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Penn State signs 18 players to national letters of intent, adding a top-five running back late

The Nittany Lions picked up their final commitment Wednesday from Noah Cain of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who joins Devyn Ford, another highly ranked running back from Stafford, Va.

Noah Cain scoring for IMG Academy against Mater Dei (Calif.) in September.
Noah Cain scoring for IMG Academy against Mater Dei (Calif.) in September.Read moreAP

The commitment of top-five running back Noah Cain to Penn State on Wednesday’s signing day might have been a pleasant surprise to fans of the Nittany Lions. Head coach James Franklin said he received Cain’s oral pledge “a few weeks ago.”

That, however, didn’t quite prepare Franklin for the phone call he received less than 12 hours before Cain revealed his decision to a national television audience on ESPN2 from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., increasing Penn State’s signing class to 18.

“I felt pretty confident about that until I get a call at 12:05 [a.m. Wednesday] and it’s Noah, mom and dad, and they want to have a discussion,” Franklin said at a news conference. “And the discussion is coming off like they have not made their decision yet.

“So there I am in my boxers having a heated discussion and selling on why this makes sense. The same thing with [running backs coach JaJuan Seider], and again this morning. I think that happens. This is a big decision guys are making and I think when you wait till the end, you start getting pulled in a thousand directions, so we get that.”

Franklin answered all the questions and Cain announced his decision to go with Penn State over Auburn, Georgia, and Texas. It gave the Nittany Lions' recruiting class a pair of highly regarded backs in Cain and Devyn Ford of Stafford, Va.

The 5-foot-10, 209-pound Cain is rated the No. 4 running back in the nation by ESPN, No. 5 by Rivals and No. 7 by 247Sports. Ford, who is 5-11 and 188 pounds, is rated No. 2 by Rivals, No. 5 by 247Sports and No. 8 by ESPN.

The signings of Cain and Ford added to the riches Penn State has been able to attract at running back. In four of the last five signing classes, Franklin has brought in Saquon Barkley (2015), Miles Sanders (No. 1-ranked in 2016) and Ricky Slade (No. 2-ranked in 2018). The coach said Barkley has played a major role.

“We play in the Rose Bowl and he’s got that run where he made 17 people miss and it’s a signature run,” he said of Barkley’s 79-yard touchdown in 2017. “I do think there’s an impact because players sit there and they try to envision themselves doing something similar. Whenever you have exciting players like that, it can make a huge impact.”

Overall, Franklin called it “a good day” without “a whole lot of drama.” The Nittany Lions' class, which was heaviest at defensive back (four) and on the offensive line (three), was ranked 10th by 247Sports and Rivals and 12th by ESPN.

Franklin said more signings were expected, either by the end of the signing period Friday or by the next signing day on Feb. 6.

“We’ve got a little wiggle room left,” he said, “some guys that were going to hopefully sign in the next signing period, and some guys that we have a lot of confidence in and some guys that we have medium confidence in and some guys who are still kind of trying to figure it out.”

The Nittany Lions signed 18 recruits – 16 high school players and two junior college transfers. Two of their recruits were rated five stars: Ford (by Rivals) and 6-3, 225-pound linebacker Brandon Smith of Louisa County (Va.) High (by 247Sports).

A potentially tense moment failed to materialize when four-star wide receiver John Dunmore of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signed his letter of intent. Dunmore had made an official visit last weekend to Miami.

“Really, J.D. never wavered with us,” Franklin said. “Obviously, he wanted to go on a visit and that’s always a little concerning, especially a place that has palm trees and sand. But he was great.”

Penn State signees:

DE Hakeem Beamon, 6-3, 259, Midlothian, Va./Manchester

S Jaquan Brisker, 6-1, 190, Pittsburgh/Gateway/Lackawanna

RB Noah Cain, 5-10, 209, Flower Mound, Texas/IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)

LB Lance Dixon, 6-1, 205, West Bloomfield, Mich./ West Bloomfield

WR John Dunmore, 6-1, 180, Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna Prep

CB Keaton Ellis, 5-11, 177, State College, Pa./State College

RB Devyn Ford, 5-11, 188, Stafford, Va./North Stafford

DE Adisa Isaac, 6-4, 220, Brooklyn, N.Y./Canarsie

QB Michael Johnson Jr., 6-2, 197, Eugene, Ore./Sheldon

CB Joey Porter Jr., 6-2, 185, Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny

QB Ta’Quan Roberson, 5-11, 193, Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic

CB Tyler Rudolph, 5-11, 200, Waterbury, Conn./St. Thomas More

LB Brandon Smith, 6-3, 225, Louisa, Va./ Louisa County

TE Brenton Strange, 6-4, 214, Parkersburg, W.Va./Parkersburg

OL Caeden Wallace, 6-5, 291, Robbinsville, N.J./Hun School

OL Anthony Whigan, 6-4, 292, Lexington Park, Md./Great Mills/Lackawanna

CB Marquis Wilson, 5-11, 167, Windsor, Conn./Windsor

OL Saleem Wormley, 6-3, 311, Smyrna, Del./Smyrna