Lions look to Paris to cure line woes

Penn State’s had big problems on the offensive line this season, but, late Friday night, the Nittany Lions got a big man who they think can have a big hand in helping solve them sooner rather than later.

Paris Palmer, the consensus No. 1 junior college offensive tackle prospect in the nation from Lackawanna College, announced via social media that he has decided to enroll at Penn State in January.

“This is my life, my moment, my opportunity, my destiny, and I have to follow my own path, and my pathway is leading me to Penn State University,” Palmer posted on his Twitter account. “I was asked why PSU, and I ask why not PSU?”

In Palmer, Penn State hopes to not only bolster a unit that was maligned all season but to exorcise the ghosts of Bryant McKinnie, who the Lions missed out on 15 years ago out of Lackawanna — McKinnie, of course, went on to become an All-American and Outland Trophy winner at Miami, a first round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings, a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

Palmer boasts similar tangibles to McKinnie, checking in at 6-foot-8, 306 pounds.

“Big and strong, Palmer is the type who can move defenders back with force. He has a great reach as well, and, because of his combination of skills, he could play left or right tackle in college and should be a guy who could step in early and play,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Greg Powers said of Palmer. “He is just well-rounded. He is a solid run blocker and is equally adept at run blocking.

“He could literally be the next big thing.”

A number of big-time colleges thought so, too. Palmer’s offer sheet included Ohio State, Arizona State, Baylor, Miami and Missouri.

In landing him, Penn State pulled off what few weeks ago would have been considered an upset. Palmer committed to South Carolina back in March and originally hails from Plymouth, N.C. He was considered an important recruit for the Gamecocks, as well.

However, Palmer made an official visit to Penn State for the weekend of the Michigan State game, and, although publicly he said he still was committed to South Carolina and would sign on Dec. 17, rumors began to leak out that the Nittany Lions had made a big move for him. On Thursday, he announced that he was decommitting from the Gamecocks, and, almost immediately, it became apparent Penn State would be his new destination; Lion coaches were scheduled to visit with him on Friday, and South Carolina coaches were told not to come up, according to a report by 247Sports Gamecock site.

“To all the fans in the Gamecock nation, I just want to say that this decision wasn’t one that came easily. At the end of the day, I had to go with my gut feeling and make the decision I thought was best for me and my family down the road,” Palmer tweeted.

Lackawanna has turned out 11 Division I offensive linemen since 2010 and had three on this year’s team. Palmer wound up at the school after a knee injury as a high school senior. He compared his fall and rise to Penn State’s in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

“We share a common denominator — ‘fall from favor,'” Palmer tweeted of his reason for switching to Penn State. “When I was a senior in high school, I tore my ACL and meniscus. Soon after, all the interest from D1 schools faded, leaving me with doubts and questions about my football future. I started over from rehab to where I am today with nothing but determination and perseverance.

“The chance to rebuild a historic and prestigious program to its once glorious past was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Palmer’s decision helped ease the loss of Virginia blue-chip prep lineman Matthew Burrell, who picked Ohio State over the Lions last month. Palmer, meanwhile, is more likely to help immediately in keeping Lion star quarterback Christian Hackenberg off the turf next season: He’ll be practicing with the team in the spring, and will join a group that started five underclassmen for most of the season.

Penn State also has gotten 2015 commitments from linemen Sterling Jenkins, Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez, who, although ranked among the best prospects in the country, aren’t likely to see the field next fall.

The Lions might not be done trying to shore up the position, either. They’ve been linked with Kansas JUCO tackle Tyler Howell, whose measurables are similar to Palmer’s.

The Lions’ scholarships are running out, too. With Palmer, they now have 20 recruits in a 2015 class expected to number right around 25, the most any school can take in one season. Penn State might be able to fudge those numbers a bit by counting a January enrollee like Palmer toward the 2014 class or grayshirting someone and counting them for 2016.

Meanwhile, the Lions also might have gotten a reprieve in the recruiting of Central Valley cornerback Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead picked Pitt over Penn State, West Virginia and Ohio State in October and planned to enroll in January, but those plans have hit a snag with the speculation that Panther head coach Paul Chryst is headed to Wisconsin.

Both Penn State and West Virginia had contingents at Whitehead’s PIAA Class AAA championship game on Friday night in Hershey.