NCAA

Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State lost a battle for the services of Mark Webb, a four-star wide receiver from Archbishop Wood, but won enough other skirmishes that Nittany Lions coach James Franklin declared this year’s recruiting cycle a success as National Signing Day wound down Wednesday.

So much so that he planned to have all his assistants over at his home outside State College later in the day.

“We’re going to get after it pretty good,” the Langhorne, Pennsylvania native promised during an afternoon news conference.

They had certainly done so on the recruiting trail, bringing in a 21-man class ranked 12th in the nation by Rivals.com, 14th by Scout.com and 15th by 247Sports. Rivals and 247 had the Lions third in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Michigan, while Scout.com also put Maryland ahead of PSU.

The class is headed by Lamont Wade, a cornerback from Clairton, Pennsylvania, and the only five-star recruit in the bunch. And it was completed when another corner, Tariq Castro-Fields of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, announced for PSU (over Alabama and Maryland) exactly two minutes before Franklin began his presser.

The Lions also secured a letter of intent Tuesday from Corey Bolds, a three-star defensive tackle from Paramus, New Jersey. He opted for PSU over Rutgers and Minnesota.

This comes on the heels of Ellis Brooks' flipping his commitment from Maryland to the Lions on Monday. Brooks, an inside linebacker from Richmond, fills a gap in the class created when another 'backer, Dylan Rivers, decommitted from PSU in favor of Virginia Tech.

As for Webb, he committed to Georgia months ago. The Lions, nonetheless, stayed on him. He visited campus this past weekend, and on Tuesday the coaching staff sent a photo to Webb’s dad, Mark Sr., showing everyone wearing a Penn State jersey with the younger Webb’s No. 81 emblazoned upon it.

Mark Sr. told Pennlive.com Tuesday that his son was “overwhelmed” by the pitch and would “sleep on it” before making a decision.

Ultimately, the younger Webb stuck with the Bulldogs after “hard and resilient soul-searching,” as Mark Sr. tweeted to Franklin and his staff Wednesday morning. Webb went on to thank the coaching staff, as well as the fans and alums “for welcoming us with such warmth.”

Franklin and his assistants pride themselves on their doggedness, as well as their ability to build relationships. The staff, he said, hadn’t taken a day off since July. And when asked how many miles he had flown in the last month, he couldn’t even hazard a guess.

“Half the time I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “I got on the plane, and when it landed I got off and started talking about Penn State.”

He often had the Big Ten championship trophy (or, at least, the silver football portion of it) in tow. And while in his opinion the Lions’ title helped “a little” in the recruitment of Wade, one of four early enrollees, Franklin believes it will have more impact on recruits the next two years.

Josh Gattis, the offensive recruiting coordinator, thought otherwise — that it had to help with this year’s haul.

“When we first got the job (in January 2014), we were selling them on a vision,” he said. “This time around, we were able to go in with a championship trophy and show them that the process works.”

Franklin did admit that the Lions are at “a different place” than when he arrived three years ago. At that point, the roster was threadbare because of the NCAA sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Now the Lions are reaching the point where they have solid prospects all over the depth chart.

“Now,” Franklin said, “it’s going to be iron sharpens iron (in practice). … It’s not like we have glaring holes now like we did before.”

That’s particularly true along the offensive front. Franklin has often mentioned that he had just nine scholarship offensive linemen at his disposal when he was hired. Now there are six on the roster with starting experience, and a bevy of promising guys waiting in the wings.

Four incoming recruits — Mike Miranda (an early enrollee), C.J. Thorpe, Desmond Holmes and Rob Martin — will only add to the line’s depth.

“I think our offensive line will be a strength moving forward,” Franklin said.

Franklin and defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith are particularly high on Thorpe, a four-star guard from Pittsburgh.

“I think C.J. Thorpe is one of the best players in this recruiting class,” Smith said. “He’s going to have an immediate impact.”

Thorpe’s dad, Chris, played at PSU in the '80s, and his older brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead when he was the Rams’ head coach.

“He’s a grown man,” Franklin said of the younger Thorpe, who carries 300-plus pounds on a 6-4 frame. “He’s an offensive lineman with a nastiness to him. He wants to finish you.”

Thorpe flirted with UCLA and Michigan in the weeks leading up to signing day, but his dad said last week that his son never really wavered; rather, Chris merely wanted his son to weigh all his options. 

Franklin seemed to concur.

“You say we had to fight for him at the end,” he said. “I don’t know if that was necessarily the case.”

Some other notes from Signing Day:

• Wade “will have the opportunity to play both sides of the ball,” Smith said, but in spring practice he will concentrate on defense.

“We just want to get him to where he knows the system defensively,” Smith said, adding that Wade “brings the ability to play the nickel position.”

Wade also played running back in high school.

• Hippenhammer, a switch-hitting shortstop, will get the chance to play baseball, according to Franklin.

“That’s something selfishly as a football coach, I want him to play football,” he added.

But he also called baseball coach Rob Cooper “my guy,” and said they worked hand in hand in Hippenhammer’s recruitment.

“If it works out (that he can double up), great,” Franklin said.

• Yetur Matos, a defensive end from Fredericksburg, Virginia, “may be the sleeper of the class,” in Franklin’s opinion. He timed out well, the head coach said, and will add strength to his 6-5, 245-pound frame.

• Jonathan Sutherland, a safety from Alexandria, Virginia, is a hitter. In fact, Smith said, “He’s much like Marcus (Allen), but he’s not as big as Marcus.” Sutherland, who carries 195 pounds on his 6-foot frame, is also a good cover guy, in Smith’s estimation.

