The coaching staff is looking to sign two running backs with this class and they have a number of talented backs on their radar. Two of the best running backs in the country are close by and have the Nittany Lions on their short lists.
Brandon James (5-9, 175, 4.3, St. Augustine HS, St. Augustine, FL) Brandon James is living proof that good things can come in small packages. Generously listed at 5'9", James makes up for his lack of size with blazing speed and shifty moves. He could play either running back or slot receiver at the collegiate level.
James rushed for 900 yards and eight touchdowns in 2004 and also tallied 400 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Those numbers were good enough to earn James first-team all-county and all-conference recognition.
James currently holds eight scholarship offers and lists Penn State in his top four with Illinois, Louisville, and South Carolina. The Nittany Lions were the first team to offer James a scholarship and are recruiting him harder than any other team.
In addition to James, Penn State is also heavily recruiting his half-brother and teammate, Jacques Rickerson, one of the nation's best pure cover corner prospects.
LeSean McCoy (5-10, 193, 4.45, Bishop McDevitt HS, Harrisburg, PA) LeSean McCoy is without a doubt the best running back prospect in Pennsylvania and could be the best running back in the country. As a sophomore in 2003, McCoy rushed for 2,561 yards and 28 touchdowns and was named first-team Class AAAA All-State by the Associated Press.
Last season, McCoy was named the Associated Press Class AAAA player of the year after exploding for 2,828 yards and 33 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, just about every major program in the country has offered McCoy a scholarship.
He's a long way from making a final decision, but Penn State is in McCoy's top eight schools at the moment. Larry Johnson Sr. is recruiting McCoy for the Nittany Lions, and he's getting some unofficial assistance from the Lions' dynamic freshmen duo of Derrick Williams and Justin King. When McCoy attended the Penn State Nike Camp at the end of April, Williams and King were on hand to watch the Harrisburg superstar and strike up a conversation between drills.
Apparently, their enthusiasm for the program was contagious because McCoy's opinion of Penn State shot up after that meeting. Scout.com's Jamie Newberg recently caught up with McCoy and asked him to discuss what he likes about each of the schools on his current favorites list.
He had this to say about the Nittany Lions: "Penn State has always been on me and they are only an hour and a half away. They also have some top guys coming in and they could shock some people this season."
This recruiting battle will last deep into the winter, and the Nittany Lions will likely have to go bowling to stay in this race until the end.
Benjamin Tate (5-10.5, 205, 4.4, Stephen Decatur HS, Berlin, MD) Benjamin Tate has not gotten as much publicity as LeSean McCoy, but he has been just as impressive during his high school career. As a junior in 2004, Tate carried the ball 286 times for an astounding 2,886 yards and 41 touchdowns on his way to being named a consensus first-team All-State pick.
Tate has eleven scholarship offers currently, but that number is sure to rise dramatically now that many schools have had a chance to see his rare combination of speed and power on film during the Spring Evaluation Period. At the moment, he is listing Penn State and Auburn as co-favorites and is looking for an opportunity for early playing time with a championship caliber program.
Tate visited Happy Valley this spring for the Penn State Nike Camp and liked what he saw. "When I went up to Penn State I just liked the atmosphere," Tate told Scout's Don Callahan recently, " I got a chance to talk Derrick Williams and see how things went with him with graduating early. Coach Larry Johnson is someone that is just great to be around. I actually got a chance to sit down and talk to Coach [Joe] Paterno. I actually got a couple letters from Coach Paterno since I been up there and I get letters from Coach Johnson all the time."
Penn State would love nothing more than to sign both McCoy and Tate as the two running backs in the Class of 2006 but they'll have to overcome fierce competition to do it.
Stay tuned for further reports on the recruiting situations of each of Penn State's positions by Scott Cole.