Nittany Lions working to keep commitments

While the journey might have reached a happy destination for Journey Brown, it appears there still are going to be a few twists and turns for Penn State football recruiting before signing day on Feb. 1.

The verbal commitment of Brown, the super-fast, record-setting running back from Meadville, late Thursday night brought the Nittany Lions’ 2017 class closer to its expected conclusion of 20 to 21 recruits. Brown is the 19th player in the class.

However, even with the Lions nearing their limit of available scholarships, there is more going on than just filling the last slot or two — something the coaching staff was trying to do when it hosted four-star defensive back Tyriq Castro-Fields this weekend. Penn State still is trying to ensure all of the players that already committed sign with the Lions in 16 days and that they have their bases covered if someone bolts for another school.

That might be more difficult than it sounds.

Penn State knew it was going to keep one of the members of the class most frequently talked about as looking around when athletic North Carolina linebacker Brelin Faison-Waldon enrolled for the spring semester on Jan. 7 along with Clairton cornerback Lamont Wade, Ohio guard Mike Miranda and Michigan slot receiver/return specialist K.J. Hamler; Faison-Waldon had officially visited Michigan, Georgia and Virginia Tech after committing to Penn State. Recent reports also seem optimistic that Virginia linebacker Dylan Rivers also will follow through on his oral pledge to stick with the Nittany Lions despite continued efforts from forces at Virginia Tech to make him change his mind.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic guard C.J. Thorpe made an official visit to former Lion assistant Tom Bradley and UCLA over the weekend, but Thorpe has so many ties with Penn State that his not being part of this Lion class is considered one of the longest of long shots.

The biggest threat to flip away from Penn State now is Indiana receiver Mac Hippenhammer. Possibly one of the most underrated recruits in the Lions’ class right now, the Indianapolis Star Mr. Football finalist got a scholarship offer from Notre Dame — reputed to be his dream school — on Sunday.

He’s scheduled to be in South Bend on an unofficial visit today.

“That’s the one offer he’s coveted for a while. It’s a concern if you’re the Penn State staff,” said Sean Fitz of the Lions247 website. “They want to keep him.”

Penn State, though, still has a couple of cards to play in an effort to hold on to Hippenhammer. Hippenhammer is scheduled to take his official visit to University Park this coming weekend, when most of the other members of the class are going to be taking their officials, too. Also, Fitz said he believes James Franklin’s in-home visit to see Hippenhammer still is available.

In the even Hippenhammer decommits, Penn State is covering its bases by remaining in contact with a couple of other class of 2017 wideouts. Recent Syracuse decommit Josh Palmer of Florida got an offer Sunday — he just visited Tennessee and has a trip to UCLA upcoming.

While Penn State has a deep and highly-regarded group of defensive backs in this class, that hasn’t stopped the Lions from making Castro-Fields a priority as signing day draws near. A high school teammate of current Lion redshirt freshman corner Zech McPhearson, Castro-Fields is a bigger corner at 6-foot-1, 173 pounds who also is weighing offers from Alabama and Maryland.

Penn State’s official visit was his last, and the Lions gave themselves a chance to land the Maryland four-star prospect. Castro-Fields has announced he will go public with his college choice on Jan. 23.

Brown, meanwhile, took very little time to make his college choice, the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Meadville all-state running back jumping at the scholarship offer the same day Penn State made it.

“I just chose the best school for me and one that was closer for my family,” said Brown, who previously had offers from Temple and Syracuse. “I see myself having a similar running style to Saquon Barkley.”

Brown is one of the commits who will be at Penn State this coming weekend for his official visit, but he had been the Beaver Stadium as a guest for the Lions’ wins over Ohio State and Michigan State this season.

“That was fantastic,” Brown said. “Watching with 107,000 fans, I just wanted to be a part of that.”

Brown is a consensus three-star prospect, but Fitz and others have been puzzled by the lack of more interest from other colleges. Brown’s measurables are on par with other FBS-level running backs, and Fitz said he tested well at the Nike combine in Columbus, Ohio as well as at Penn State’s camp last summer.

His speed is exceptional: He ran the 100 meters in 10.62 second to win the Class 3A gold medal at last May’s PIAA track meet.

It wasn’t that Brown was just an athlete playing football, either. He just finished one of the most prolific prep careers in Pennsylvania history, rushing for 7,027 yards and scoring 113 touchdowns. He averaged 12.3 yards per carry for his career.

Brown rushed for 386 yards and scored on five of his 13 carries in the District 6-8-10 Class 5A championship against Hollidaysburg on Nov. 18 and ran for 170 yards against WPIAL champion West Allegheny the following week. As a junior, he made national headlines running for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns in a game against DuBois.

He could be someone who fits as a kickoff returner or in kick coverage, like Nick Scott, as well as a running back.