Nittany Lions land Pennsylvania’s top recruit, Joey Porter Jr.

By Derek Levarse - [email protected]
Penn State fans celebrate Saturday’s blowout of rival Pitt at Heinz field. The Nittany Lions also used the weekend to secure the state’s top recruit, Joey Porter Jr., who hails from Pittsburgh. - Gene J. Puskar | AP photo

Penn State left the Steel City over the weekend with a win over Pitt on the recruiting trail as well.

On Tuesday morning, the top-rated recruit in Pennsylvania, North Allegheny defensive back Joey Porter Jr., went public with his commitment to the Nittany Lions.

Lions coach James Franklin and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith — the team’s main recruiter in the WPIAL — dropped by North Allegheny on Friday night for the Tigers’ big win over another Division I hotbed, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Porter had an interception in the game and shadowed the opposition’s top receiver.

“To Coach Terry Smith & Head Coach James Franklin, thank you for giving me the opportunity to get a great education and play some good football,” Porter Jr. wrote on Twitter.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder is a four-star recruit who tops all 2019 prospects in the state in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He chose Penn State over four other finalists in LSU, Miami, Nebraska and Pitt.

And yes, he is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter, who now coaches that position for the Steelers.

It’s that lineage that makes his future in football fairly intriguing. Rated as a cornerback (No. 30 CB, No. 316 overall nationally), Porter’s frame could ultimately make him a safety — or perhaps even a hybrid linebacker — a few years down the road.

Look no further than his father, who actually started his college career at Colorado State as a tight end/wide receiver. He then starred in his final season with the Rams as a defensive end before the Steelers used a third-round pick on him in 1999, spotting an ideal outside linebacker for their 3-4 scheme. He played 13 seasons in the NFL, reaching the Pro Bowl four times and earning All-Pro honors in 2002.

For now, Porter Jr. is the 16th member of Penn State’s 2019 class, which checks in at No. 14 nationally and No. 2 behind Michigan in the Big Ten, narrowly ahead of Ohio State.

It’s not a bad place to be with three months to go before most recruits officially sign — especially considering Pennsylvania is experiencing a down year for top prospects. Porter is one of just two four-star prospects in the state this cycle along with Notre Dame commit Andrew Kristofic, an offensive lineman also from the Pittsburgh area.

Compare that to 2018, where there were 11 blue-chip recruits in Pennsylvania, six of whom signed with the Lions, including five-star Micah Parsons, the nation’s No. 5 player.

With the medical retirements of two members of that 2018 haul, the Lions will likely have a larger than expected class this winter.

Paying respect

Franklin opened his weekly press conference on Tuesday on a somber note, paying tribute to the Sept. 11 victims on the 17th anniversary of the attacks.

One of his college teammates at East Stroudsburg, Martin Wortley, was working at the World Trade Center at the time and was killed when the towers collapsed.

“Obviously this day, 9/11, represents a lot of things for a lot of different people in our country and obviously hits close to home,” Franklin said. “So I didn’t want to get into football without talking about this significant day in our country’s history. I wanted to take a moment to mention that. I actually had a teammate from college that passed away on that day, as well.

“And when we were able to take our team a few years back to the site (before the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl), I think it was powerful and another example how college athletics and specifically football can use our platform to do other things. That was an important day in our program.”

Franklin also acknowledged his former boss at Vanderbilt, David Williams, who announced Tuesday he would be stepping down as athletic director. Williams gave Franklin his first head coaching job in 2011 after Maryland reneged on a head-coach-in-waiting deal for him.

“A mentor and a friend of mine. Has had a huge impact on me both personally and professionally,” said Franklin, who spoke with Williams earlier in the day.

Starting battle

With Brandon Polk starting in place of DeAndre Thompkins at wideout last Saturday, the two are now listed as co-starters on the latest depth chart heading into Saturday’s game against Kent State.

Polk caught a touchdown late in the blowout of the Panthers and more notably hauled in a critical fourth-and-2 pass against Appalachian State to set up the game-tying touchdown in the final minute.

Thompkins found the end zone on a punt return against Pitt but has yet to record a catch through two games. He was not targeted in the opener and dropped a potential touchdown in the back of the end zone this past week.

“We kind went up to each other and he said, ‘Good job, you did what you had to do.’ ” Polk said of Thompkins. “But he said, ‘Now I’m going to get it back.’ I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m going to keep this.’

“It’s kind of like a competitiveness in the room that we all want to be at our best. … (We) make sure when we both go out there, we are both at our best.”

Reid ailing

It was assumed that veteran cornerback John Reid was dealing with an injury after he exited the opener early and did not play against Pitt.

Franklin, following his M.O., didn’t go into detail but did confirm that Reid’s absence was injury-related.

“As you guys know, I don’t get into injuries and things like that,” Franklin said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have John this week.”

It wouldn’t surprise, however, to see Reid get another week off given the opponent and an uncertain weather forecast with a major hurricane bearing down on the East Coast.

Tariq Castro-Fields started in place of Reid last week with Donovan Johnson and Zech McPhearson both seeing more reps as well.

Penn State fans celebrate Saturday’s blowout of rival Pitt at Heinz field. The Nittany Lions also used the weekend to secure the state’s top recruit, Joey Porter Jr., who hails from Pittsburgh. State fans celebrate Saturday’s blowout of rival Pitt at Heinz field. The Nittany Lions also used the weekend to secure the state’s top recruit, Joey Porter Jr., who hails from Pittsburgh. Gene J. Puskar | AP photo

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse