New recruit offers defensive versatility
By Philip Cmor
Linebacker U added another linebacker to its 2018 recruiting class on Thursday.
Or maybe he’s a defensive end. Or a defensive tackle, perhaps.
The point is, wherever he lines up, Pennridge’s Nick Tarburton is a heck of a prospect.
On the first two plays of Tarburton’s junior highlight tape, the Class 6A first-team all-state selection not only decleats opposing ballcarriers, he hit them so hard in the backfield that their helmets were knocked off. A few plays later, a blocker got his hands on Tarburton.
Tarburton discarded the blocker like a sack of potatoes and still made the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
“Tarburton is physical,” Scout national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn wrote. “His size at the high school level is often overwhelming.”
That’s because Tarburton already is almost 6-foot-4 and weighs 242 pounds midway through his junior year. Put him at a college training table and lifting program, it’s easy to understand why some scouts think his future is with his hand in the dirt, even though he’s currently the top-rated inside linebacker in Pennsylvania and rated 12th at that spot in the country on 247Sports composite ranking chart.
Tarburton is the third linebacker to commit to Penn State in little over a week and the 11th member of the Nittany Lions’ 2018 class. His commitment has been expected since late January.
“I’m Coming Home!!!” Tarburton tweeted in announcing his decision.
Tarburton also had scholarship offers from Louisville, Maryland, Michigan State, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse. He was one of the select group of junior prospects invited to University Park for a group unofficial visit on Jan. 29.
“I just knew that when I was at that junior day, it felt like family, and I knew before I left that was going to be the place for me,” Tarburton told Scout.com. “Everything about it, I fell in love with. The coaches, the complex … everything about it was just amazing.”
Last season, Tarburton finished tied for the Pennridge team lead with 96 tackles. He topped the Rams with 71 solos and 17 tackles for loss.
He also had six sacks and forced a fumble. As Pennridge’s fullback, he scored five touchdowns.
The Philadelphia Inquirer ranked Tarburton as the No. 5 prospect in southeaster Pennsylvania. Two players heavily linked with Penn State — Imhotep Charter safety Isheem Young and Archbishop Wood tight end Kyle Pitts — are ranked 1 and 2.
If Tarburton can stick at linebacker, he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Lions. With Brandon Bell having graduated, the only three inside linebackers on the current roster are seniors Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith and junior Jake Cooper — Cooper was injured most of 2016, when he only logged six games.
Ellis Brooks, a 2017 signee, also fits the profile to play there, and 2018 commit Jesse Luketa might grow into the position.
While the consensus seems to be that Tarburton will eventually outgrow linebacker, Dohn still thinks he can play there. It should be noted that there are some comparisons to be made between Tarburton and Wisconsin senior standout T.J. Watt.
“Even with spread offenses and the need to cover, stopping the run through the middle is imperative, and Tarburton is that linebacker,” Dohn wrote. “He is big, strong and he fills run gaps extremely well. He plays fast, and he has the speed to get to the edge and control the middle of the field in the running game.”
Penn State figures to have another 10 or 11 scholarships available in this class. The Lions have a junior day scheduled for Feb. 25, and they’ll have one of their top targets — 6-2, 195-pound four-star Maryland receiver Daniel George — on campus this weekend.
Penn State is considered a heavy favorite right now to land George over Maryland and Virginia Tech. However, Sean Fitz of Lions247 has reported that he doesn’t believe a verbal commitment is imminent — George is a sure-handed, physical receiver somewhat reminiscent of former Lion Chris Godwin.