By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The Nittany Lions put together a top-tier recruiting effort for their football program in 2022, creating a class that was easily a top-10 one come signing day in December.
Despite some coaching changes, mostly due to coaches leaving for promotions to head coach or coordinator elsewhere, that does not seem to have stopped.
The Nittany Lions put an exclamation mark on their 2022 class, have serious momentum behind their 2023 class and have made key moves in the transfer portal in the early stages of the 2022 calendar year.
2022 Class Closes With A Bang
Back on the 15th of December, Penn State managed to sign nearly their entire expected 24-player class. The lone missing member was Tyrece Mills, who had to work out some academic issues before putting pen to paper.
On February 2, Mills officially signed his letter of intent to get the class across the finish line; but James Franklin and Phil Trautwein had something to say about that.
Just about two months earlier, a coaching change at the University of Washington caused three-star offensive lineman Vega Ioane, a Washington native, to decommit from the program.
Penn State recruited him hard and it looked like it made an impression because Penn State joined Washington and Minnesota in his top 3. On signing day, He chose the blue and white.
Ioane adds another offensive lineman to the class, giving them another prospect at a position of need going forward.
The end result of the class adding Ioane and locking in Mills to get all the previously committed guys signed is Penn State landing the #6 class in the 2022 cycle nationally and the second-best class in the Big Ten - a promising recruiting class that was able to match the hype it had surrounding it.
Transfer Portal Pickups
Penn State is set to lose a few players to the portal, but the good news for the Lions is that none of those transferring out are guys that they were expected to lean heavily upon.
The issue the team may have, however, is that with large rolling classes, these transfers out and several players entering the NFL Draft, the 2022 squad figures to be a very young one without much experience playing at the college level at several positions.
This is where the transfer portal can be used to their advantage.
Penn State landed a top receiver in Mitchell Tinsley in early January to assist with just that.
The loss of Jahan Dotson is huge, but with Tinsley joining the squad and Parker Washington breaking out, the biggest concern for the receiver room going forward is to develop their in-house talent.
Another area of issue, the Nittany Lions also landed an immediate-impact talent along the OL.
On Monday, February 7, the team gained its second All-Ivey league player in as many years in the form of Hunter Nourzad.
The Cornell offensive lineman is ideally set to follow a similar path to last season's Harvard transfer Eric Wilson, who ended up starting at guard last year after only arriving in the fall.
Nourzad was among the top OL in the portal, so grabbing him to help solidify a line that has had problems, but has huge upside in young players like Landon Tengwell and Olu Fashanu could prove critical to the team's success in 2022.
2023 Class Rolling Early
Alex Birchmeier, Lamont Payne and Mathias Barnwell had formed the foundation of what could be another top class early on in Penn State's 2021 football season. They added Exeter's Joey Schlaffer, a tight end, to the group about a month later.
Since signing day in December, the Nittany Lions have been building in the trenches with their 2023 class. They received a commitment from Joshua Miller, a three start interior offensive lineman from Virginia on December 20th and on New Year's Eve, they got a committment from Neeo Avery, an edge rusher who is currently the third best player in Maryland and maintains a four-star rating.
Despite having Birchmeier and Miller on-board at the offensive lineman, the Nittany Lions did not back away from recruiting the position.
January 28, the team landed Virgina's Anthony Donkoh, a three-star offensive tackle. About a week later, Pennsylvania's top prospect, another offensive tackle, committed to staying home and playing for the blue and white.
110% COMMITTED pic.twitter.com/NtvvabZ7sG— Anthony Donkoh (@donkoh_anthony) January 28, 2022
That pair gives the class four offensive lineman and eight prospects overall: one five-star, one four-star and two three-stars. Particularly with the success around the 2022 class and in the transfer portal, the hope is that this will eventually lead to the offensive line issues Penn State has had for numerous years now being addressed in the somewhat near future.
There's almost a full year left for changes in the class and ideally to build it, but the Nittany Lions already have three of the top 14 prospects in PA committed as well as four of the top 10 in Virginia. It also gives them two OL prospects listed in the top 100 overall prospects right now.
Birchmeier said after Williams' commitment that this offensive line class was just getting started, but one has to believe that the staff is not going to hand out offers to every offensive lineman at this point, instead needing to be more selective. Antonio Tripp (four-star, VA) and Chase Bisontis (four-star, NJ) are among the most likely prospects the team would continue to target because they are in the Lion's primary recruiting region. Tripp has been a top target for the staff for some time, so he would seem the most likely addition on the line at this point. That said, Massachusetts five-star OT Samson Okunlola also appears to be a possibility at this point.
Some other in-state targets that seem to be trending toward Penn State include four-star PA edge/linebacker Ta'Mere Robinson, three-star PA receiver Kenny Johnson and three-star linebacker Phil Picciotti, though it's reasonable to assume almost all of the state's top target are on their radar.
Four-star Florida running back Treyaun Webb seems to be another top target at this point, at least among the players in the class themselves.
With over a year left until the class signs, college football fans now that a lot can change with recruiting classes. That's why it's also worth noting that, at this point, three of the eight recruits have announced that they have totally shut down their recruitment: Birchmeier, Mathias Barnwell and Josh Miller.
Recruitment 107% shutdown… WEARE pic.twitter.com/tGrUzboS8r— Alex Birchmeier (@Alex_Birchmeier) February 1, 2022
Recruitment 100% shutdown… WEARE23🥇 pic.twitter.com/ZFBNg4wi9Q— Mega Barnwell (@mega_barnwell) January 13, 2022
With nearly half of this already impressive class shutting down their recruitment this early, fans have good reason to be exited about this class going forward.
2024 Class Starts In The Trenches
If all the work on the offensive line wasn't enough, the 2024 class got an early start with an offensive line committment, as well.
Erie tackle Cooper Cousins became the first Penn State commit in the class on January 29.
Following in the same mold as Birchmeier and Kaden Saunders before him, Cousins gives the 2024 class a big prospect who can begin to assist in the recruiting process and building his own class. That's certainly a step that Penn State is happy to take.