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Inside The Numbers: The Last Three Football Signing Classes

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2016 Signing Day Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the third-straight February, head coach James Franklin and the football staff have assembled a signing class ranked in the nation's top 25 by all four national recruiting outlets.

Ranked as high as 18th by ESPN, the 2016 class features 20 signees, including 12 future Nittany Lion student-athletes tabbed as either four or five-star prospects. The signing class of 2016 continues a movement of Penn State adding a host of talent and depth to its roster.

"We really want [recruiting] to be about relationships and about the things that we think it should be about, which is getting a world class education and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals that want to go on and be really successful," said Franklin.

Of the 20 signees slated to be on the roster in August, 16 of them hail from within a 350-mile radius of the University Park campus. The trend of recruiting success within the footprint around Happy Valley has been a common thread throughout Coach Franklin's time in Happy Valley.

Since Franklin arrived in January 2014, the Nittany Lions have signed 70 prospects during the last three recruiting cycles. That figure includes 25 in 2014, 25 in 2015 and 20 in 2016. The 70 players signed have come from 17 states and Canada. Forty-three of the 70 signed players are from 350 miles or less from State College.

Sixty-one players are from the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Midwest, with seven players from the Deep South, one from California and one from Ontario. The states represented in the last three recruiting classes are as follows: Pennsylvania (19), Maryland (10), New Jersey (10), Virginia (6), Georgia (4), Ohio (4), Alabama (2), Delaware (2), Illinois (2), Massachusetts (2), North Carolina (2), California (1), Connecticut (1), Florida (1), Indiana (1), New York (1), Wisconsin (1) and Ontario (1)

"I would make the argument that every year that we want to obviously do a great job of recruiting the state of Pennsylvania," said Franklin. "That's very, very important to us, and the region."

In addition to the vast list of signees from the region, the Nittany Lion coaching staff has signed 26 players tabbed as either four or five-star prospects during the last three recruiting classes. In the two years prior to 2014, Penn State signed just six.

Penn State continues winter workouts leading up to the start of spring practice in mid-March and the annual Blue-White Game, which is slated for April 16 in Beaver Stadium.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Franklin, Nittany Lions Announce 2016 Signing Class

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Signing Day Central - Complete Bios, Photos, Highlights & More

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin and the Penn State staff celebrated the signing of a third-straight top-25 recruiting class with the formal announcement of 20 signees for 2016 inside the Lasch Football Building on Wednesday.

"You really want this process to be about relationships and about the things that we think it should be about, which is getting a world class education and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals that want to go on and be really, really successful," said Franklin. "So it's been fun. It's been crazy and looking forward to getting these guys on campus so we can continue to build on the foundation that their parents have laid and help these guys mature and leave here as educated men and prepared for life."

Franklin walked into the Lasch Building just after 6 a.m. ready for the signing day festivities to begin.  The entire football staff congregated inside the building before 6:30 a.m. with an eye on the fax machine just outside the door Franklin's second-story office.

The first signed letter of intent arrived just after 7 a.m., with offensive lineman Will Fries taking the honor of sending the first letter of intent in to Penn State on Signing Day. Defensive lineman Shane Simmons followed quickly after.

Signing day emcee Jevin Stone (Penn State Football video coordinator) emerged from behind a blue curtain, walked to a podium in the Penn State war room and introduced the signing of Simmons to a rousing cheer from approximately 70 staff members and supporters.

Simmons' biography magnet was placed on the Penn State Signing Day "Big Board" at 7:13 a.m., with Fries and linebacker Cameron Brown and defensive lineman Antonio Shelton following to begin the celebration on an exciting day for Nittany Lion football.

As the 16 letters of intent were approved on Wednesday, each signee had his own announcement.  Additionally, the four early enrollees who are already on campus were part of the announcement ceremony. The announcements included the signees and their families, who called in via FaceTime and were then projected on big screens inside the war room to watch the festivities.

Representatives from across campus and the football staff participated in the announcement process on Wednesday morning. The list included former Nittany Lion greats Matt McGloin and Wally Richardson, coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey), Erica Walsh (women's soccer), Deputy Athletic Director Phil Esten, Senior Associate Athletic Director Rick Kaluza, the Blue Band, cheerleaders, Nittanyville and THON representatives.

Franklin and the staff could not have been prouder to make the announcement of all 20 signees in another strong recruiting class tabbed as the third-best in the Big Ten.

