One team’s shortcoming is another team’s recruiting pitch.
As preseason camp continues on for Penn State, coach James Franklin hasn’t tried to downplay that the Nittany Lions are hurting, numbers-wise. The message is just as much for top recruits who might have a chance to help the team right away.
“We’ve got depth issues — that’s not a secret,” Franklin said. “We’ve got good kids here, we’ve got good players here. We just need more of them.”
That line came Saturday when the Big Ten Network rolled into town on it’s training camp tour of the conference. As it so happens, the Lions were hosting one of the country’s top prospects on campus that same day.
Lions247 reported throughout the weekend that New Jersey cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick — a five-star recruit and one of the top 40 high school seniors in the nation — made a surprise visit to Happy Valley.
Why was it a surprise? Fitzpatrick is a verbal commit to Nick Saban and Alabama.
In Penn State’s favor in this high-profile recruiting battle is that one of Fitzpatrick’s high school teammates at St. Peter’s Prep is Brandon Wimbush, the Lions’ quarterback recruit for the 2015 signing class.
Perhaps Fitzpatrick’s interest in Penn State was known better to the recruits themselves. Either that, or it was just one impressive coincidence that another top cornerback — Philadelphia’s John Reid — abruptly announced his commitment to the Lions not 24 hours before Fitzpatrick before came to town.
Reid became Penn State’s 19th verbal commitment on Friday night for the 2015 class, one that would appear to be just about filled up.
Though the relaxed NCAA sanctions now allow the Lions to bring in the maximum 25 scholarship players each year, they are still limited to having 80 total scholarship players for the 2015 season before returning to the regular 85-man cap in 2016.
Franklin said at Big Ten media days in Chicago that the Lions are at 72 scholarships for the upcoming season. As it is, only 10 of those 72 have senior eligibility. That leaves a maximum of 62 players who would be eligible to return in 2015. Add in the 19 current verbal commitments — with more certain to come — and that would put the team above 80.
Of course, it’s very much a rarity for every eligible player to return. The 2013 squad saw starting defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz opt to not use his fifth year and pursue teaching. Receivers Alex Kenney and Richy Anderson transferred out. Tackle Garry Gilliam received a sixth-year medical hardship waiver, said he intended to use it, and then changed his mind at year’s end to give the NFL a shot.
In other words, a lot can happen between now and the start of camp a year from now. And who knows? Maybe Penn State gets those last five scholarships restored a year early.
Special scene for PSU-Rutgers
Penn State and Rutgers may develop some sort of meaningful rivalry down the line. But before their first game as Big Ten foes next month, they’ll be coming together.
Rutgers announced Tuesday afternoon that former players Adam Taliaferro of Penn State and Eric LeGrand of Rutgers will be honorary captains for the Sept. 13 game, which will be the Scarlet Knights’ first conference game as a Big Ten member.
The two are linked together as players who survived life-threatening spinal cord injuries suffered on the field while competing for their respective schools.
“For me, it’s an absolute honor to share this with Eric,” Taliaferro said in a release. “Eric has inspired me ever since his injury and continues to do so each and every day.”
Taliaferro’s career was ended on Sept. 23, 2000, while making a tackle in a game at Ohio State. Though he was given a slim chance to recover from paralysis, Taliaferro was able to walk and lead the team out of the tunnel at the season opener a year later.
Taliaferro is a New Jersey native who also holds a law degree from Rutgers-Camden.
LeGrand remains paralyzed from the neck down following his injury from Oct. 16, 2010, but the former Rutgers defensive lineman has begun to regain some slight movement.
“I remember seeing Eric a couple of days after his injury,” Taliaferro said, “and I remember the first thing he told me is, ‘I’m going to be just like you. I’m going to walk out of this.’
“For him to still have that same tenacity to this day, as I said, Eric continues to inspire me. I believe in my heart he will get up and walk someday.”