Penn State football: Notable Nittany Lions recruiting battles vs. Michigan during James Franklin era

The battle between Penn State and fellow Big Ten powerhouse football programs extends beyond the field. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin routinely competes against conference rivals in the pursuit of top recruits.

Franklin, hired by Penn State in January 2014, has taken part in his fair share of showdowns with Michigan, on and off the field. While he’s in search of his first victory over the Wolverines this Saturday, there have been some notable successes on the recruiting trail.

Key players currently on the Nittany Lions roster could have ended up at Michigan in different circumstances, though this thought process also swings the other way. Here is a review of a few notable current college players who seriously considered both schools during their recruitment in high school.

Michigan safety Khaleke Hudson

Recruiting class: 2016

High School: McKeesport (Pa.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 19 safety

What happened: Considered a top-10 Pennsylvania prospect in his senior class, Khaleke Hudson received a Penn State offer immediately after his junior season. During his search for the right college fit, he was a frequent Happy Valley visitor and at times there was a sense it would be his ultimate destination. However, Hudson made his choice when he pledged to the Wolverines just a few days after his final official visit to Penn State.

“I felt like Michigan was a better place for me,” Hudson told Austin Fox of this week. “It was important for me to get away from home and find some new friends. I just felt like I was supposed to be here.”

Khaleke Hudson (No. 7) left his home state to eventually become a Michigan starter. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson

Recruiting Class: 2015

High School: Glassboro (N.J.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 14 receiver

What happened: It  didn’t take long for the younger brother of NFL defensive end George Johnson — a big-bodied pass target — to land on the recruiting radar for college football programs across America. The process really began to heat up for Juwan Johnson after his junior season, and he told me at the start of 2014 he considered Michigan one of his top two options, along with Ohio State. Things changed in spring 2014 when he met with Penn State players and coaches on campus, and it didn’t take long to get him on board.

“We were talking in Coach Franklin’s office and he was just being honest,” Johnson told me prior to his senior high school season. “He said, ‘We need you here and we want you to be a part of this team.’ I liked everything about it and committed on the spot.”

Juwan Johnson, Penn State, football
Juwan Johnson caught the game-winning catch as time expired Sept. 23 against Iowa. (Tyler Donohue/Land of 10)

Michigan defensive end Donovan Jeter

Recruiting Class: 2017

High School: Beaver Falls (Pa.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 12 strongside defensive end

What happened: Penn State invested early in Donovan Jeter, offering a scholarship midway through his sophomore year. Several schools followed suit, and by the time his senior season, approached Penn State wasn’t exactly pacing the pack. Jeter pledged to Notre Dame in September but that verbal pact only lasted one month. Nearby Pittsburgh and the Nittany Lions seemed to be natural fallback plans following his de-commitment but Michigan made a strong push. The Wolverines received an official visit in October, the same weekend Jeter previously considered attending the Penn State-Ohio State game, according to Greg Pickel of Penn Live. He committed to Michigan immediately after that trip to Ann Arbor.

Donovan Jeter during his Michigan visit on Oct. 22, 2016 – he committed the next day. (Land of 10/file photo)

Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin

Recruiting Class: 2016

High School: Rockford (Mich.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 1 kicker

What happened: Quinn Nordin committed to Penn State the summer before his senior season, providing the Nittany Lions with America’s premier kicker prospect. He remained a member of the class for another six months, taking an official visit to Penn State in the process. Still, the most well-known aspect of this recruiting process is a sleepover. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh arrived at Nordin’s home on Jan. 15, 2016, and proceeded to spend the night while making his pitch on behalf of Michigan.

“We stayed up until 1:15, 2 o’clock. When I woke up in the morning, my mom made pancakes and waffles for Coach, and there we were, chowing down breakfast,” Nordin told  Steve Kaminski of

Nordin was still at Penn State pledge at the time, but he de-committed a week later and ultimately signed with the Wolverines.

quinn nordin-michigan football-big ten special teams player week
Quinn Nordin has developed into a valuable special teams weapon for the Wolverines. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Penn State offensive tackle Will Fries

Recruiting Class: 2016

High School: Cranford (N.J.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 45 offensive tackle

What happened: Will Fries’ recruitment took off during his junior season, as scholarship offers arrived from various Power 5 programs. Penn State was among the earliest programs to show interest and send an offer his way. Several campus visits followed and the Nittany Lions emerged as a primary contender, but Michigan entered the mix in spring 2015 and also welcomed him to the university. Fries expressed excitement about the possibility of playing for the Wolverines and a pair of players he trained with — New Jersey defensive linemen Michael Dwumfour and Rashan Gary — ended up signing with Michigan. However, he pledged to Penn State in June 2015 and stuck with his commitment despite the Wolverines’ efforts to flip him.

After a redshirt season in 2016, Will Fries has played a substantial number of snaps this season. (Penn State football/courtesy)

Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill

Recruiting Class: 2016

High School: Martin Luther King (Detroit)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 12 cornerback

What happened: This was a wild ride for the Nittany Lions. Penn State held a commitment from coveted Detroit defensive back Lavert Hill for nearly a full year prior to his November 2015 de-commitment, upon which Michigan emerged as the clear top contender to sign him. Still, Hill held off on a decision until National Signing Day (Feb. 3) and used an official visit in Happy Valley less than three weeks before then. The Nittany Lions were in contention down to the wire but Hill opted to remain close to home with a commitment to the Wolverines.

“It was pretty difficult,” Hill told Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press on signing day. “It was stressful every day. I was thinking about it all night.”

Penn State offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins

Recruiting Class: 2015

High School: Baldwin (Pittsburgh)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 17 offensive tackle

What happened: Naturally, Pitt initially presented the most evident challenge to Penn State in this pursuit. However, Sterling Jenkins’ decision eventually narrowed to a trio of Big Ten teams: Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Interestingly enough, his choice was aided by attending a 2013 Nittany Lions-Wolverines matchup in Beaver Stadium.

“I really go back to that Penn State-Michigan game when I came to the realization that everything came together for me about Penn State,” Jenkins told Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after a May 6, 2014, commitment to Penn State. “That’s when I saw how dedicated the fans are up there. I mean I enjoyed Ohio State and Michigan when I visited there, but it was apparent which one I preferred most.”

Michigan defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour

Recruiting Class: 2016

High School: DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.)

247Sports composite ranking: No. 59 defensive tackle

What happened: This is another case of a recruit who started off as a Penn State commit but ended up in a Michigan uniform. The Wolverines dominated New Jersey’s recruiting scene during the 2016 recruiting cycle, headlined by No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary. Michael Dwumfour received a Nittany Lions offer in June 2015 after attending a program-run camp. However, he backed off the verbal pledge he’d made less than two weeks before signing day, soon after an official visit to Ann Arbor. Hours after Dwumfour announced his de-commitment from Penn State, he publicly become a member of Michigan’s class.

“Unfortunately my heart is somewhere else,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s been fun to be a part of the family but Happy Valley isn’t where I belong.”

The post Penn State football: Notable Nittany Lions recruiting battles vs. Michigan during James Franklin era appeared first on Land of 10.

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