James Franklin Fuels Penn State's Rise in 2015 Recruiting Rankings

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James Franklin Fuels Penn State's Rise in 2015 Recruiting Rankings
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No college football team in the country is currently resonating more effectively with prospects than Penn State, a program that last won a bowl game four years ago. First-year head coach James Franklin has his team racking up commitments at a torrid pace, leapfrogging several marquee programs atop national recruiting rankings in the process.

Penn State didn't hold a single 2015 pledge as recent as Valentine's Day. Just six weeks later, the Nittany Lions claim 11 commits in a class that ranks second in 247Sports' composite ratings.

The latest addition occurred Sunday afternoon, when Indiana defender Josh Barajas joined Franklin's rapidly expanding haul of young talent. The 4-star recruit, rated America's No. 4 inside linebacker in 247Sports' composite rankings, spurned offers from Ohio State and Notre Dame, among several other schools.

Barajas became the third player to pledge to Penn State in a six-day span.

Virginia wide receiver Brandon Polk committed last Tuesday, while New Jersey offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez gave his verbal on Saturday. Both athletes are 4-star recruits.

In fact, eight of the Lions' 11 commits are considered 4-star prospects. The suddenly expansive quantity and quality of this class has pushed Penn State past the likes of Alabama, Florida State and LSU in terms of success during the 2015 recruiting cycle.

Only Texas A&M remains ahead of the Lions, who carry commitments from players in six states.

Plenty of people have taken notice of Penn State's impressive stretch, including Pittsburgh offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins. The mammoth 4-star recruit and 2015 Lions target chimed in following Barajas' commitment:

Jenkins, a 6'8", 305-pound prospect, has visited Penn State twice since Feb. 15 and may become the commitment who takes the Lions to another level. He is rated the top player in Pennsylvania, where Franklin has feasted this year.

Penn State already owns commitments from three of the state's top seven prospects, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Franklin, a Langhorne, Pa., native, landed Pennsylvania's top two running back prospects—Andre Robinson (Harrisburg) and Saquon Barkley (Whitehall)—in February.

"It's awesome," Robinson told 247Sports reporter Sean Fitz (subscription required). "All these commitments really show the relentless attitude of the coaching staff. As for having the second-ranked class, we won't be satisfied until we are No. 1. We're taking this whole thing over."

Credit: 247Sports
RB Andre Robinson is one of several Pennsylvania players to commit this year.

Indianapolis linebacker Darrin Kirkland is the kind of player who could push Penn State past Texas A&M down the road. The 4-star recruit, who is set to announce his decision in May, spent time in Happy Valley earlier this month and is considered a Lions lean in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

“What they’ve done this weekend, being the No. 2 recruiting class in the country is remarkable for Coach Franklin and his staff," Kirkland told 247Sports. "It’s a real exciting time and I’m real excited for them moving forward.”

A remarkable element of Penn State's recruiting rise is its timing. The NCAA-enforced "quiet period" prevents coaches from visiting prospects in person, which means players are putting in plenty of effort to forge ahead with the program.

"Look at the recruiting they've been doing, and they haven't even been out on the road yet," Whitehall High School (Lehigh County, Pa.) head coach Brian Gilbert told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Mark Dent. "The recruiting has come to them."

John Beale
James Franklin has quickly made Happy Valley his home.

Interest in Penn State has been contagious among in-state prospects.

"When some people jumped on board, then everybody started wanting to, including myself," said defensive end Ryan Buchholz, a Malvern, Pa., product who committed Feb. 24.

Franklin developed impressive recruiting prowess at Vanderbilt, fighting for players and respectability in talent-laden SEC territory. It quickly became apparent he would bring the same tenacity to Happy Valley, as he finished the 2014 cycle in strong fashion.

Franklin secured a top-25 class despite taking over just a few weeks before national signing day.

"Coach Franklin is a huge hire for Penn State football," 2014 signee Mike Gesicki told Bleacher Report on Saturday. "The first time I met coach Franklin, he came to my basketball game and then back to my house afterward. He just had so much energy. He wants to win so bad and put together the pieces for a great team."

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Those pieces are being assembled much quicker than most expected. Franklin is well on his way to solidifying one of the nation's top recruiting classes before summer training camp even gets underway.

If he can keep the Lions moving forward through his first season at the helm, there's no reason Penn State can't become a legitimate threat to unseat SEC powers atop recruiting rankings next February.

An era of sanctions and uncertainty is nearly history in Happy Valley. Franklin is doing his best to usher in a new chapter with a major influx of 2015 talent.

"It's just fantastic," offensive tackle commit Ryan Bates told 247Sports. "Soon we are going to be competing again for Big Ten championships and real soon National Championships."

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