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.