The 2016 class features 12 signees ranked as a five-star or four-star prospect by at least one of the four major recruiting outlets. The class includes two five-star prospects - offensive lineman Michal Menet and running back Miles Sanders - for the first time since 2006 (AJ Wallace and Maurice Evans). During the last two recruiting classes, Penn State has signed 21 prospects tabbed as either four or five-star signees. In the three years prior to 2014, Penn State signed a total of 11.

"We recruit every single one of these guys with the mentality they're going to come in and play and impact the roster and play as freshmen," said Franklin. "The guys that aren't ready, we'll have those conversations with them. It has to do with them. It has to do with our depth. It has to do with their physical maturity, their emotional maturity, and their ability to pick up the playbooks on offense, defense and special teams."

There are 10 defensive players, eight offensive players and two specialists in the class. The positional breakdown includes one quarterback, one running back, one wide receiver, four offensive linemen and one tight end on offense. On defense, the class includes seven defensive linemen, one linebacker and two defensive backs. Punter Blake Gillikin and kicker Alex Barbir comprise the specialists.

The class includes 16 signees from within a 350-mile radius of State College. There are eight states represented in the class, including five signees from Pennsylvania and Maryland, three from Ohio, two from Georgia and one from Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. According to Rivals, the Penn State class featured three out of the top six prospects out of Pennsylvania, including the top-ranked prospect in Sanders.

"I would make the argument that every year that we want to obviously do a great job of recruiting the state of Pennsylvania," said Franklin. "That's very, very important to us, and the region."

The football staff put in a tremendous amount of effort to secure the class, seemingly since National Signing Day in February of 2015. Following a few days off this weekend, recruiting will continue almost immediately for the 2017 recruiting class. For now, though, the Nittany Lions will celebrate the addition of 20 new members of the football family.

Spring practice begins in mid-March, and
the Blue-White Game is 73 days away (April 16).

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A Group Defined by Loyalty to Penn State Football

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11590609.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Alongside its predecessors in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the 2015 football senior class will go down as a group of individuals who deserve a special place in Penn State's illustrious history.

It's fitting that the group is a smaller in numbers. Under the circumstances, the size of the class enabled the seniors to forge a tight-knit connection with one another through some of the program's most challenging days. The 2015 seniors have seemingly been through everything, but their commitment never once wavered, and the special bond they have with one another will never be broken.

In July of 2012, this group, arguably more than any other, had a distinct opportunity to leave the challenges following the NCAA sanctions announcement. The players in this group of seniors could have walked out the door and played several full seasons anywhere else in America.

Anyone in the class could have left without any repercussions to attend a school that could compete for a conference title, post-season berth or a national championship.

The group now also includes the likes of juniors Christian Hackenberg and Austin Johnson, who both announced they are headed for the NFL Draft following Saturday's TaxSlayer Bowl. Like the seniors, Hackenberg and Johnson could have also walked away from a commitment to the Blue and White without any penalty.

At the time, the vast majority of the student-athletes program faced open recruitment by schools across the country.

No student-athlete signed up for the hardships and scrutiny bestowed upon them starting in November 2011 and magnified the following July, so who could have blamed anyone had they elected to transfer.

Some of their teammates and fellow commits did just that.

But knowing the road would be a challenge unlike any other student-athletes had ever faced, this small collection of men refused to leave the family behind.

A brotherhood had been formed inside the locker room and in their residences, and this resilient group refused to step away.

The players knew they couldn't play in a bowl game. They knew they couldn't compete for a national championship. They knew the deck was almost insurmountably stacked against them. They knew it would be extremely difficult to compete on a level playing field.

They didn't care.

They didn't care about anything other than putting on the blue and white jersey each Saturday in the fall alongside their friends and in front of a family of Penn State supporters.

For this group of players, the sanctions, and the hardships brought by them, pulled the group closer together. The unique situation reaffirmed their passion for the place they had committed to.

The Penn State community embraced the players with open arms, and this group of players cannot say thank you enough for the support they have received.

It's hard to envision where Penn State Football would be without the loyalty of this senior class or guys like Hackenberg and Johnson.

For the past three, and in some cases four years, this group's actions have spoken louder than any words. These student-athletes played for one another. They played for their families. They played for the players who wore the blue and white before them. They played for Penn State.

"I came here to get a college degree from one of the best schools in America," said defensive tackle Anthony Zettel. "I'm going to accomplish that. And I've always just wanted to give everything I had for this football program, not just on the football field but in the community. This opportunity is something no one will ever take away from us. It's something I will never forget. And I am forever grateful."

