Penn State adds third verbal commitment of the week

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 days ago

Remember last spring when James Franklin mentioned defense tackle as an area of need in the upcoming recruiting classes?

Penn State took another step toward filling the void Franklin mentioned this offseason when the Nittany Lions secured a verbal commitment from three-star defensive tackle Christian Colon Thursday evening. The Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) High Schooler picked Penn State over scholarship offers from the likes of North Carolina, Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Miami and UCLA. 

The 6-foot-3, 325-pound prospect is the second defensive lineman to give his verbal pledge to Penn State this week, joining future classmate and fellow three-star defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour who did so on Tuesday. Punter Blake Gillikin gave Penn State his verbal commitment on Sunday, bringing the 2016 class to 13 members with more than seven months until Signing Day. 

Colon’s verbal pledge bumped Penn State up to No. 9 in the 247Sports 2016 recruiting rankings, moving the Nittany Lions past Georgia. Penn State is 10th in Rivals’ class ranking.

Penn State’s class is fourth in the conference in the 247Sports rankings, behind Ohio State (3), Michigan State (6) and Michigan (7). 

In the spirit of the never-ending world that is college football recruiting, Penn State will host a prospect camp Friday from 6-9:30 p.m. under the lights in State College. Penn State’s staff wrapped up their satellite camp tour last week with a stop at Old Dominion and Friday’s prospect camp will be their last one until after the NCAA’s dead period concludes on July 12. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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Jim Haslett joins Penn State football staff

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

Former NFL head coach and Pittsburgh native Jim Haslett found a new home and this time it’s not in the National Football League.

Haslett, who brings 26 years of coaching experience to the job, joined the Penn State football staff as a team consultant, James Franklin announced Wednesday.  

“Jim has an outstanding football mind and invaluable experience that will be a tremendous resource,” Franklin said in a statement. “He has great knowledge of the game at the next level and we plan to put that to good use. He will work with our offensive, special teams and defensive coaches and will be a fantastic sounding board for our staff.”

Haslett was spotted in State College earlier this week and with fall camp a little more than a month away specifics of his new role remain to be seen. 

"I am thrilled to join the Penn State football family," Haslett said in a statement. "James is one of the great, young head coaches in the collegiate game today and he is leading this Penn State program in the right direction. The future is very bright for Penn State football and I am excited to be a part of it."

Haslett, who played his college ball at Indiana (Pa.) and was a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, spent three years as an assistant coach at Buffalo (1988-1990) before moving on to the NFL. It was his only stint in the college ranks.

Haslett climbed through the NFL ranks as a linebackers coach for the Raiders and Saints before being promoted to defensive coordinator for the Saints in 1996. From 1997-1999 he was the Steelers’ defensive coordinator before heading back to New Orleans and taking his first head coaching job in 2000.

Haslett’s time as head coach in New Orleans was remembered for a 10-6 campaign in his first year where the Saints won their first playoff game in franchise history and Haslett was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. His stint with the Saints ended in 2005 following a 3-13 season that was most remembered by the franchise’s temporary relocations due to Hurricane Katrina’s impact. 

Haslett served as the Rams’ defensive coordinator and interim head coach in the following seasons and was the Redskins’ defensive coordinator from 2010-2014.  

How Haslett’s skills will be put to use at Penn State on a daily basis remain to be seen. Having someone to help oversee the big picture of the program will likely be part of his duties as he works with the staff. 

Penn State retained defensive coordinator Bob Shoop in the offseason and given the defense’s success last season and Shoop’s rapport with the players how much or how little input Haslett has — especially given the NCAA’s parameters of a consulting, not coaching position — with the defense remains to be seen. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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Penn State aiming to build long-term depth at DT

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

James Franklin said Penn State’s number of scholarship defensive tackles was “out of whack” during a coaches caravan stop in May. 

The Penn State coach said future depth at defensive tackle was a need for the program and Tuesday night three-star defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour helped the team begin to fill that need with his verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions. Dwumfour, who plays for DePaul Catholic in Wayne, N.J., is the 12th player in the 2016 class to give Penn State a verbal pledge and is the first defensive tackle of the group. 

Dwumfour camped at Penn State on Sunday and picked up a scholarship offer the same day. Pitt was also on his list of finalists and he holds an offer from West Virginia as well. Perhaps his close relationship with big-time defensive tackle Rashan Gary, a five-star prospect, will pay dividends for Penn State down the road?

Defensive tackle will be one of Penn State’s deepest positions this season with Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson anchoring a defensive line that looks to not miss a beat with two new starters at defensive end. Senior Tarow Barney and redshirt sophomore Parker Cothren will contribute as well. Antoine White, who redshirted last season as a freshman, will be in the mix as well. Incoming freshman Robert Windsor, a three-star prospect from Fond Du Lac, WI, arrives this weekend along with the rest of the 2015 class. Where Windsor ends up longterm at Penn State remains to be seen. 

Penn State will be without Zettel and Barney following this season and possibly Johnson too if he opts to declare for the NFL Draft. That would leave Cothren, White, Windsor and Dwumfour as the team’s lone scholarship defensive tackles. A lot can happen between now and then, but picking up a verbal commitment from Dwumfour helps round out another need, making him the second player to help do so this week. Penn State picked up a verbal commitment from punter Blake Gillikin on Sunday, another member of the 2016 class. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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The new normal? Penn State secures special teams commitment

Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week ago

Last November Charles Huff said Penn State had to decide which leaks to plug first when there were so many needs to fill and not enough scholarships to go around. 

