Penn State recruiting primer: Thoughts on the Lions' class as early signing period nears (2024)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin searched for the closest piece of wood before tapping on the tabletop in front of him.

“Knock on wood, we’ve been fortunate, really, in my 10 years here. We have not had a whole lot of drama,” Franklin said Friday about the lack of signing day surprises during his time at Penn State.

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“We’re very upfront and transparent. Really always have been. Sometimes that hurts us where we miss on kids because we don’t tell them what they want to hear. We’re an underpromise, overdeliver program, and I think that’s been a big part of our success.”

Penn State’s class includes verbal commitments from 25 players and is ranked No. 13 nationally in the 247Sports Composite. Only Ohio State (No. 2) and Oregon (No. 8) are ranked higher in the Big Ten.

Here are some other thoughts on the 2024 class two days before the start of the early signing period.

• Offensive lineman Cooper Cousins will likely be the first player featured on Penn State’s signing day livestream Wednesday. That honor typically goes to the player who has been a part of the class the longest. Cousins committed nearly two years ago, on Jan. 29, 2022. That’s an eternity in recruiting. During that span, there weren’t flirtations with other schools, either. Surely when Franklin talks about this class Wednesday and mentions many of the low-maintenance signees, Cousins will be at the forefront of his mind.

• A year ago at this time, quarterback Ethan Grunkemeyer had one scholarship offer, from Miami (Ohio). Bowling Green came through in January. Then, after countless throwing sessions for college coaches over the winter, he emerged as a legitimate Power 5 prospect and earned an invite to the Elite 11 Finals in June. Grunkemeyer is now a four-star prospect and ranked in the top 100 nationally, and his rapid rise is a good example of how quickly a recruitment can change. Some prospects garner big-time offers in middle school, but Grunkemeyer had to wait until his junior season until he really got noticed. Penn State will soon have two QBs from Ohio who were late bloomers and who both train with the same quarterback coach.

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• I never would have guessed Penn State would be in a position to sign three prospects — including two offensive linemen — from Wisconsin. It’s one of those moves outside the regional footprint that can largely be attributed to relationships and how well Penn State did when those players visited campus. Offensive lineman Donovan Harbour and running back Corey Smith, teammates at Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School, were among the first prospects Luke Fickell and staff visited at Wisconsin. Offensive lineman Garrett Sexton, from Hartland, toured several Big Ten programs last spring before realizing that Penn State was the right fit for him.

• Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki said the offensive line is the most important position on any roster, and it looks as though Penn State is adding another group of quality players up front. Liam Andrews and Cousins are both ranked in the top 150 nationally. Sexton, ranked 203rd, might be the most intriguing of these three just because he’s the most unpolished. The former quarterback, who is 6 feet 7 and 265 pounds, moved to the offensive line before his junior season. Sexton believes his lack of experience at the position is one reason why Wisconsin wasn’t too interested in him. Penn State offensive line coach Phil Trautwein will start working with Sexton in January. Harbour, ranked No. 260 nationally, will arrive this summer and slot in the interior.

• Is immediate wide receiver help coming from this class? Probably not, but the most important development for this evolving roster will be what transpires in the transfer portal at wide receiver. Josiah Brown, Peter Gonzalez and Tyseer Denmark are all set to sign. Brown and Denmark are four-star prospects while Gonzalez is a three-star. Position coach Marques Hagans will have to develop this group and, ideally, there will be increased competition to see who can get on the field first.

Penn State needs at least two incoming wide receivers to contribute next season. And while it’s always important to bring in high school prospects to develop, keep your eyes peeled on the comings and goings in the portal. That is likely where the Nittany Lions will find immediate help.

• The highest-rated player in Penn State’s class is running back Quinton Martin. The top-ranked player in Pennsylvania will join a loaded crop of running backs. Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton will be entering their junior seasons while London Montgomery and Cam Wallace both redshirted in 2023. Trey Potts has another year of eligibility too, if he wants to use it.

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• There are three sets of high school teammates in this class, and two are from outside of Penn State’s typical recruiting footprint. Harbour and Smith are from Wisconsin while defensive backs Jon Mitchell and AJ Belgrave-Shorter played at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Fla. Denmark and cornerback Kenneth Woseley, both of Philadelphia’s Imhotep Institute, became teammates this season.

• Defensive lineman T.A. Cunningham has had a winding high school career. Cunningham, originally from Georgia, became one of the early faces of the issues with NIL and high school prospects.

His high school career ultimately spanned stints in Georgia, California, Florida and back to Georgia. Cunningham was not part of Miami Central’s football team this season despite transferring there from California in April. Instead, he suited up for Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.

• How much space remains in this class and on the roster? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer in part because several players have yet to make their NFL decision known. To date, Penn State knows Chop Robinson, Curtis Jacobs and Theo Johnson are off to the NFL. More decisions are still to come, all while Penn State already secured a verbal commitment from transfer offensive lineman Alan Herron. Undoubtedly, there will be roster attrition in the coming weeks.

I’ll put it this way: If there’s a player Penn State really wants — either in the portal or on signing day in February — it will make space.

(Photo of James Franklin: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

Penn State recruiting primer: Thoughts on the Lions' class as early signing period nears (1)Penn State recruiting primer: Thoughts on the Lions' class as early signing period nears (2)

Audrey Snyder has covered Penn State since 2012 for various outlets, including The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Patriot-News and DKPittsburghSports. Snyder is an active member of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and is the professional adviser for Penn State’s student chapter. Follow Audrey on Twitter @audsnyder4

Penn State recruiting primer: Thoughts on the Lions' class as early signing period nears (2024)
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