Q&A: RB Miles Sanders on his Penn State pledge and more

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders will be one of Penn State’s four verbal commitments participating in The Opening out at Nike World Headquarters next week in Beaverton, Ore.

Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders verbally committed to Penn State in July of 2014 and says he's still on board with James Franklin's Nittany Lions. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

With the 2016 recruiting class up to 15 members, the 4-star running back who committed to Penn State in July of 2014, said nearly a year later he’s still sold on Penn State. Why?

Here are some of the highlights from my recent conversation with Sanders:

Q: What’s the rest of this summer look like for you?

A: Miles Sanders: “I had the 5-star challenge earlier this month, I think it was this month, and then I’ve got The Opening soon so that’ll be good and then after that I just got practice with my team and stuff and getting ready for my senior season.”

Q: It seems like you’re the kind of player where the more events you’re at, the more people see you at these showcases, the more your stock continues to rise. Do you feel like you’re still opening eyes even at this stage in the process?

A: Sanders: “Yeah, they put me in the top-50 on 247 and stuff so yeah, rankings, I don’t really pay attention to the rankings, but it’d be good to get a fifth star.”

Q: Do you think about getting that fifth and final star?

A: Sanders: “Nah, not really. If it happens, it happens.”

Q: Penn State has the 2015 class ready to go and since you’ve been verbally committed for so long are you close with anybody in that class?

A: Sanders: “Everybody. [Running back] Saquon [Barkley], [receiver] Irv [Charles], I’m close with them. In about a year they’ll be my teammates.”

Q: Your 2016 class continues gaining momentum with all these defensive linemen they’ve added lately. Have you kept up on that?

A: Sanders: “Oh yeah. It’s exciting just knowing our class is getting better and bigger.”

Q: I know James Franklin wants you guys to be active recruiters while putting your class together. What’s your recruiting pitch like?

A: Sanders: “He tells us the people he really wants and then we just tell them why we chose Penn State, why it’s the best place to be right now. … Most of them ask me why I picked Penn State and I’ll just be real with them. The coaches show love. They make you feel like it’s a family and that’s how coach Franklin is. He’s a family guy. He treats us like we’re his sons and he’s just real with us.”

Q: Penn State is also after a lot of that WPIAL talent. What are your thoughts on the talent out there since you know most of those guys?

A: Sanders: “It’s crazy. There are crazy athletes coming out of the WPIAL so we just gotta try and get them to Penn State.”

Q: Since July of 2014 you’ve been committed to Penn State. That’s a long time. I’m sure other teams don’t stop calling you so have you thought about going elsewhere and will you look elsewhere?

A: Sanders: “The calling, that’s just the recruiting process. Of course I’ve thought about other schools, but what I’ve come to realize is every time I come to Penn State the reason why I’m here is because it feels like home -- and my mom loves it here too.”

Q: If mom is on board that’s probably important, right?

A: Sanders: “Yeah, she might love it more than me actually [laughs]. I’m sticking with Penn State though, 100 percent Penn State.”

Q: Is it difficult for you when you see on social media that fans question your commitment? I know you reiterated your commitment on Twitter one night in May just to kind of calm people down it seems.

A: Sanders: “Yeah, they were switching my words up. I was thinking of taking other officials and that’s just official [visits]. I’m still 100 percent Penn State. It’s just taking official visits to take official visits, just to take them. They were saying I was going to decommit and all that and no, I’m definitely 100 percent Penn State. That’s where I want to be.”

Q: You’re on the front lines of this Penn State-Pitt rivalry and with the 2016 game on the radar what’s it like for you being a Penn State commit in Pittsburgh?

A: Sanders: “Those Pitt fans are crazy [laughs] and when I’m home I see them all around and they come up and talk to me.”

Q: Are they trying to recruit you to Pitt?

A: Sanders: “[Laughs] nah, I’m not hearing it.”

Q: Penn State has a lot of running backs on this team that are young. A year is a long time to wait and see where you might stack up. Do you pay attention to that and how many young running backs this team has?

A: Sanders: “Yeah, I do. Everywhere you go you’re going to have to compete so it doesn’t really matter to me. Coach told me when I come up here he’s going to throw me right in the rotation and then it’s up to me.”

Q: What goals do you have in mind for your final high school season?

A: Sanders: “Just to get back to Heinz [Field] that’s it. Just to win for the team and do whatever it takes.”

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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Updated look at Penn State's 2016 recruiting class

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

Penn State picked up the team’s 15th verbal commitment in the 2016 class Tuesday afternoon and the addition of defensive end Daniel Joseph continues expanding the footprint of this class.

The Lake Forest (Ill) prospect is the 12th player from outside of Pennsylvania to give the Lions a verbal pledge, continuing to follow the staff’s philosophy of recruiting nationally by position while continuing to try and keep the top in-state talents at Penn State. So far that’s been the case for the most part as running back Miles Sanders, center Connor McGovern and offensive lineman Michal Menet, all among the top in-state talents are on board with Penn State.