The Penn State special teams coordinator wants scholarship specialists, but the scholarship limitations from the NCAA sanctions left James Franklin and his staff with bigger needs to fill when they took over in 2014. With the Lions allowed to have the full allotment of 85 scholarships this season — a number the team should be close to by my calculations— the depth chart is becoming more balanced with scholarship players across the board. It’ll take years for the scholarships to be balanced per class, but for now they continue to fill needs.  

A lack of scholarship linebackers, one Bill O’Brien cited numerous times during his tenure, is now turned around with 11 scholarship ‘backers once the freshman class enrolls next week. The offensive line secured 13 commitments since Franklin took over, helping fill his top need, though the program still needs time to develop the young linemen. Penn State has verbal commitments from four offensive linemen in the 2016 class. 

Sunday afternoon Penn State took another step forward in returning to creating a balanced roster as 2016 punter Blake Gillikin gave the program his verbal commitment.

Gillikin, one of the top punters in the class, chose Penn State over scholarship offers from Northwestern and the in-state Georgia Bulldogs. He’s the 11th verbal commitment in a class that includes some elite offensive linemen, also helping round out another big need need. 

Gillikin is the first scholarship punter to be recruited to Penn State in some time. Anthony Fera, who left the program in 2012 after the sanctions were announced, was a scholarship specialist who could handle both kicking and punting duties, but he was brought in as a kicker. Fera’s departure thrust Sam Ficken into kicking duties while Alex Butterworth handled punting duties. Last season Ficken, who has since graduated, was the Lions’ lone scholarship specialist.  

Penn State has zero scholarship specialists on the roster headed into this season. 

Penn State previously extended a scholarship to 2016 kicker Quinn Nordin. Nordin visited for the Blue-White Game and has yet to decide on a school. 

Using a scholarship on a specialist is high risk-high reward. Franklin mentioned during spring practice that while he wants scholarship specialists on his roster and that Penn State needs them, ultimately if they miss on a specialist where do they put them? Unlike other positions where an oversized  wide receiver could move to tight end, a quicker receiver could transition into a defensive back or a linebacker to safety, etc. there are few options with specialists. 

Penn State searched the globe last year looking for a punter, before settling on a timeshare between kicker-turned punter Chris Gulla and Australian-born punter Daniel Pasquariello. It’s safe to say it didn’t go as well as they hoped as both struggled with consistency. There were numerous walk-on specialists in camp this spring because Penn State was looking for stability at punter and kicker, two areas that will be open competitions when the team opens camp in August. 

With the verbal pledge from Gillikin Penn State’s run of walk-on specialists could come to an end following this season. If it does, the focus will then shift to how quickly the staff can develop some of the top talents and whether or not the scholarships are used on players who can be difference makers. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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DE Yetur Matos adds Penn State offer

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week ago

NORFOLK, Va. — James Franklin kept a close eye on the offensive and defensive lineman during Thursday night’s satellite camp at Old Dominion University.  

On the field inside the Monarch’s stadium defensive line coach Sean Spencer worked with one group, offensive line coach Herb Hand with another and Franklin, getting from field to field on a golf cart, checked in on both. 

Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer puts the linemen through drills during Thursday's satellite camp at Old Dominion University. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

Chancellor High School (Fredericksburg, Va.) defensive end Yetur Matos was one of the highlights of the night, receiving praise from the Penn State staff as he worked through drills and was pulled to the side. After the conclusion of camp late Thursday night the 2017 prospect had a Penn State scholarship offer to add to his growing list. He already holds offers from Clemson, Duke, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Virginia and Marshall, among others. 

“Coach Franklin is great,” Matos said after camp. “They’re incredibly friendly, but they can be intense and that’s good. … The d-end coach at Penn State has a lot of energy and I really like that.”

Matos visited Penn State in March and said he will return to campus for another visit, even possibly within the next week.

Some of Matos’ high school teammates will attend Penn State’s 7v7 camp in State College on Saturday. Matos will be resting up after a grueling run of back-to-back weeks of camps. 

Defensive end Yetur Matos was one of the standouts at the satellite camp. The 2017 Virginia prospect picked up five scholarship offers last week. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

Matos’ recruitment has taken off already this summer as his family is well into the camp circuit. He picked up five offers in his first week and they continue to come in as West Virginia offered Thursday and Penn State and Old Dominion did too. 

The family started their run of camps a couple weeks ago with UNC Charlotte and then drove to Duke the following day. From there it was Clemson, followed by Virginia Tech, West Virginia and then to the Old Dominion camp where his father said Yetur, who measured in at 6-5, 235 and wears a size 18 shoe was “here to see Penn State.”

“Some schools saw his video and they had reservations, but as soon as they saw him in person it was a done deal,” Matos’ father, Robert, said. “He’s still very young so it’s definitely a good idea to get out and shake hands and pass that eye test.”

Thursday night there were plenty of eyes on him and there will be in the coming years. 

“I think now he’s realizing wow, what people have been telling me for so long it’s coming to fruition,” Robert said. “So now it’s motivating him to want to be better and to work harder.”

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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