5 Biggest Penn State Football Recruiting Wins under James Franklin

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NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Revisiting the Top 5 Biggest Penn State Football Recruiting Wins in the James Franklin Era

Penn State Football Recruiting has experienced a boon since head coach James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley in 2014.

The Nittany Lions have consistently produced top 20 recruiting classes with Penn State football, averaging top 15 classes and recruiting two top-10 classes to Penn State in his 10-year tenure.

Penn State Football, Cam Wallace, Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State running back Cam Wallace (26) hits a hole while carrying the ball during the Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in State College. The White team defeated the Blue team, 27-0.

Inside of these top 20 classes, Penn State has won some massive recruiting battles for elite prospects with top programs around the country.

Penn State Football Recruiting: 5 Biggest Wins Under James Franklin

No. 5 – Shane Simmons (2016)

While defensive end Shane Simmons’ career in Happy Valley did not work out as most Penn State fans hoped due to injuries, his recruitment was a massive win for Penn State to establish Penn State’s recruiting presence back in the DMV for elite athletes.

Penn State held off Florida State for Simmons’s commitment, as well as Alabama and Georgia who showed interest throughout Simmon’s recruitment. Simmons became one of three five-star players in Penn State’s 2016 class (joining Miles Sanders and Michael Menet).


No. 4 – Theo Johnson (2020)

Penn State Football, Penn State Football Recruiting
Penn State Nittany Lions Tight End Theo Johnson (84) (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Theo Johnson just heard his name called in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft by the New York Giants, but four years ago Johnson was a massive victory for Penn State Football recruiting.

In an international recruitment from Canada, Penn State was able to hold off Iowa (known for producing top NFL tight ends), Michigan, and Georgia for the elite tight end prospect. Johnson’s commitment kept the Canada to Penn State pipeline going and helped Penn State continue a streak of recruiting and producing NFL tight ends.

No. 3- Noah Cain (2019)

Although running back Noah Cain was not even the highest-ranked running back in the 2019 class for Penn State, his commitment was one of the biggest recruiting wins for Penn State in the James Franklin era.

In the 2019 class, Penn State and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider picked up two elite backs, Devyn Ford from Virginia and Noah Cain out of IMG Academy in Florida.

Cain’s recruitment showed elite recruiting prowess from Seider as he was able to go down into the south at one of the biggest high schools for recruiting in the country, IMG Academy, and pull an elite running back away from Big 12 and SEC powerhouses Texas and LSU. Cain’s commitment on signing day was a massive win for Penn State, who saw him break Saquon Barkley’s freshman record for rushing touchdowns less than a year later.

Although injuries derailed his career, Cain’s recruitment did numbers for Penn State at both IMG Academy, where Penn State also picked up Kaytron Allen in the 2022 class, and in Florida recruiting where the Lions have excelled under Seider.

No. 2 – Drew Allar (2022)

Drew Allar, Penn State Football
Penn State quarterback Drew Allar (Image via York Daily Record)

If Quinn Ewers recruitment played out differently, Drew Allar’s recruitment could have gotten a lot more turbulent than it was.

With Penn State identifying the eventual five-star quarterback Drew Allar when he was still relatively unknown as a three-star prospect, Penn State put itself in an excellent position in his recruitment. By the time the Ohio State Buckeyes came calling during Allar’s senior season, Allar was already completely locked in with the Nittany Lions and Penn State was able to weather the storm without much concern.

Still, any time that Penn State keeps the commitment of a top national player from Ohio over the local Buckeyes, it is a massive win for the program.

No. 1 – Micah Parsons (2018)

Could there really be anyone else to hold this number one spot?

Micah Parsons’ recruitment was one of the wildest rollercoasters that I can remember for Penn State, as he committed to Penn State early, backed off of his commitment, and then returned to the 2018 Penn State recruiting class after Ohio State was forced to back out of his recruitment due to recruiting violations under Urban Meyer. Parsons is one of the best athletes to come to Happy Valley, ranking fifth overall in the 2018 class, and working his way to becoming a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Holding off the Buckeyes, with the help of the NCAA, was a massive win for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions and earned our top spot on this list.

Penn State has been able to win some massive recruiting battles during the James Franklin era.

While some of these players did not work out on the field for the Nittany Lions, the significance of their recruitments cannot be understated for Penn State.

MORE: Penn State Rising Up Preseason Top-15 Rankings


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