Nittany Lions finish with a flurry
Central’s Hoenstine will walk on at PSU
UNIVERSITY PARK — If Alec Baldwin’s character from “Glengarry Glen Ross” is right, and coffee is for closers, then brew up a pot for Penn State football coach James Franklin and his staff today.
Better make it a double.
Not exactly renown for strong recruiting finishes for at least the last couple of decades, Franklin and the Nittany Lions put a couple of exclamation points on this year’s class by reeling in four-star Maryland cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields — the top remaining prospect on their board — and filling a position of need by offering and landing New Jersey three-star defensive tackle Corey Bolds on national signing day Wednesday.
Penn State signed 21 prospects total. The class was ranked anywhere between 12th and 17th in the country by the four major scouting services, and none of the teams rated higher had fewer recruits.
The Lions also got a commitment from Central’s Alex Hoenstine, the Mirror’s player of the year, as a preferred walk-on.
Castro-Fields donning of a Penn State cap on a spotty webcam video from Riverdale Baptist High School in Upper Marlboro that many in the Beaver Stadium media room were trying to watch with varying levels of success came just 2 minutes before Franklin was scheduled to meet the press to discuss the class at 2:30 p.m. The Lion coach couldn’t even discuss Castro-Fields because his letter-of-intent hadn’t yet been received — an NCAA rule — but it was easy to tell Franklin was amped a notch above his typical energetic demeanor.
“The three years before we got here, I think the average class ranking was 40, almost 41. The last three years, that one year where we got the job, that was kind of a combination year, if you take that out and go to the three previous years, then the past three, it’s 16,” Franklin said. “Average class rank of almost 41, average class rank of 16. We still have a lot of work to do. We’ve made really good progress.
“Tonight, we’re going to be going to my house. Anybody that lives in Port Matilda, I apologize. We’re going to get after it pretty good tonight and then give the coaches off for a long weekend.”
Castro-Fields’ signing was the icing on the cake. Penn State apparently had beaten out Alabama and Maryland for his services and he was set to reveal he was going to be a Lion when he abruptly called off his announcement on Jan. 23. The Terrapins had given him something to think about, and, reportedly, he was legitimately torn between the two Big Ten schools as late as Tuesday night.
The general consensus, though, was that the 6-foot-1, 173-pounder was going to stay close to home and sign with Maryland. Right up until he said he was going to Penn State.
It was a huge departure for Lion fans used to finishing flat, even in their best classes. On Jan. 22, Penn State lost Dylan Rivers, a four-star prospect who had pledged 14 months ago and was a necessary piece to filling the depth issues at linebacker, while he was on an official visit to University Park. However, the staff recovered and got four-star linebacker Ellis Brooks in a whirlwind one-week recruitment.
“They counterpunched. That’s something you have not seen a ton of,” Lions247’s Sean Fitz said of the strong close on Castro-Fields. “Maryland convinced him to hold off, even though they were basically out of it. (The Nittany Lions) came back, they fought hard and they sort of brought it back. That was a big win for them.”
Castro-Fields told the Washington Post the decision literally went down to the wire.
“Literally five seconds before I put the hat on. … It was that close. 50-50,” Castro-Fields said. “I was just trusting my gut. They’re both great programs that’s on the rise, and I wouldn’t go wrong with either, but I just decided to go to Penn State.”
When Castro-Fields made his official visit to Penn State on Jan. 13-15, he was hosted by his former high school teammate, Lion freshman cornerback Zech McPhearson.
A Washington Post first-team all-Met selection as a senior, Castro-Fields also garnered scholarship offers from the likes of Pitt, Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Syracuse. He joined a strong group of defensive backs in this Lion class that includes borderline five-star early-enrollee Lamont Wade and U.S. Army All-American Donovan Johnson.
“Height and athleticism are the two main keys there,” BlueWhite Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder said of Castro-Fields. “The staff has made it clear that they do like cornerbacks that are 6-1, 6-2, and they do have that reach. He has that, and he also brings a set of athleticism to the table that not too many guys can match.”
Signing day began with the Lions finding out for sure that Archbishop Wood four-star receiver Mark Webb would be honoring his verbal commitment to Georgia after giving Penn State a lot of thought in the last couple of days. However, Penn State was able to put that scholarship to good use by extending an offer to the 6-3, 276-pound Bolds, a first-team all-North Jersey player from Paramus Catholic; he chose the Lions over Rutgers and had offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson, as well.
“You talk about a huge pickup. We have a need at defensive tackle,” Franklin said. “You talk about a big, physical, strong, athletic guy that’s going to have a chance to come in and compete, we’re really excited.”
There has been speculation that Bolds still has work to do academically and might not be ready to come in this fall, but defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith said the staff was optimistic he’d qualify.
“We looked deep into the academics. Obviously, he can’t lay down and get senioritis at this point,” Smith said. “There’s a plan in place for him. We have to make sure we stay on him, and he’s got to make sure he takes care of his business.”
Franklin and Smith aren’t allowed to comment on preferred walk-ons like Hoenstine, because they don’t sign letters-of-intent and aren’t locked in to a specific college yet. However, Hoenstine posted on his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon that he was going to Penn State, later adding a photo of himself signing papers.
Hoenstine rushed for 2,480 yards and scored 49 touchdowns this year to lead Central to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals. In addition to being selected the Mirror’s player of the year, he also was voted the player of the year in his classification by the Pennsylvania scholastic football writers and picked to the USA Today all-Pennsylvania team on defense.
Hoenstine had been weighing some FCS and Division II offers, but Pitt stopped in at his school on Jan. 19, and Franklin followed suit on Jan. 27. The 6-2, 181-pounder is likely to be seen as a safety or a wide receiver in college. Attempts to reach him for this story were unsuccessful.
The efforts of Franklin and his staff in putting a bow on the 2017 recruiting class were very fruitful.
“Our staff was a lot like our season. We persevered, just kept battling,” Franklin said. “You just keep recruiting. You stay positive. You keep selling all the wonderful things we have here at Penn State.”