Now that Penn State is back to a full complement of scholarships, there is no need for James Franklin to play more than a handful of true freshmen.
This year, you can count on Lamont Wade being one of the chosen few.
If there is one area of the five-star CB’s game that needs work, it is his technique. He was so athletic, physical and aggressive in high school that he was able to dominate simply by overwhelming most opponents. You almost felt bad for the poor saps he would knock around at 7-on-7 camps.
At the college level, he is going to have to add technique to that package. The good news for Wade is that he enrolled early. The better news is that he already has a strong connection with CB coach Terry Smith (Smith recruited him) and that the Lions have several veteran corners who will impart their wisdom in winter workouts, spring practice and summer workouts.
Whether at cornerback or nickel, we fully expect Wade to crack the defensive two-deep this year.
What’s more, he has the ability to give PSU a boost on special teams and offense, too. More on this later.
While covering a Penn State football camp in the summer of 2015, a tall, relatively skinny kid in street clothes came walking across the field. Someone in a small group of reporters said, “Who’s the basketball recruit?”
As it turned out, this was not a basketball recruit at all. Rather, it was football recruit Yetur Matos, then a rising junior defensive end out of Virginia.
Check out the photo of Matos from that day above (and compare it to the photo at the top of the page, which was taken last summer). As skinny as he appeared to be from a distance, as he got closer, it was easy to see why college programs were already salivating over him. His legs were remarkably sturdy for someone so lanky. His arms were long and thicker than you might have expected.
Matos committed to Penn State last February and the Nittany Lions got a gem. Even as a four-star prospect, I’d argue he is the most underrated player in this class.
At last check, Matos was 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. He has clocked a sub 4.6-second 40 and a 4.3-second range NFL shuttle. He’s done a triple broad jump of nearly 30 feet. And he has the sort of frame that can carry another 20 pounds.
When he arrives at Penn State, he will immediately be one of the top handful of NFL prospects in the program.
Ohio prospects who don’t receive offers from Ohio State tend to fly a bit under the radar. But in center/guard Mike Miranda — who enrolled at PSU in January — the Nittany Lions believe they stole one from the Buckeyes.
Calling Miranda a diamond in the rough would not be accurate, because he actually arrived at Penn State (in January) with sound fundamentals. Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, who has an obvious appreciation for the technical stuff up front, is extremely high on Miranda.
At 6-3, 295 pound, Miranda has good size. And the people who covered him in high school say he has a nasty streak.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
So who can we call a diamond in the rough? We’ll go with offensive lineman Desmond Holmes out of Philadelphia.
At 6-5, 325, Holmes is really going to have to transform his body before he has a chance to play at Penn State. We’re guessing that process will take at least two years. He can work on his technique during that time, as well. There will be no reason to rush him because Penn State finally seems to have legit depth up front now.
After Holmes has been in the program for a while, though, he ought to have the size and athletic ability to make a real impact up for PSU.
A coaching staff can help a young lineman get stronger and faster. And it can help him with technique.
But nobody can teach the sort of frame Holmes brings to the table.
LEADER OF THE PACK
This one is obvious to anyone who has been following Penn State recruiting. Ohio quarterback Sean Clifford was the first member of this class, committing back in the summer of 2015. And he never waivered, even when it looked like Ohio State might offer.
Clifford immediately became a spokesman for the class and one of its most important recruiters. He seemed to be at every key visit weekend and PSU summer camp.
Speaking of camps, whenever he was at Penn State, it was obvious Clifford had already developed a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and the rest of the staff.
Clifford even worked as a de facto Penn State recruiter at national camps, including The Opening in Oregon last summer.
I actually attended a high school game this year where a four-star receiver did two things — played receiver and returned punts. He was clearly the best all-around athlete on the field in the game in question, and yet his coach limited his impact by not using him on defense and giving him a small role on special teams. The kid’s team lost that night.
Wade’s coach at PIAA A Clairton High in the Pittsburgh area had no such reservations about squeezing all he could from his star — or in this case, five-star — player.
Outside of playing on the offensive or defensive lines, Wade did it all for the Bears. Check out the video above of one game I attended.
On defense, he played cornerback, safety and linebacker. There were also times he lined up near the end and rushed the passer.
On offense, he played running back, receiver and quarterback. And we’re not just talking wildcat QB. He actually threw — and completed — passes.
On special teams, he obviously returned punts and kickoffs. But he also punted and kicked off.
In an era when even high school players are specializing, it was fun to watch the best prospect in the state do whatever he could for his team. Look for more of the same from Wade in Happy Valley.
Though we’ll admit, we don’t expect to see him punting or kicking off.
In terms of versatility involving multiple sports, we’ll give that nod to WR Mac Hippenhammer. The three-star football prospect out of Indiana is also a talented baseball player, and said he’s been told he’ll be able to play both sports at PSU.
LIKELY POSITION CHANGE
Damion Barber has solid measurables for a defensive end. He’s 6-3, 240 and has very long arms. He runs well, too.
But after seeing him at a Nike Camp and then a high school game last season, I’m thinking he has the chance to grow into a three-technique tackle at Penn State — just as Anthony Zettel did when he was in Happy Valley.
In the high school game I saw last fall, Barber rushed off the left edge almost the whole game. And he was terrific. So the opponent either ran the ball up the gut or to the complete opposite side of the field. Later in the season, apparently his high school coaches wised up and played him some at tackle, where he was more in the middle of the action.
Barber will have to get bigger and stronger to make a similar adjustment in college. However, with the depth PSU now has at end, he has time to take a redshirt to set that process in motion.