Walk-on to Heisman: Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield wins in landslide

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Walk-on to Heisman: Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield wins in landslide

NEW YORK -- Baker Mayfield took a unique road to the Heisman Trophy, a long and winding climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players to ever play college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman Saturday night in one of the most lopsided votes in the 83-year history of the award.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history behind Ohio State's Troy Smith (91.63 percent) in 2006 and Oregon's Marcus Mariota (90.92) in 2014.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Smith and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

"Tried to play it cool," Mayfield said later. "That's not my thing though. I'm a guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve."

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year.

"It's motivating for me to be the best in the country," Mayfield said.

He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program -- Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas -- or all teams -- that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.

Asked what has been his best moment, Mayfield predictably answered: "It hasn't happened yet."

FG try wide on final play as Army holds off Navy in thriller at Linc

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FG try wide on final play as Army holds off Navy in thriller at Linc

BOX SCORE

Just when you thought Army-Navy couldn't get any more intense, it snowed.

Then 60 minutes of bruising football came down to squinting through that snow to see where a long field goal attempt would land.

Wide left. Cue the celebration for Army. The Black Knights are back.

Bennett Moehring narrowly missed a 48-yard field goal on the final play and Army held off Navy 14-13 on Saturday to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 1996.

Army (9-3) earned its second straight win over Navy (6-6) following 14 straight losses in the series.

"We've got seniors in there that went 4-8 as freshmen and 2-10 as sophomores," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "Now they've won 17 games in the last two years. Really an incredible change."

After trailing most of the game, Ahmad Bradshaw pushed over the goal line on a quarterback sneak with 5:10 remaining and Blake Wilson kicked the extra point to put Army ahead.

But Navy's spectacular Malcolm Perry wasn't finished.

The quarterback, who ran for 250 yards on 30 carries and a 68-yard score in the second quarter, led Navy to the Army 31 with 3 seconds left.

Navy elected to try a field goal, and after about 10 players used their feet to clear the steady snow during a timeout, Moehring's kick was long enough but drifted barely left.

"Came up a couple of feet short," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "This is a great rivalry. It was another classic game."

Army cut its deficit in the series to 60-51-7 in a matchup of bowl-bound teams. The Black Knights claimed the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy thanks to an earlier victory over Air Force.

"That trophy hadn't been in our possession for 21 years," said Monken, in his fourth season. "To be able to accomplish that with this team is a great source of pride."

In a game that included only three passes -- Army completed its lone toss -- the Black Knights produced a 13-play, 65-yard drive to take a late lead. John Trainor tiptoed the sideline for 8 yards one play before Bradshaw's 12th touchdown of the season.

Bradshaw also scored the go-ahead touchdown in last year's victory over Navy.

"I actually don't think I would've gotten in if not for my fullback and my offensive line," said Bradshaw, who rushed for 94 yards on 21 carries. "I kind of stopped, but I felt like (fullback) Andy (Davidson) picked me up and kind of walked me into the end zone."

Navy took advantage of the ensuing kickoff going out of bounds and moved down the field. Perry dropped a shotgun snap on fourth down at the Army 37, but picked up the ball and ran for a first down. But Navy committed two false start penalties, making the final field goal attempt more difficult.

Snow started falling in the late morning on the 29-degree day. Workers used blowers to uncover the lines and hashmarks during timeouts as a light snow fell throughout.

The teams, both of whom run the triple-option, combined to complete only 59 passes all season. The snow made both coaches want to throw it even less as Navy went ahead 7-0 on Darnell Woolfolk's 3-yard run on the opening possession.

The first pass came with under 9 minutes left in the second quarter. Army completed its only pass, a 20-yard wobbler from Bradshaw to Calen Holt, midway through the third quarter.

The weather made one of sports' biggest rivalries an even more physical contest. Army's all-white uniforms -- a nod to the 10th Mountain Division of World War II -- served as almost camouflage in the snow.

Perry was the star through three quarters. Getting the start at quarterback ahead of Zach Abey, his long touchdown run in the second quarter was his third rushing TD of more than 65 yards this season.

Perry looked like he might have another long touchdown run, but he stumbled and fell at the Navy 11 early in the third quarter. Army senior John Voit chased him down.

"I'm not sure if I hit his foot or not," Voit said. "But I think I got enough where he slipped in the snow and thank God he went down."

Army then held Navy to a Moehring's second field goal, from 24 yards, to make it 13-7 and allow for their fourth-quarter comeback.

"There was never a moment our guys doubted we were going to win the game," Monken said. "When you love a group of people like I love them, I can tell when their emotions change. We never lost momentum."

The takeaway
Army: Monken has Army on a major upswing. This victory will do wonders for a program that had suffered through the longest losing streak by either team in this rivalry.

Navy: Perry was the fastest and most dangerous player on the field, and Niumatalolo indicated the quarterback job will be his next season. Navy outgunned Army 296-241 but was again hurt by costly penalties.

Jasper coaches
Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper coached after missing Wednesday's practice to be with his 14-year-old son. Jarren Jasper has had medical issues as he awaits a heart transplant.

Milestone
Simone Askew made history when she led the Corps of Cadets in the pregame march-on. Askew is the first black woman to be first captain, the highest student position at West Point.
 
Trump & Tillerson
A year after attending the game as president-elect, Donald Trump tweeted that he would be watching on TV. "On behalf of an entire Nation, THANK YOU for your sacrifice and service!" the president wrote.

After the game, Trump tweeted: "Great Army - Navy Game. Army wins 14 to 13 and brings home the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF'S TROPHY! Congratulations!"

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson handled the opening coin toss.

Up next
Army: Armed Forces Bowl vs. San Diego State on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Navy: Military Bowl vs. Virginia on Dec. 28 in Annapolis, Maryland.