James Franklin and his coaching staff looked far and wide for football players to welcome in to Penn State’s 2020 class and found 27 in all, including two from Canada and a quarterback from national power Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas.
The Nittany Lions’ head coach said that’s the way it is now as the program continues to expand its recruiting footprint to keep up with the best teams in the nation. In addition to Canada, a total of 12 states were represented in the new class, but only four signees came from Pennsylvania, none from the Philadelphia area.
“There’s less and less players than there were probably 20 years ago,” Franklin said Wednesday after receiving all 27 national letters of intent. “So we must do a great job in the state of Pennsylvania. That will always be priority number one. Then obviously, it goes to the region, which we’re going to have to do a really good job.
“Then we’re going other places, whether that is Canada, whether that is Germany, whether that is Nevada, whether that is Florida. We’re excited about it but we’re going to continue and need to do a really good job there and be creative and be willing to solve problems.”
Of the Penn State signees, made up of 25 incoming freshmen and two junior-college transfers, 13 were rated four stars by Rivals and ESPN.com, with 247Sports citing 11. ESPN tagged the Nittany Lions as the nation’s No. 12 recruiting class, while 247Sports rated them 13th and Rivals 14th.
Franklin went into Canada and got tight end Theo Johnson of Windsor, Ontario, and wide receiver Malick Meiga of suburban Montreal, adding to a roster that includes safety Jonathan Sutherland and linebacker Jesse Luketa from north of the border. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Johnson, who committed to Penn State last week, is the team’s top-rated signee on offense.
“Canada is starting to turn into like the northern tip of Pennsylvania from a recruiting perspective,” Franklin said.
“The population, the proximity, all those things make a whole lot of sense. Jesse Luketa is a very prideful guy in everything he does, so if there’s a guy in Canada we want, he takes it personal.”
Franklin signed one quarterback, 5-11, 190-pound Micah Bowens of Las Vegas, the third quarterback from Bishop Gorman in the last four years to sign with a Power 5 school, joining Tate Martell (Ohio State, transferred to Miami) and Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA).
Curtis Jacobs, a 6-1, 220-pound linebacker from Glen Burnie, Md., is the Lions’ highest-ranked incoming freshman overall. Overall, the team’s heaviest concentration at positions are offensive line (six), the defensive line (five) and at wide receiver (five).
Franklin said as many as 11 of the new signees will enroll in January.
There was no drama for Penn State on national signing day, although Franklin admitted that the coaches had to communicate clearly to players and parents about the possibility that offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne might leave to take the head coaching job at Old Dominion, which he did on Dec. 9.
“No one flinched,” Franklin said. “We communicated on the front end when the interview process was going on. I communicated it with all the recruits and their parents, our staff did. When guys came up on visits, I talked about it and was very transparent about it.
“So I think it’s a really good sign of a healthy program, guys that are leaving for really good opportunities and for us being transparent and open with the recruits, and no one flinched. I think it’s a really good sign of respect that we’re going to go out and hire a really good guy to come in and continue us climbing and growing to where we want to go. I think that’s been great.”
Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons earned another first-team All-American honor, this one coming from the American Football Coaches Association.
Pat Freiermuth, a sophomore tight end, was named a second-team All-American by the AFCA.
Parsons, the Lions’ leading tackler, also was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Bleacher Report and Pro Football Focus. He earned linebacker-of-the-year honors in the Big Ten.