posted on Twitter.

The early No. 1-rated class in the country got even better late Friday afternoon with the addition of two more commits, including one of the best running backs in the country, Virginia’s Ricky Slade.

The Lions also added one of the nation’s fastest-rising prospects, three-star linebacker Jesse Luketa of Mercyhurst Prep, bringing the number of pledges in this class to 10 — Penn State is expected to sign 20-22 prospects next February after signing 21 on Wednesday.

A consensus five-star prospect, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound Slade committed to Penn State over Virginia Tech after attending the Nittany Lions’ elite junior day on Sunday. Clemson, Ohio State, Florida, Miami, Louisville, Baylor, North Carolina, Pitt, Nebraska and Michigan State were among the other colleges on a long list of those to make scholarship offers.

Slade has been on commitment watch since his weekend visit.

“The fanbase up there, the family feeling, and the academics are great up there,” Slade told Rivals.com’s Northeast recruiting analyst Adam Friedman of his reason for picking Penn State. “It was a great family feeling.”

Slade is the top all-purpose back in the country on 247Sports composite rating, which takes into account a prospect’s rank across all the major recruiting services.

Slade is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,792 yards and 20 touchdowns — averaging 10 yards per carry — for Woodbridge Hylton despite a knee injury he sustained early in the season.

Earmarked as something extraordinary since scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman, he was second-team Washington Post all-Met in 2016.

“Slade is a special football player,” wrote Scout.com analyst Michael Clark — Scout ranks him the 16th player in the junior class. “He has great speed and quickness. Slade shows good vision and instincts. He runs with great balance and is very elusive. Slade also really understands how to attack defenses and has a high football I.Q. Overall, there’s not much he doesn’t do at an extremely high level. He is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country.”

According to 247Sports, Slade has run the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and the shuttle in 4.09.

Joining Harrisburg defensive end Micah Parsons as five-star recruits that have committed to Penn State for next year, Slade adds to an already dynamic group of offensive skill players in the fold for the Nittany Lions for 2018. Georgia’s Justin Fields is the fifth-rated dual-threat quarterback, Camp Hill’s Zack Kuntz the top-ranked tight end and New Jersey’s Justin Shorter the No. 9 wide receiver.

“This past year they showed that their offense if capable of competing with anybody in the country,” Slade told Rivals.com. “I think I can come in and make the offense even more dominant than what it is right now.”

Like Slade, Luketa’s commitment has been anticipated all week after the junior day on Sunday. Unlike Slade, Luketa is a much newer name in recruiting circles, but he has blown up in the last couple of weeks with Pitt, West Virginia, LSU, Stanford, UCLA and Kentucky extending offers and Ohio State’s Bill Davis making a coaching visit.

“I knew I had to choose the program that felt right,”Luketa told the Erie Times News. “I was just on my eighth visit to Penn State, and I knew they would give me the best of both worlds academically and playing football in the best conference in the NCAA.”

A growing 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Ottawa, Ontario who attends Erie First Christian School, Luketa was voted to the Pennsylvania sports writers Class 3A all-state team in December after leading Mercyhurst Prep with 69 tackles over nine games to go along with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and another forced fumble.

Scout.com ranks Luketa the No. 2 linebacker in Pennsylvania for 2018 in what is considered a loaded class at that position.

“He runs well, has good burst and his ability to change directions allows him to succeed in space, but his ability to chase a play down and then close on the ball carrier is evident,” Scout.com national analyst Brian Dohn said. “Luketa is a good tackler. He has fantastic body control and when he form tackles, he goes through the ball carrier and wraps up well.

“At Mercyhurst, he blitzes off the edge and also plays the traditional weakside outside linebacker position. He is instinctual, and he gets off blocks and pursues a play well. He can chase the play to the sideline, and he is tough enough to play between the tackles. He does a nice job of shooting gaps. Luketa is comfortable in coverage, particularly in zone, and he is quick to identify a play.”

Luketa is the second linebacker to commit to Penn State in as many days; Cumberland Valley all-stater Charlie Katshir game the Lions his verbal on Thursday. The position is considered probably Penn State’s top need in the coming recruiting cycle.

Luketa vowed to help the Lions finish out the 2018 class strong by encouraging other top prospects to join him.

“Penn State had its ups and downs with the sanctions, but now it’s time for us to get Penn State back where it belongs, on top,” Luketa said.

He might not have to wait long for another commitment: The Lions are believed to be close to a pledge from Nick Tarburton, a huge, four-star linebacker from Perkaskie near Philadelphia.

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