The Great Recruiting Debate

In our annual feature, we take a closer look at the areas that are fueling the Nittany Lion football machine, examinging the regions where Penn State is dominating and addressing those spots where the program is not as strong.

The issue is a "grass-is-always-greener" debate between whether Penn State should protect its "home turf," primarily focusing on talent in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, verses taking a more wider approach to recruiting and expanding its efforts to beyond the "300-mile radius" around State College." It seems that no matter what the class makeup is, there are always concerns that arise because Penn State "failed" to fulfill either side of the debate.

The first article I ever wrote for Fight On State (in its former incarnation as the PSU Playbook) actually dove into this topic and was titled "The Great Recruiting Debate." Since then, it has become an annual review of the current recruiting class.

The Numbers

The biggest factor hindering Penn State (or any other school) from dominating a region is the NCAA mandated 85 scholarship limit. Gone are the days where a program could lock up regional talent in its 300-mile radius by offering an unlimited number of scholarships. Beyond this, annual recruiting classes can only include a maximum of 25 players, so coaches have to be very diligent in their choices of who to offer.

Penn State, like most other schools, overlays its needs with the talent it sees as a fit. Given the fact that the Nittany Lions have several recruiting "hotbeds" in and around Lion Country, the apparent sentiment within the program is that it rarely needs to look across the nation for a prospect given the talent in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.

Although this sentiment had seemingly shifted in recent years, pulling in prospects from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and California, and even Canada and American Samoa, with the Class of 2006, the strategy moved back to a strong focus on the states surrounding Pennsylvania with the Class of 2006.

Protecting the Homeland

Many fans feel Pennsylvania should be priority No. 1 for the Lions. After all, the school's mission is to educate and serve citizens of the Keystone State. Of these fans who believe in this approach, many feel that Pennsylvania (and New Jersey) talent is more than able to feed the majority of PSU's recruiting needs inside and out. However, this has proven to be a cyclical occurance depending on the talent these two states can produce.

Let's just look at the last two recruiting classes. The past two Penn State recruiting classes have had 44 recruits as of today (there's a possiblity of one additional member). Of those 44 prospects, 21 have been from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, or 48 percent of the total.

So the question becomes, is attracting essentially half of Penn State's talent from Pennsylvania and New Jersey protecting the homeland? Many would say yes, while others would say no. Several Keystone State prospects have headed outside the state in recent years. I am sure as you read this a few come to mind. This past year there were examples like LeSean McCoy to Miami, Jeremiha Hunter to Iowa and Zach Frazer to Notre Dame. But were any of those players a priority for PSU and would it have been a smart move to sacrifice an out-of-state player like Antonio Logan-El or Maurice Evans to get a few more native players from the commonwealth?

Aside from which, if you look at the Pennsylvanian players Penn State landed, all six were rated as Top 25 Pa. prospects by Scout.

Looking Across Borders

In the past two classes the Nittany Lions have received 52 percent of their players from outside the "traditional" recruiting region. The staff has looked primarily to the immediate south and north to attract players to Happy Valley.

In the two most recent classes the Lions have picked up players from:

Maryland: 8
Virginia: 4
New York: 3
Connecticut: 3
California: 1
Canada: 1
Delaware: 1
Ohio: 1
Washington D.C.: 1

In other words, the Lions have taken away players from instate programs like Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Maryland, Rutgers, Stanford, UConn, etc. So it can cut both ways, where Penn State loses some "home grown" talent, as does every other school in the nation.

The Bottom Line

No matter where a program's talent is attracted from, this debate will continue to swirl. In recent history it would appear, conscious or not, that Penn State has struck a consistent balance between attracting half of its talent from "Lion Country" and attracting the other half from outside the immediate region.

The question is what is the ideal balance between these two approaches? This is something each fan will define for themselves and can only be answered by the staff's recruiting results. However, with the staff seemingly recruiting for need rather than location, there seems as if there may be a disconnect between the geographical debate and the recruiting results PSU is achieving.


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