Where do you even begin to start when you think about what it must have been like to walk in the shoes of guys like Kyle Carter, Angelo Mangiro, Carl Nassib or Anthony Zettel. Despite the odds of competing in major college football with a roster of limited scholarships, the group's mindset never changed.

"It would have been easy to let things get to you, but that's not who we are. We had a job to do, and we did it because we love being a part of this family," Zettel said.

This group's college experience has been unique to say the least, which is why the group deserves the utmost respect from any supporter of the program or intercollegiate athletics. They worked hard for one another in the toughest of circumstances because that is the only thing they knew how to do.

"Back in 2012, when we ran out of that tunnel for the first time with our names on the back of our jerseys, we were showing the world that we could have jumped ship, but we didn't," said offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro. "We stayed. We wanted to be here. And we did it because we love Penn State."

It was clear three years ago that the current seniors weren't playing for accolades or a bowl game. The quest for success was far bigger than wins and losses on the field. The group saw the situation not as a deterrent, but as an opportunity to grow together.

"We've been battle tested since day one," said Mangiro. "It's always been a tight-knit group because we've been through so much adversity together. Coming down the stretch, you just think about how this opportunity shaped us as men. We will cherish every moment we have together."

That doesn't mean the 2015 seniors weren't more deserving of a chance at a post-season game, though. When the NCAA lifted the ban on post-season play on Sept. 8, 2014, head coach James Franklin called every member of the team who was on the roster in July of 2012 to the front of the meeting room to stand before the rest of the team.

Franklin and the underclassmen gave the collection of players standing in the front of the room a rousing, standing ovation and pleaded with the young players in the room to play the rest of the 2014 season for the men who had been through never ending adversity, especially the seniors.

Following a thrilling overtime game at the Pinstripe Bowl, these Nittany Lions will go down in history as key figures in the program's first bowl victory following the sanctions.

"It's not a big group, in terms of numbers, but it is a big group in terms of impact," said Franklin. "This is a group of guys who have had a tremendous influence on our team and the community. They've been through a lot. They've stuck together. They stuck by Penn State. And we owe them a lot of gratitude."

Penn State's 2015 season again extended beyond the 12th regular season game. The extra practices and buildup to the TaxSlayer Bowl will ultimately pay huge dividends for the future of the program. But more importantly, the 2015 seniors, Hackenberg and Johnson all had an opportunity to spend an extra month together with the football family.

Including interim coaches, the seniors played for five different head coaches in their time with the program. But their commitment and drive to be the best never wavered.

For Hackenberg, he had his pick of schools out of high school. He chose Penn State because he wanted to be in Happy Valley. He didn't care about the sanctions. When he committed to the program and University, Hackenberg did so with the passion and enthusiasm that helped become glue to keep Penn State Football relevant in its toughest hours.

"I don't know if you can count on one hand how many other programs would have been able to survive what we survived," Hackenberg said. "Just to be a part of that is really humbling. I'm proud to be a part of that group of guys."

When this group arrived at Penn State, not one of them could have predicted what type of journey they were about to embark on. The hurdles faced made the group stronger men. The senior class never lost sight of the bigger picture because it battled for so much more than individual accolades. And the group would do all of it again for the University and football program they so dearly love.

"You just get chills every time you put the helmet on," defensive end Carl Nassib said. "We are all just so lucky to have been able to do that for Penn State. This has meant the world to every one of us."

The Nittany Lions came up just short of sending this group out with a victory the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday. To a man, it was emotional for each guy as he walked off the field in Jacksonville for the final time. But no one win or loss will define the legacies of these men.

Instrumental in helping lay the foundation for future success, the group's place in Penn State history will be identified with an incredible bond to a University when it needed it most.

VIDEO: TaxSlayer Bowl Post-Game Press Conference

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JACKSONVILLE - Head inside the media room to hear from head coach James Franklin and sophomore wide receiver Chris Godwin following Saturday's TaxSlayer Bowl inside EverBank Field.

Penn State rallied from 24-3 down to make it a one-score game mid-way through the fourth quarter, but the surge came up just short in a 24-17 decision to Georgia in the program's 46th bowl game.

