Lions pick up two, including top LB

If things go as planned, the Penn State football team will put an elite defense on the field in a couple of years.

The Nittany Lions certainly will have elite-level defensive talent.

After signing top-five man-child Micah Parsons in its last recruiting class and a strong player for top-five wrecking-ball defensive lineman Zach Harrison this year, the Lions added five-star linebacker and top-30 national recruit Brandon Smith from Virginia to its list of verbal commitments on Monday.

Penn State also got closer to filling out its defensive backfield recruits with a pledge from Connecticut’s Tyler Rudolph, a four-star prospect, over Clemson early Monday evening. The brings the number of recruits in the Lions’ 2019 class to eight, with five coming since Thursday.

“The football tradition, the culture around the school, and the academics. It’s a great football area and environment (were the things that stood out about Penn State,” Smith said in an interview with 247Sports Brian Dohn earlier this month.

It must have made quite an impression, because Smith certainly had no shortage of options. He’d just taken an official visit to Texas A&M and recently said Ohio state, Michigan, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Georgia were recruiting him the hardest off a list of nearly 50 colleges to offer scholarships.

The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Smith led Louisa County to the Virginia Class 4A championship game last fall, making 117 tackles. Eighteen of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, and he also registered six sacks.

He has 16 sacks over the past two years.

“Between the whistles, Brandon is not going to be denied,” former Louisa County coach Mark Fischer said in an interview with Landof10.com. “He’s never encountered a situation on the field where he doesn’t believe he can dominate.”

Because of his height, some projected him at defensive end, but his 4.57-second 40-yard dash speed and his agility make it seem likely he’ll stick at linebacker.

“Smith is a long, rangy linebacker with good overall athleticism,” 247Sports wrote in an evaluation. “He shows good vision and is very instinctive. Smith also changes directions fluidly and can play sideline to sideline. He takes good pursuit angles and closes quickly on the football. Smith needs to continue to add weight and get stronger, but he has big upside and a bright future.”

Rudolph is 6-1 and 205 pounds and can play either safety or corner. He joins friend and fellow Connecticut prep player Marquis Wilson, who made a surprise commitment to the Lions on Sunday.

“Coach (James) Franklin made me feel comfortable,” Rudolph said in an interview with 247Sports.com. “All of the coaches make it feel like it’s a family thing when I’m there, and that’s what it’s all about.”

According to Saint Thomas More coach Jeff Moore, Rudolph allowed one completion in his entire junior season, and that was for a 2-yard loss. Florida, Michigan and Ohio State rounded out his top five.

“Rudolph has the ability to cover and he likes press at the line of scrimmage and use his strength,” Dohn wrote. “He breaks well on balls thrown in front of him, and his angles are good. He is physical with his jams, and he reroutes receivers well to throw off the timing with the quarterback. In coverage, he does a good job of tracking the ball and high-pointing it.”

Rudolph and Wilson join Lackawanna College safety Taquan Brisker and State College corner Keaton Ellis as defensive back recruits in this class. Although it’s a small class, the Lions are expected to bring on one more DB; right now, the odds-on favorite is Virginia safety Cam’ron Kelly, although Lewis Cine, who recently moved from Massachusetts to Texas, is also in the running.

Both Kelly and Cine are four-star talents.

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