Lions are chosen over other big names

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

Aeneas Hawkins might not be the recruit who generates the most buzz in Penn State’s 2018 class, but his addition to it on Thursday was a perfect example of just how far Nittany Lion recruiting has come under James Franklin and his coaching staff.

Hawkins is a four-star prospect from prep powerhouse Moeller in Cincinnati, which seemingly has had a pipeline to Notre Dame through the decades. He had an offer from Ohio State, which rarely misses out on a good in-state prospect. His family, which original hails from Johnstown, has ties to Pitt and Cincinnati, both of which had offered scholarships, as well.

National powers Alabama and USC also had made the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive tackle a priority in this year’s recruiting.

In spite of all of that, Hawkins decided Penn State was the program for him. He made his announcement on a video posted on the Players Tribune website.

“I’ve liked Penn State ever since I took that first visit there,” Hawkins said in a recent interview with Ryan Snyder of BlueWhite Illustrated. “They surprised me ever since I took that visit there last July. I didn’t think they’d become a school that I’d be this big on, but their coaching staff has done a phenomenal job recruiting me.

“They really do a great job at making you feel welcomed, making you feel like you’re family.”

Hawkins eventually chose the Lions over Cincinnati, where his dad, Bishop McCort’s Artrell Hawkins Jr., played. Ohio State, Pitt, Alabama, USC and Kentucky rounded out his top seven.

Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee and UCLA also were among the more than 30 colleges that offered Hawkins, who is rated as the 15th-best defensive tackle in this recruiting cycle by Scout.com — Penn State already received commitments from Florida’s Judge Culpepper and Maryland’s P.J. Mustipher at his position.

Hawkins is expected to play a three-technique for the Nittany Lions.

As a junior, Hawkins, who recently was named preseason first-team big school all-Ohio by MaxPreps, registered 42 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble; he had eight tackles and a tackle for loss in a 21-14 defeat to eventual Ohio state champ Saint Xavier and Sean Clifford, now a freshman quarterback at Penn State. Moeller had an uncharacteristic sub-.500 season — going 4-6 — but that record was compiled against USA Today’s second-toughest scholastic schedule.

“The competition he sees in practice along with the schedule we play, he really thinks he can be that type of (standout) player,” Moeller coach John Rodenberg told elevenwarriors.com. “He has a lot of confidence and is very mature kid.”

That shouldn’t come as a shock. His grandfather was a running back at Pitt, and his dad played defensive back in the NFL. Two uncles — receiver Andrew Hawkins and lineman Carlton Haselrig — also made it into the National Football League.

Because of that, Penn State’s not only getting a player that Rodenberg lauds for his athleticism, but one who should have a pretty good idea of what it takes to excel under the spotlight of big-time football.

“This is one of the more technically sound tackles in America, and the effort and intensity level are also top shelf. The questions are strictly about size, strength and what scheme fits best at the next level,” Scout.com wrote in an analysis of Hawkins. “How big can Hawkins get? He has a great first step and uses his hands well. Hawkins also plays in one of the premier programs in the Midwest, and he is used to facing great competition on a weekly basis.”

Hawkins said Penn State recruited him probably the longest of any program. It looked like he might be headed to Cincinnati, but the Lions appear to have reeled him in by making a strong impression at the “Lasch Bash” a few weeks ago.

“I have been all over the country on visits, but Lasch Bash was on an entirely different level,” Hawkins told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. “Everyone in the program is bought in and striving to be the most elite program in college football.”

Hawkins brings the total number of commitments for Penn State’s 2018 class to 23. That means that there are at the most only a couple of spots left to be filled, and the Lions still are involved with about a half-dozen of the country’s top prospects.

Maryland four-star offensive tackle Rasheed Walker seems the surest of bets to take one of those spots. Penn State still is heavily involved with elite defensive ends Micah Parsons, Jayson Oweh and Tyreke Smith, although all three seem to be leaning toward Ohio State. Receivers Jahan Dotson and Solomon Enis also are on the Lions’ radar, and Snyder has reported that he was told Penn State was in the top two for four-star Aliquippa safety Kwantel Raines, although Raines might be a victim of the numbers crunch and appears to be in line to land at West Virginia.

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