Godwin capped off a stellar sophomore campaign with six receptions for 133 yards against the Bulldogs. The Nittany Lions now head into the offseason looking ahead to the 2016 spring practice season, which begins in March.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: TaxSlayer Bowl Post-Game Player Remarks

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JACKSONVILLE - Take an inside look at the post-game interview session with several Nittany Lions following the TaxSlayer Bowl. Penn State's rally fell just short in a 24-17 decision to Georgia in EverBank Field.

Hear from senior Angelo Mangiro, senior Anthony Zettel, junior Christian Hackenberg, redshirt freshman Trace McSorley, redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, junior Geno Lewis and junior Brandon Bell as the reflect on the game, the 2015 season and the future.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2015 Gameday Live - TaxSlayer Bowl

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JACKSONVILLE - Welcome to live, interactive coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions meet Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl to cap off the season.

Live Blog 2015 Gameday Live - TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia

2015 Photo Blog - TaxSlayer Bowl

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JACKSONVILLE - Welcome to live coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions will meet Georgia in EverBank Field for the TaxSlayer Bowl. Take a look at photos from Penn State's 46th bowl trip.


Nittany Lions, Georgia Set for Matchup in TaxSlayer Bowl

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TaxSlayer Bowl Coverage: Arrival Press Conference | TaxSlayer Bowl Welcome DinnerTuesday Practice (Defense/Special Teams) | Thursday Practice (Offense) | Naval Station Mayport Visit | Children's Hospital Visit

Friday Links: Press Conference Transcript | Photo Galleries: Press Conference | Pep Rally

Game Links: Game Notes | Gameday Live Blog | Bowl Central

JACKSONVILLE - The long wait is over, and Penn State (7-5) is set to meet Georgia (9-3) in the 71st TaxSlayer Bowl inside EverBank Field on Saturday at noon (ESPN).

Playing in their 46th bowl game, the Nittany Lions will head into their fifth all-time visit in the Gator/TaxSlayer Bowl with 28 bowl victories, which leads all Big Ten institutions.

11585885.jpegPenn State has manufactured a superb string of practices leading up to Saturday's game. The Lions arrived at their destination hotel on Monday in Fernandina Beach. The team practiced three times at Fernandina Beach High School before a walk through on Friday afternoon.

The team has enjoyed many events and festivities around the bowl game all week, including a trip to Naval Station Mayport, Wolfson Children's Hospital, a golf outing and some time in the hotel's lagoon pool and the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, focus is solely on the task at hand. Head coach James Franklin and the captains participated in a preview press conference on Friday at EverBank Field to talk about the anticipation leading up to Saturday's second meeting between the Lions and Bulldogs.

"I'm really proud of our team and how the group has handled things this week," Franklin said. "Now, it comes down to what it always does, executing the gameplan and execution of fundamentals and techniques and playing with passion."

Finishing the season on a high is important on numerous fronts. At the top of the list is how a strong outing in a bowl game can send a team into the offseason with a big boost.

"I think obviously, taking a step from last year is really, really important," said Franklin. "Ending the season on a positive note against a historic program like Georgia is very important on a national stage like the TaxSlayer Bowl."

For the veterans on the team, a successful bowl game would put an exclamation point on the careers of a special senior class. It's a group of men who have been through almost anything you can imagine in their time with the Blue and White. The group will leave the program with back-to-back bowl game appearances when it looked like the postseason may never happen.

"We are really looking forward to this game," said center Angelo Mangiro. "For the seniors, going out as winners (is really important) because you don't know, for most of the guys, if you are ever going to play in a game again."

On the field, the Nittany Lions expect a tall task against a talented Georgia team. The Nittany Lion offense will face off with a unit ranked among the nation's best. Keeping mistakes to a minimum and staying on top of the first down chains are at the top of the list for the offensive unit.

"This is a very talented defense," said quarterback Christian Hackenberg. "I have a ton of respect for what they've done. I think they've got some great players up front. I have a ton of respect for the secondary. I think they are one of the most fundamentally sound groups I've ever seen on tape. It's going to be a great challenge for us, and we are really excited about it as an offense."

The matchup pits two very similar defensive units. Both teams are expecting a physical game where years are tough to come by. The Lions enter the TaxSlayer Bowl healthy on both sides of the ball. That includes Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and All-American defensive end Carl Nassib, who saw very limited action during the last two weeks of the season.

The Nittany Lions are 23-21-0 all-time against current SEC schools, which includes a 1-0 mark against Georgia after Penn State scored its first national championship with a 27-23 victory in the 1983 Sugar Bowl.

