Penn State brought home its first Big Ten championship trophy since 2008 with a thrilling victory in the Big Ten championship game a little more than a week to go. With a Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the way, the focus on recruiting takes on a new light in the coming months. Will the Big Ten title give a push to the recruiting efforts with National Signing Day little more than a month and a half away?
On Friday, Penn State picked up a verbal commitment from wide receiver KJ Hamler from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Hamler is a four-star recruit according to the 247 Sports composite ranking. He becomes the third wide receiver to commit to the Class of 2017 (Cameron Sullivan-Brown committed in July and Mac Hippenhammer committed in August). As noted by Roar Lions Roar, Hamler has the potential to be a big-time playmaker as a receiver and on special teams, which would seem to fit in well with the recruiting strategy James Franklin and his staff have been operating with since their arrival. Penn State’s receivers came up big in the Big Ten championship game and the big-strike offense is sure to receive plenty of attention from potential recruits looking to be a part of a fun and exciting offense like Penn State seems to be building. Hamler certainly took note of the offensive changes in State College and success on the field played a role in making him confident with his decision to commit to Penn State.
“Well I love the offense they run now, and they have been really successful with it this year,” Hamler said to 247 Sports. Hamler chose Penn State over Michigan State, which would have led him to his home state. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Michigan State had a miserable season on the field after reaching the College Football Playoff last year. “It was a hard choice between MSU and them. I couldn’t go wrong with either one. But I just felt like Penn State was the right fit.”
The addition of Hamler bumped Penn State’s Class of 2017 up to No. 17 in the 247 Sports composite team rankings and fourth in the Big Ten behind (you guessed it) Ohio State (No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama) and Michigan (No. 8 in the nation) as well as Maryland (the Terps just moved ahead of Penn State following a commitment yesterday and there is talk Maryland could be making a move to flip a five-star recruit committed to Auburn. It is a class that includes seven four-star recruits on the board but is without a five-star recruit. Regardless, Penn State and the rest of the NCAA has now entered the dead period on the recruiting trail, so whatever sales pitches were made in the past week will have to do until January after bowl games are played. By then, Penn State will have one more on-field sales pitch to make in the Rose Bowl against high-powered USC.
Penn State is going to get a chance to make a late impression on some big-name recruits next month as well. Four-star wide receiver Mark Webb from Archbishop Wood in Warminster is scheduled to visit State College in January. Webb, the fourth-highest-ranked player in Pennsylvania, committed to Georgia back in September and may be considered a long shot to flip to stay closer to home, but given the way Penn State’s offense has exploded, you have to think Penn State getting a January visit gives them a shot. The state’s top-ranked player, running back D’Andre Swift from St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, is also scheduled to visit Penn State in January. Like Webb, Swift is currently committed to Georgia, but there is a sliver of hope Penn State can make a late push and convince him to come to Happy Valley and follow in the footsteps of Saquon Barkley. Of course, Penn State has created some good quality depth at running back with Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson in the last two recruiting cycles in addition to Barkley. Luring Swift away from Georgia will not be easy, especially with Georgia’s track record with running back production.
Penn State has a number of offers out there on the recruiting trail that will be stacked up against offers from other programs, so we will soon see if there is anything a Big Ten championship trophy can bring to the table in the late stages of the recruiting wars. If nothing else, Penn State can say they are capable of competing for and winning a Big Ten title and it is not a matter of hope and dreams. They have hardware to back that up. That means something to some kids. The question is how much does it mean?