Even with it being the NCAA’s dead period until July 12 the staff will continue working their phones while also focusing on beginning to put the 2017 class together. It’s about that time of year where one or two players from the 2017 cycle begin making college decisions and it was nearly a year ago that Penn State picked up verbal pledges from the first two 2016 members in Sanders and 4-star defensive end Shane Simmons.

I caught up with Sanders before he heads out to The Opening next week (look for a Q&A with him on here Wednesday morning) who was the first 2016 prospect to give James Franklin his pledge. Staying committed for about 19 months, which is what it will be by signing day, is a long time for any high schooler to keep his or her mind set on one place.

Here’s where the 2016 class stands with the addition of Joseph:

Name High School Position Rivals Ranking
Christian Colon Independence (NC) DT 3-star
Danny Dalton Marshfield (Ma) TE 3-star
Michael Dwumfour De Paul Catholic (NJ) DT 2-star
Will Fries Cranford (NJ) OL 4-star
Alex Gellerstedt Coffman (OH) OL 3-star
Blake Gillikin Westminster (Ga) P 3-star
LaVert Hill Martin Luther King (MI) DB 4-star
Ellison Jordan Gilman (Md) DT 4-star
Daniel Joseph Lake Forest (Ill) DE 3-star
Connor McGovern Lake Lehman (Pa) C 4-star
Zechariah McPhearson Riverdale Baptist (Md) DB 3-star
Michal Menet Exeter Township (Pa) OL 4-star
Miles Sanders Woodland Hills (Pa) RB 4-star
Shane Simmons Dematha (Md) DE 4-star
Jake Zembiec Aquinas Institute (NY) QB 4-star

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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QB Christian Hackenberg will be Elite 11 counselor

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg is no stranger to Nike’s high school showcase event known as the Elite 11. The Nittany Lion junior participated in the event the summer before his senior year of high school and received rave reviews while lining up with the the best quarterbacks in his recruiting class.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

This time around Hackenberg will be in a different role. The Elite 11 confirmed to the Post-Gazette that Hackenberg will be one of the program’s counselors for next week’s event. The three-day competition, held July 5-7 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., tests the high school quarterbacks in all aspects of their game. Physical and mental toughness, situational drills and film study are all evaluated while the players learn from former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer and college and professional athletes that Elite 11 brings in. 

For Hackenberg this means the chance to mentor future Penn State quarterback Jake Zembiec who earned his spot to the Elite 11 after competing last month in the semifinals in Los Angeles. Zembiec, who is verbally committed to Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class, will have a chance to work with some of his future teammates and Penn State recruiting targets later in the week when the premier showcase for all the players, known as The Opening, takes place. 

Last year Ndamukong Suh, Richard Sherman and Tyrann Mathieu were among the guests The Opening brought in to help players through drills while college quarterbacks Sean Mannion, Connor Cook, Everett Golson, Travis Wilson and Bryce Petty served as the Elite 11 counselors. Given Hackenberg’s previous participation in the event, coupled with many pundits pegging him as a future first-round NFL draft pick, the pairing makes sense. 

Hackenberg is coming off a shaky sophomore season where an inexperienced offensive line played a big role in the offense’s struggles while he was sacked 44 times and threw 12 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. The former five-star prospect will have more experienced receivers around him this year and the offensive line with more than a year together needs to find a replacement for left tackle Donovan Smith. 

There will be plenty of Penn State ties out in Oregon next week that extend beyond Hackenberg and Zembiec. Woodland Hills running back and 2016 Penn State verbal commit Miles Sanders will participate in The Opening along with fellow classmates Shane Simmons and LaVert Hill. Penn State recruiting targets Oluwole Betiku, who is LaVar Arrington’s adopted son, will be on hand and so will receiver target Trevon Diggs and running back D’Andre Swift. Central Catholic standout cornerback Damar Hamlin will be in attendance as well.

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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New Penn State statue up on campus

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

Penn State’s 2013 class gift was installed Tuesday morning and by the looks of it the 12 foot, mirror polished We Are... statue will be a hit. 

Located on the east side of Penn State’s Intramural Building, close enough to Beaver Stadium, the Bryce Jordan Center and Pegula Ice Arena, the statue is also supposed to have the words to the alma mater in the original handwriting of the creator, Fred Lewis Pattee. Seeing fans and students flock to the statue will likely be the new norm on football Saturdays as onlookers check it out between tailgates. 

It’s been nearly three years since the bronze Joe Paterno statue, which was the only statue in that area near the stadium, was removed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. A new statue, featuring Paterno sitting on a bench reading a book, is slated to be located downtown in front of The Tavern restaurant, which is off of Penn State property. The initial completion date for the project was November 2015. 

Other notable Penn State class gifts include the Nittany Lion Shrine (1940), Beaver Field electric scoreboard and timer (1926), Beaver Stadium entrance gate (1960), sundial on Old Main lawn (1966), Beaver Stadium victory bell (1978) and plenty more that can be found here. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter: @audsnyder4

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Penn State adds third verbal commitment of the week

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week 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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