The 2015 version of the Nittany Lions has one more chance to put on the iconic white uniform in Jacksonville on Saturday. Following a great week of preparation, the Lions are ready to embrace the opportunity and task at hand.

"Being with these guys and the 2015 team for one last game is special," said defensive tackle Anthony Zettel said. "You put in so much time throughout the offseasons and years with everyone that the guys become brothers and family. And being able to put the helmet on one last time with this team is special."

Penn State Fans Fill Jacksonville Landing for Pep Rally
A crowd of approximately 1,500 Penn State fans gathered downtown Jacksonville for the TaxSlayer Bowl Pep Rally on Friday afternoon. The event featured the Penn State Blue Band, cheerleaders, The Lionettes, President Eric Barron, Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour and The Voice of the Nittany Lions, Steve Jones.


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VIDEO: Nittany Lions Visit Wolfson Children's Hospital

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FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - Several members of the Nittany Lion football team, cheerleaders and The Nittany Lion brightened the day of patients at Wolfson Children's Hospital on Thursday.

Following practice at Fernandina Beach High School, the Nittany Lions spent some time during the afternoon going room to room visiting patients at the hospital and playing games in the playroom. Take a look at the visit here.

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TaxSlayer Bowl Thursday Practice Roundup - Offense

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Photo Gallery - Thursday Practice, Hospital Visit & Golf Outing

TaxSlayer Bowl Coverage:
Arrival Press Conference | Tuesday Practice | Naval Base Visit

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - The Nittany Lion football team practiced for the third time in Florida during TaxSlayer Bowl game week on Thursday at Fernandina Beach High School.

For the third-straight day, temperatures in the 80s greeted the team as it took the practice field on Amelia Island. Penn State worked through its normal Thursday game week routine in shorts, jerseys and helmets.

blog_bowl.jpgThe Thursday session featured the longstanding tradition of each player switching jerseys. The offense (normally in white) wore blue jerseys and the defense (normally in blue) wore white jerseys. And each player donned a new number for the final full practice of the season.

Additionally, the senior players had the honor of selecting a player or coach carry him off the practice field for the final time. Anthony Zettel asking coordinator Bob Shoop and Trevor Williams asking cornerbacks coach Terry Smith were the highlights of the end-of-practice festivities.

The post-practice media availability focused on the offense on Thursday, with bowl game offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and a host of players spending time with the approximately 30 media members who attended the last few periods of Thursday's practice.

The theme of the week from each member of the staff has been the sharp practices the team has put together since the bowl prep started in Happy Valley. Head coach James Franklin talked about the team's focus earlier in the week, and Rahne echoed the sentiment on Thursday.

"The guys have really practiced well since we've been down here," Rahne said. "I've been really excited about that, as has the rest of the staff."

Rahne is looking forward to his first opportunity to call the plays as the bowl game offensive coordinator. He will be in the press box during the game. Simply put, he wants to see the offensive unit play four quarters of football with great confidence.

"I just want us to go out there playing fast and aggressive," Rahne said. "Everything is not going to be perfect. It never is. I just want us to go out there and play with a lot of confidence, and with whatever Georgia throws at us, we are going to go out there and respond."

The Nittany Lions will face off against a Georgia team ranked eighth nationally in total defense. The Bulldogs have allowed 4.70 yards per play in 2015. 

"Georgia has a great defense. They've got some great secondary players. They've got some guys that can get after the passer," said Rahne. "It's going to be a very good challenge for the offense. I know we are all excited about it."

Georgia is ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 146.1 yards per game. The matchup between the Bulldog defensive backs and Lion wide receivers is something sophomore wide out Chris Godwin is looking forward to.

 "I think it's going to be a very good challenge for us," Godwin said. "They are the No. 1 passing defense in the country, and it's well deserved. Those guys on the back end of their defense work really well together, and they are a strong group. It's going to be a big challenge for us to go out there and make plays. It's really fun to go up against a great challenge like this to see where you are."

Post-Practice Player Remarks - Offense

Lions Visit Wolfson Children's Hospital
Six players, cheerleaders and The Nittany Lion represented Penn State during a visit to Wolfson Children's Hospital following practice on Thursday. The team members interacted with a host of patients in the hospital located in Jacksonville.

The Nittany Lions spent time at Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday night following the day's activities, which also included a little fun on the driving range. Coach Franklin and the captains will participate in a press conference at EverBank Field on Friday morning before the team's final walk through at Fernandina Beach High School.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony