Lions land one final star on signing day
There were a couple of false alarms over the past few months that Rasheed Walker was going to verbally commit to Penn State, so it was apropos that the Maryland four-star and U.S. Army All-American offensive tackle’s announcement on Wednesday got postponed a couple of times because of the snowstorm that hit the northeast.
“I was just like, ‘Man, I’m just ready for it to be over,” Walker told the Washington Post.
It finally ended a little less than an hour after noon when Walker picked up a Nittany Lion baseball cap instead of those of Ohio State and Virginia Tech.
It wasn’t a perfect fit, resting on top of Walker’s large afro, but Walker himself was the perfect fit to cap a Lion 2018 recruiting class that wound up rated in the top five in the country.
Walker was Penn State’s lone scholarship addition to the haul the Lions landed in December’s early signing period — New Jersey defense end Jayson Oweh signed but it wasn’t announced until the first week of January. Walker and Arizona’s receiver Solomon Enis were the only players remaining on Penn State’s board in the last week or so before February signing day; Enis, son of one-time Lion All-American running back Curtis Enis, decided to stay closer to home and signed with Utah.
ESPN ranked Penn State’s class fourth in the country. Rivals and 247Sports/Scout.com had the Nittany Lions fifth.
At the December signing press conference, Lions coach James Franklin pointed specifically to offensive tackle as a position he specifically wanted to address before the books were closed on the 2018. Walker, undoubtedly was who he had in mind. Penn State signed four offensive linemen in this class, with Walker joining Virginia tackle Nana Asiedu, Cathedral Prep center “Juice” Scruggs and Illinois guard/tackle Bryce Effner.
They’ll accentuate strong groups Franklin’s staff has recruited over the last few years, a corps that included four underclassman starters in 2017.
“I’m pleased with the length and I’m pleased with the athleticism and I’m pleased with the mentality of the position,” Franklin said. “You can still have a very good year by overcoming some deficiencies that you have in a certain area, but you can’t ever overcome deficiencies up front. It’s just too challenging. You’re going to have to be really strong up front to win at the highest level. So we’re committed to doing that.”
Walker should help to those ends. Both he and Asiedu are ranked among the top 10 tackles in this class, and the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Walker is rated the No. 65 player in the class regardless of position by both 247 and Rivals.
“He’s got tremendous athleticism and length. But the thing that’s amazing, he watches tape and not only is he good in space, which a lot of times you can find offensive tackles that are good pass protectors, but they are not very physical in the run game, and you watch that guy, and he is physical. He plays with a nasty streak,” Franklin said.
Walker was the cornerstone of a North Point High School offense that averaged 37 points per game and produced a 1,000-yard rusher from the quarterback position. North Point was undefeated until the Maryland state semifinals.
“Walker is only scratching the surface of where he could be,” Scout.com national analyst Brian Dohn wrote. “He has a high ceiling because of his length and athleticism, and as he gets stronger, he can become a dominant offensive tackle in college. He is good in pass protection, where his technique is solid. Walker is able to slide his feet and use his initial punch to slow down a pass rusher. His length is an asset, and he is patient and does not reach. In the running game, Walker does a good job of getting his hands inside and remaining engaged and driving his legs, but he needs to concentrate on remaining lower.”
Penn State was considered the favorite most of the way for Walker, although Ohio State looked to have jumped ahead on a couple of occasions. But Walker had been to Penn State almost a dozen times, and the Lions hired Tyler Bowen, who handled Walker’s recruitment at Maryland and was reputed to have a great relation with the North Point star, as tight ends coach after the season.
“(I) had a gut feeling that Penn State was home,” Walker told the Washington Post.
The Lions addressed their other key need at defensive end in December by signing Oweh, although Oweh played it as if he didn’t sign until he announced at the Under Armour All-American Game.
“We were comfortable with that,” Franklin said. “I think the other thing is we were just able to develop a really good relationship with Jayson and his family as there was trust there.”
Franklin, whose press conference was reduced to a conference call because of the winter storm, said special teams was among the areas he felt were addressed best in this recruiting cycle. The Lions signed Iowa place-kicker Jake Pinegar in December, and Franklin mentioned several other important additions to the specialists, although he couldn’t talk about players like Hollidaysburg all-state kicker Vlad Hilling by name because Hilling was a preferred walk-on.
“We’ve got some other guys that I’m not allowed to talk about that we’re really excited about coming in, as well and it’s going to be an open competition,” Franklin said. “The best guys are going to have an opportunity to play. I think you guys also know that we’d like to have a guy handle the kickoff and another guy handle field goal.”
A half-dozen members of the 2018 class enrolled in January.
“The first impression is good,” Franklin said. “(Texas cornerback) Trent Gordon’s been a pleasant surprise. We had high expectations, and his first impression was probably higher than what we expected. He kind of blew us away in the first morning workout and was really competitive and really smooth and really efficient with his movements.”
Franklin said a couple of members of this year’s class, like Maryland defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher, might have a chance to get on the field early, particularly with the lack of depth on the interior of the defensive line and at linebacker.
Another major addition in this class is on the coaching side. New running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider has a strong recruiting reputation, and Franklin said it would be unwise not to take advantage of Seider’s recruiting connections in his home state of Florida.
“The thing about Florida, and anywhere you recruit, it’s about having somebody you trust and knowing you are going to do right by the kids,” Seider said. “I think whenever you can pick the phone up and someone can vouch for you, it helps you in recruiting.”
In addition to Enis, the Lions did miss out on one other recruit: Harrisburg receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts, a Lion commit for several months, signed with a junior college, Iowa Western, presumably for academic reasons.
Franklin said ideally the Lions might have signed one more safety, too, but, overall, he couldn’t complain with how things played out.
“I think we really helped ourselves with a lot of different positions,” Franklin said.