Nittany Lions land prized running back recruit

About a month ago, it looked like Ohio State was in the driver’s seat in the recruitment of blue-chip Virginia running back Devyn Ford.

However, when Ford crossed the finish line on Friday afternoon, he was riding with James Franklin, and it was Penn State taking the checkered flag.

Ford, Rivals’ top-ranked back in the country and ninth-best player in the class of 2019, unveiled his intentions and a Penn State T-shirt at a press conference at North Stafford High School. He is the fifth player to commit to the Nittany Lions now that Lackawanna College and former Gateway safety JaQuan Brisker committed shortly before midnight on Thursday, sparking realistic hopes the Lions are about to reel off pledges from a number of their top targets in the next couple of weeks.

Virginia Tech — long considered the biggest roadblock to anyone trying to land the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder — finished second. Ford holds nearly 30 FBS scholarship offers, including Clemson, Georgia, USC, Notre Dame, Texas, Auburn, Michigan, Oklahoma and North Carolina. According to North Stafford coach Joe Mangano, Alabama had called to schedule a visit to the high school, but Ford declined, saying he’d already narrowed his list and was no longer looking to add schools.

“I couldn’t go wrong with either choice. At Tech, I could come in, do some things, become a starter and be a stay-at-home legend. I understand that, but, at the same time, I’ve got family at Penn State,” Ford told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, referring to high school teammate Nana Asiedu and friend Ricky Slade, both incoming freshmen with the Nittany Lions. “You’ve got people that I’m familiar with at Penn State,”

In Ford, fans at Beaver Stadium will be getting a running back possessing a style with which they are familiar, too.

“There is not much Ford does not do at a very high level,” wrote Brian Dohn of 247Sports, which rates Ford the No. 3 running back and No. 65 prospect in the 2019 class. “He is an elite talent and true all-purpose running back. Ford has tremendous vision and shows great balance. He is instinctive and anticipates well. Ford has a great combination of speed and quickness. Not only is he extremely dangerous as a runner, but he also catches the ball very well. Overall, he’s tremendous football player and one of the top running backs in the country, regardless of class.”

No. 2 NFL Draft pick Saquon Barkley’s success in University Park was not lost on Ford.

“Seeing what he did there is a really big statement for the program,” Ford said to Landof10.com. “It makes Penn State a very interesting place to look into because their offense is very, very creative, and they put Saquon in spots to make big plays all over the field. I think I’m also a versatile player, so it’s something that definitely stands out.”

Mangano remembered seeing Ford play as an eighth grader and then rush for more than 200 yards in his first varsity game. Last season, Ford rolled up 2,056 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground on 246 carries.

“He’s an explosive, explosive weapon,” Asiedu told Landof10 in an interview in March. “Once he hits that outside crease, I know he’s gone. All of the sudden I hear ‘Devyn Ford for the Wolverines touchdown.’ And I’m like, ‘Dang, that was fast.'”

Penn State is believed to be in the market for a second running back in this class, with Florida’s Noah Cain, Washington, D.C.’s Keilan Robinson and Georgia’s Ronald Thompkins heading the list.

The Lions did miss out on another top-100 recruit on Friday when New Jersey defensive tackle Antonio Alfano, as expected, committed to Alabama. Penn State had long been considered the favorite for Alfano, but off-field concerns reportedly kept the blue-chip player and the Nittany Lions from ever consummating the recruitment.

Penn State, though, did bolster its secondary late Thursday with the commitment of Brisker: the 6-2, 197-pounder is rated as one of the top 10 junior college prospects in this class and its top safety. He draws comparisons to all-Big Ten Nittany Lion Marcus Allen.

“In pass defense, he runs well and he locates the ball quickly and he has good hands. He is comfortable playing close to the line or scrimmage or deep in the secondary, and he drives well on the ball thrown in front of him. He will punish receivers with hard, physical hits in which he leads with his shoulder,” Dohn wrote. “Brisker diagnoses (running plays) quickly, and he is fast to react. He fills run gaps, and he is also a good tackler in the open field, and he can get to the edge.”

Brisker picked Penn State over Alabama and West Virginia. He’s original from Gateway High School, where Lion assistant coach Terry Smith was longtime football coach and athletic director.

“Coach Terry knows everything about me. He knows my family. He coached my brothers in high school for eight years, so he knows everything. I feel comfortable with him being my coach,” Brisker said in an interview with Dohn. “I feel comfortable with coach Franklin and the rest of the staff.”

Brisker’s pledge might signal the start of a run on defensive backs in this class; the Lions have two committed and probably will take five but are near the top of the list of about five other highly-regarded cornerbacks and safeties.

One of them, Connecticut’s Tyler Rudolph, is slated to announce his college choice on Monday, but another even more-coveted recruit — Virginia five-star linebacker Brandon Smith — also is scheduled to announce his school that day. Penn State is considered the heavy favorite for both.

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