Answering Nittany Lions recruiting questions

Have Penn State football recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Penn State recruiting mailbag to discuss Nittany Lions recruiting. This week, we discuss premier in-state prospects Micah Parsons and Julian Fleming, along with the potential for the first 2019 commitment.


Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started…

We’ll get underway with a prospect who remains a hot topic among Nittany Lions fans: 5-star edge rusher Micah Parsons

Thanks for starting us off, Troy, and I’m sure you’re not alone among those curious about the status of Parsons. Hopefully this is because our loyal audience read my story on the Harrisburg (Pa.) High School senior shortly after he wrapped up his season opener on Saturday.

Parsons impressed, to say the least, during less than three full quarters of action. He recorded 8 tackles, a pass deflection and a 22-yard touchdown run. There is no doubt he warrants 5-star status, and while standing on Harrisburg’s sideline throughout the game, it became clear Parsons can play linebacker or defensive end in college, which was a question I addressed in our most recent mailbag.

Before I jump into Troy’s question about the odds of Parsons returning to Penn State’s class, take a look at his highlights from a 33-14 victory over Philadelphia powerhouse Imhotep Charter:

Let’s now move on from his ridiculous potential to his whirlwind recruitment. Here is what I know based on a postgame discussion with Parsons:

  • Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio State will receive official visits. Trips to Columbus and Lincoln are locked in, while details aren’t set for his return to Tuscaloosa, where he spent time in mid-July.
  • Penn State may also host an official visit, though it likely won’t happen until after the season. Harrisburg teammate and Nittany Lions pledge Shaquon Anderson-Butts expressed immense confidence Saturday that Parsons will indeed spend his college career in Happy Valley, and he’ll work on convincing the prized prospect to accompany him to a game this fall.
  • Parsons hasn’t trimmed down his list yet, leaving the door open for schools such as Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Southern Cal to claim a spot on his travel itinerary.
  • Perhaps more important than any official visit plans, Parsons is on track to graduate high school early and enroll at the campus of his choice in January. This effectively eliminates the final five weeks of this 2018 recruiting cycle from his recruitment, developing an increased pace and pressure on contenders to get him on campus.

So, digesting all that and simply reading between the lines during various conversations, I’m not convinced enough to place Penn State’s odds at 50/50. In fact, I’d have a hard time taking you up on 40/60 odds.

Parsons clearly has a lot of thinking to do, and exploration during official visits will contribute to his final decision. Signs point toward him potentially visiting Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio State twice since he last journeyed to State College in June.

A December visit to Penn State, whether it’s official or not, could be huge. It would provide Parsons, his family and the Nittany Lions staff one final opportunity to reaffirm initial sentiments that resulted in a 14-month commitment.

I can’t tell you this with absolute certainty, but I’d have a hard time believing Penn State is prioritizing anyone in the 2020 class over a truly elite in-state athlete such as Julian Fleming. It obviously remains very early in that recruiting cycle but, as I’ve said before, Fleming is one of the finest young receiver prospects I’ve evaluated.

We’re not just talking about a “high ceiling” here. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Southern Columbia (Catawissa, Pa.) standout has produced since he hit the field as a freshman, recording 40 receptions for 1,067 yards (26.7 per catch) and 16 touchdowns through the first game of his sophomore season.

Fleming and I spoke earlier this week, and it’s clear he is excited about Penn State. The Nittany Lions offered him during a campus visit on June 17. He returned one month later for Lasch Bash festivities, where he bonded with a few of the program’s 2018 pledges.

Fleming lives less than two hours east of State College. A majority of his family and friends are Penn State fans. That’s an excellent combination for James Franklin.

Considered the top receiver and No. 5 overall recruit in the 247Sports 2019 rankings, his offer sheet also features Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses 20 offers by winter.

Fleming expects to visit at least one Nittany Lions game this season. He will remain a major concern for the Penn State staff in the years ahead, and ultimately could become the centerpiece of the 2020 recruiting class.

Many marquee college football programs will come calling, but the Nittany Lions are off to a strong start.

I suppose this is more of a plea than a question, but we’ll make it work, Eric.

An exciting summer of 2018 commitments — Penn State picked up 10 pledges between July 6 and Aug. 10 ― has given way to mild anxiousness among fans when it comes to the 2019 recruiting class. The Nittany Lions are still searching for the first member of this class, while the 2018 class featured four commits prior to last season.

However, let’s remember the old adage: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” This applies to plenty in life, and certainly to college football recruiting. Among those four 2018 pledges that took place in 2016, only two remain on board. Parsons and in-state offensive linemen Chris Bleich both bailed on the class in April, while receiver Justin Shorter and tight end Pat Freiermuth have established themselves as mainstays.

With limited scholarship slots remaining in the 2018 cycle, the Nittany Lions staff is afforded an opportunity to dedicate greater resources toward the pursuit of high school juniors. Former Penn State player Justin King, now a member of the recruiting department, posted a message to Twitter on Wednesday night that indicates his crew is ready to hunt down 2019 talent.

Who are possible early pieces to that puzzle?

Three names come to mind: cornerbacks Keaton Ellis and Nyquee Hawkins, and running back Jordan Houston.

Ellis is the most likely to land with Penn State sometime this season, in my opinion. He lives in town, attends State College Area High, and is the son of a former Nittany Lions player who works for the university.

Houston also has family ties to Penn State, as his mother and uncle are graduates. As I documented in our Wednesday notebook, he will attend the game against Pitt on Sept. 9. There’s a chance the Flint Hill School (Oakton, Va.) product pulls the trigger on a pledge as a junior, but recent offers and mounting momentum in his recruitment may encourage him to see how this process develops.

Hawkins, yet another New Jersey talent to enter the Nittany Lions’ cross-hairs, has been visiting Happy Valley since the earliest stages of high school. His relationship with the staff will be tough for any team to top, and he’s a blue-chip defensive back who would set an early tone of excellence for the 2019 class.

Nothing appears imminent at this point, but I anticipate Penn State will pick up its initial 2019 commitment before October. My intention is to attend the State College Area game Friday night to evaluate and speak with Ellis, so look for an update early next week.

Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State recruiting mailbags here.

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