As Penn State prepares to bring in a talented recruiting class highlighted by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the future of the program continues to get brighter.
For the Lions to continue this rebuilding process after being hampered with NCAA sanctions, coach Bill O’Brien will need to bring in another solid recruiting class in 2014.
This means he will need to target top talent and use his limited scholarships on the best players possible.
With national signing day only two days away, O’Brien will need to start working on the next recruiting class beginning next week.
Here’s a glimpse at five players O’Brien needs to target to keep moving the team forward in 2014.
Out of Bethel Park Senior High School in Pennsylvania, Mike Grimm is a prime example of in-state talent that O’Brien can’t let slip through his fingers.
Standing at 6’6” and weighing in at over 300 pounds, Grimm is a massive offensive lineman who can help a line that will lose more than one starter after the 2013 season.
With Donovan Smith set at tackle and incoming freshman Brendan Mahon likely to contribute in his freshman season, Grimm can be a solid addition to a large front seven at Penn State.
It will be imperative that O’Brien builds a strong line to block for the young Hackenberg, and Grimm would fit into that mold.
Grimm already has offers from Alabama, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Montae Nicholson is another Pennsylvania product that O’Brien can bring in.
From Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa., Nicholson is a 6’2” safety who plays both wide receiver and safety for his high school team.
This past season, Nicholson had 28 tackles and two interceptions and forced two fumbles.
Offensively at wide receiver, Nicholson hauled in 25 catches for 653 yards and six touchdowns.
Nicholson is one of the top defensive backs in the 2014 class, and if O’Brien can get the safety to commit to Penn State, it would be a major addition.
Both current safeties, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis, will be seniors in 2013.
O’Brien will need to replace both of these experienced safeties, meaning Nicholson will have a chance to play as a true freshman.
The 2012 season was a great indication of the importance of depth at the running back position.
O’Brien was forced to use fullbacks Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak as running backs while Bill Belton and Derek Day were injured.
Although the 2013 season has a strong contingent of Zwinak, Belton and Akeel Lynch in top spots at running back, adding a home-run threat never hurts.
Dravon Henry has the potential to be a major-factor back wherever he decides to play football.
Henry is the third Pennsylvania product on this list, and for a reason.
Out of Aliquippa High School, Henry is another prime example of the talent that PA has to offer.
In 2012, Henry rushed for 1,919 yards and scored 23 touchdowns on the ground.
O’Brien needs to bring in another top running back in 2014 to bring speed to the Penn State running game.
Safety Quin Blanding might be one of the top defensive players in the 2014 recruiting class.
Blanding is a 5-star recruit according to Rivals.com, and the 6’2”, 195-pound defensive back runs a 4.55 40-yard dash.
Coming out of Virginia, Blanding will be a tough player to bring in.
The current junior at Bayside High School already has offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson and other schools.
As was mentioned before, Penn State will have serious needs at the safety position after next year, and Blanding would have the opportunity to start during his freshman year.
Blanding is the real deal at safety, and Rivals.com compared his abilities to those of the late Sean Taylor.
Bringing in a top talent such as Blanding would be a big step in the right direction for O’Brien and the Nittany Lions.
Much like Blanding, Da’Shawn Hand is a top prospect coming out of Virginia.
Hand is currently the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports.
The defensive tackle is currently being sought out by Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and South Carolina, along with numerous other Top 25 programs.
O’Brien needs to step into the bidding for Hand.
Jordan Hill finished his senior year at Penn State in 2012, and the Lions don’t exactly have a premier defensive tackle to fill in his place.
As with most of the recruits on this list, the hard sell for Hand would be the opportunity for early playing time.
Hand has the skill set to come in and dominate in his freshman year.
Weighing in at over 245 pounds and standing at 6’5”, Hand’s 4.60 40-yard dash speed is only one indicator of what he can bring to a pass rush.
Although bringing Hand in to play in Happy Valley won’t be the easiest task, O’Brien has from this past year that he is up for a challenge.