Penn State football establishes strong national brand with running back recruits

10:33 am | June 13, 2018 | Go to Source | Author: Tyler Donohue

Have Penn State football recruiting questions? Land of 10’s Tyler Donohue will answer a Recruiting Question of the Day every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can ask him your questions on Twitter or on Facebook. Find our previous questions and answers here.

Our latest Penn State Nittany Lions Recruiting Question of the Day comes from Anthony, via Twitter…

Anthony points out that Penn State has sustained its pursuit of running back recruits despite holding a verbal pledge from one of college football’s most prized prospects at the position — Devyn Ford. The North Stafford (Va.) High School standout, listed fifth among running backs in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2019, committed to the Nittany Lions on May 18.

As I noted soon after Ford’s announcement, his willingness to embrace substantial competition — projected Penn State starter Miles Sanders and incoming freshman Ricky Slade were both 5-star recruits in high school — proved crucial. Focusing on Slade, a fellow first-team Virginia all-state selection in 2017, he expressed optimism that they will “play off each other’s strengths” and ultimately improve their respective skill sets while vying for reps.

A similar attitude is presumably necessary for any other 2019 running back interested in sharing the Nittany Lions class with Ford.

“I wouldn’t really care what other running back comes in with me. As long as it looks like a good fit for me, I’m good with it,” Noah Cain, another top-5 rusher, said when asked to explain how he will assess collegiate opportunities.

Cain, who attends IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), traveled to Happy Valley for the first time in late April. That experience exceeded his expectations and another visit is anticipated this summer before he trims things down to five finalists and works toward a December decision and early enrollment.

Eric Gray, the nation’s No. 3 all-purpose back in the 2019 composite rankings, was on campus last weekend. A prolific playmaker at Lausanne Collegiate School (Memphis, Tenn.), he is nearing the end of his recruitment with a trip to Michigan approaching and multiple SEC programs in the mix.

He, too, brushed aside the possibility of a two-back class becoming a deterrent.

“If you want the starting job you have to work. I mean, you have to earn it,” Gray told Blue-White Illustrated’s Tim Owen. “Nothing is going to be given to you, especially in the Power 5. If you want to go Power 5 and you want to play with the big dogs, you have to compete and you have to prove you’re the best.”

Austin Jones (Oakland, Calif.), viewed as the position’s premier West Coast prospect, isn’t heading to Penn State based on the top-5 list he tweeted Monday. Still, when the No. 6 running back recruit trimmed a lengthy offer sheet down to 10 options earlier this month, only the Nittany Lions represented Big Ten football.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, don’t scoff at the notion of Penn State being “a hat on the table” for top players across the United States. Even when results aren’t tangible, it’s the sign of a healthy brand.

Penn State’s brand is healthier than it’s ever been under James Franklin, and this is especially the case at running back.

The immense success of Saquon Barkley and his NFL draft fortunes resonate tremendously with young players who hope to follow a similar path. That’s a boost for Nittany Lions recruiting efforts.

Don’t take my word for it; here are recent comments on the subject from running backs we’ve just mentioned.

Ricky Slade: “Penn State explained they want to try to use me in the same role they used him. That’s what [former Penn State running backs coach Charles] Huff told me when he was here, and James Franklin and [offensive coordinator Ricky] Rahne keep informing me the offensive scheme won’t really change for me.”

Devyn Ford: “Seeing what he did there is a really big statement for the program. It makes Penn State a very interesting place to look into because their offense is very, very creative and they put Saquon in spots to make big plays all over the field. I think I’m also a versatile player, so it’s something that definitely stands out.”

Noah Cain: “Coach Franklin was telling me about how they built Saquon’s brand at Penn State. Saquon was the perfect guy for their program and he can be the face of football. He was really selling me on all the off-field things that make Saquon so special, not just what he can do as a player. That’s big for my family and I.”

Eric Gray (via Blue-White Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder): “You can’t go wrong with the school that just had Saquon Barkley running for them.”

New York Giants-Odell Beckham Jr.-react-drafting-Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley set a high bar for Penn State running backs, attracting national attention along the way. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Beyond these compelling 2019 prospects, Penn State is also well established in the recruitment of prized 2020 running backs. Marshawn Lloyd (Hyattsville, Md.) and Chris Tyree (Chester, Va.) are top-40 overall talents who’ve made it a priority to visit Penn State, and it wouldn’t surprise to see the Nittany Lions again entice elite targets from far beyond the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic regions.

Execution of the next-man-up mentality is crucial for sustained success in college football. Penn State appears very much prepared for it in the offensive backfield.

To address Anthony’s question in its most basic form — at this stage, I’d lean toward the Nittany Lions landing another running back in this cycle. A transparent relationship between Ford and the staff should alleviate any concern about that potential development negatively affecting dynamics between the two.

Penn State wants to establish the most competitive environment in college football. It’s on the right track at running back.

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