Julian Fleming, the top-ranked wide receiver in the high school class of 2020, held a press conference the day after verbally committing to play football at Ohio State, because that’s the kind of thing teenage sports phenoms do now.
It was less about Fleming choosing Ohio State than not choosing Penn State, which had heavily targeted him for at least three years. Fleming lives in Catawissa, about 90 miles from State College.
“There was just a lot of instability at Penn State,’’ he said.
He’d been recruited by three Penn State wide receivers coaches in three years, for example. The Nittany Lions, “weren’t pulling out games.’’
They had recruited Justin Shorter, arguably the best wide receiver in the high school class of 2018, and “just didn’t utilize him at all,’’ last season.
“I didn’t agree with it,’’ Fleming said. “That was one of the big things I really always thought about and it kind of took its toll.’’
2018 PENNSYLVANIA FOOTBALL WRITERS ALL-STATE TEAM
You can debate Fleming’s analysis, of course. He’s concerned about instability in the coaching staff and he’s going to Ohio State, which has a new wide receivers coach and new head coach and new offensive coordinator, and where the outgoing HC took a forced administrative leave last season due to his knowledge of spousal abuse allegations against one of his assistants.
Shorter, a true freshman in 2018, was apparently injured in spring practice and never caught up. Given the overall performance of Penn State’s wideouts last year, why would the coaches not utilize him if they could have?
But it matters what Fleming, and elite recruits like him, think, regardless of the substance. And Fleming’s assertion that the Lions “weren’t pulling out games,’’ is harder to dismiss. Penn State under James Franklin is 3-12 record against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, including consecutive one-point losses to Ohio State in 2017 and ‘18.
“Penn State is in a rut,’’ Ryan Snyder, a recruiting analyst for Blue-White Illustrated, told the York Daily Record’s Frank Bodani last week.
“That charm of the Rose Bowl and the (2016) Big Ten championship, it’s already in the rear-view mirror.
“A lot of it just goes back to last season. That’s why the Ohio State loss was so devastating. Penn State has proven everything else off the field, but they’re still sub-.500 in special moments.’’
Of the top 36 players in the high school class of 2020 according to 24/7 Sports, seven are from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C. or Northern Virginia, a recruiting area Penn State had dominated, traditionally and of late.
Penn State is currently 0-for-7 with that group, which is verballed to Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, LSU, South Carolina and Ohio State.
This month, Penn State has had four high-level recruits from the 2020 class decommit. After being committed for almost seven months, Michigan OL Grant Toutant flipped to Ohio State June 9. OL Aaryn Parks and CB Joshuah Moten, high school teammates from Maryland, re-opened their search June 12. Penn State is still in it with both, but Nebraska reportedly leads for Parks, Pitt (!) for Moten.
Derek Wingo, a linebacker from Florida, flipped from Penn State to Florida over the weekend.
Penn State’s 2020 class has been ranked in the national top 10 at times in this cycle. Had Franklin gotten Fleming, it would likely have jumped to the top five. It is currently 17th, per 24/7.
Penn State has gotten an impressive six verbals this month. Two of them are JUCO transfers from Lackawanna C.C. in Scranton, which has become a reliable pipeline. The other four, to be candid, are Boston College/UConn-level recruits, not Alabama/Clemson level.
Bear in mind that they are all still just verbal commitments.
“We’ve got to recruit until the ink is dry,’’ Penn State running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said last week. “If the ink ain’t dry, we’ve got a long way to go.’’