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Penn State casts wide net in 2019 running back search
Fresh off signing 5-star running back Ricky Slade, Penn State is in pursuit of several rising high school stars at the position in this cycle. The Nittany Lions have built a 2019 recruiting board that features more than 120 prospects, and some of these latest additions include notable rushers.
The foundation for this group was laid in 2016 when James Franklin identified Devyn Ford (Stafford, Va.) and Jordan Houston (Oakton, Va.) as targets before their respective sophomore seasons. Ford may be the biggest domino regarding Penn State’s 2019 offensive efforts, as he visited Happy Valley earlier this week and will likely return to campus prior to a scheduled June commitment announcement.
The Nittany Lions extended an offer to speedster Keilan Robinson (Washington, D.C.) last June, then things went pretty quiet in terms of new pursuits at the position. That’s changed in recent weeks, however, beginning with a Jan. 30 offer to Noah Cain (Bradenton, Fla.).
Cain, who at the time told Land of 10 he plans to visit Penn State, has an established relationship with new Penn State running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider dating back to his days on the Florida Gators staff. As you’d expect, the impact of Saquon Barkley is a routine topic of conversation with this next wave of promising playmakers.
“I followed Saquon a lot this year and I loved the way they put the offense around him,” Cain said.
Cain and Ford are both top-10 running backs in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings. The Nittany Lions entered the mix for another athlete in that category on Feb. 19.
Sampson James, a 6-foot-1, 211-pound junior at Avon (Ind.) High School, added Penn State to an offer sheet approaching 20 Power 5 programs. Since November, he’s collected offers from Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
This expanding interest follows a sensational 2017 season in which James rushed for 1,782 yards (7.3 per carry) and 20 touchdowns, according to 247Sports. Watch his highlights below:
Eric Gray (Memphis, Tenn.) reported a Penn State offer on Tuesday. His statistical output at the prep level is borderline ridiculous, resulting in a list of collegiate options that includes Michigan, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
Considered the No. 2 all-purpose back in the composite rankings, he’s gained 5,688 rushing yards through three high school seasons. Gray scored 91 touchdowns during this span, per 247Sports.
Penn State has been pretty selective with offers at the position to this point, and it’s compelling to see how a new positional coach could alter recruiting strategy. The outcome of Ford’s early-summer decision will help set the course for what happens next.
Nittany Lions also well underway with pursuit of 2020 rushers
Penn State has also stayed busy evaluating running back prospects entering the final few months of their sophomore years. Among the 30 offers Franklin has presented to 2020 recruits, six belong to running backs.
That already matches the amount of offers handed out to 2019 backs.
Chris Tyree, the nation’s No. 1 running back and No. 4 overall talent in 247Sports 2020 rankings, was the initial target. He earned an offer last June while on campus for a team-run camp. His interest in Penn State is legitimate and his father, Richard Tyree, told Land of 10 the family was impressed by how Franklin handled staff changes this winter.
Tyree remains a significant name to know in the 2020 class, but he now has plenty of impressive company on Penn State’s board.
Marshawn Lloyd (Hyattsville, Md.), also considered a top-10 overall recruit, picked up a Penn State offer on Jan. 29, two days after Ohio State entered his recruitment. Though he missed most of his sophomore season with a wrist injury, college programs are already lining up in bunches for a chance to issue their pitch.
Days later, the Nittany Lions set sights on the West Coast. Penn State offered Kendall Milton (Clovis, Calif.) on Jan. 31, joining a pack of suitors that includes Ohio State, Oregon, Southern Cal and Washington.
Milton a physical 6-2, 210-pound runner listed in the top-5 of position rankings, collected 1,514 total yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017, according to Adam Gorney of Rivals.com. Penn State signed a pair of players from both Florida and Texas this winter, and increased exposure in another talent-rich state can only provide positive returns for the program.
Penn State further expanded recruiting efforts in Florida this month with nearly 20 offers, and one of the Sunshine State’s most promising sophomores received one. Deerfield Beach High School standout Jaylan Knighton landed on the Nittany Lions’ list two weeks ago.
Franklin & Co. continue to aim high, targeting a prospect whose offer list already includes Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Miami midway through high school.
It’s clear Penn State is intent to at least enter the conversation for premier prospects, regardless of region. And its efforts at running back serve as a prime example.
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