Two years ago last week, Penn State looked to be all but dead on the recruiting trail after the NCAA hammer fell.
On Wednesday, a five-star recruit gave a verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions, picking Penn State over the defending national champions.
Defensive end Shane Simmons, a junior at Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School, announced for James Franklin and the Lions on an ESPN live video stream. He chose Penn State over reigning king Florida State as well as Alabama, Ohio State and Maryland.
“I got on campus,” said Simmons, “and it just felt like home.”
It’s important to note that Simmons is a member of the 2016 recruiting class. In other words, he can’t officially sign for another 18 months. He joins Pittsburgh-area running back Miles Sanders as another high school junior who has already picked the Lions.
Penn State’s 2015 class, which can sign this coming February, has 18 verbal commitments and is ranked in the top five nationally.
As it turns out, that 2015 class played a big role in swinging Simmons, who ranks as the No. 27 player in the country in his class according to the 247Sports composite rankings, to Happy Valley.
Simmons personally mentioned Adam McLean (Maryland native), Jonathan Holland (Maryland) and Ayron Monroe (D.C.) as players who had recruited him along with the Lions coaching staff.
That may have made the difference in a recruitment that initially looked to be the Seminoles’ to lose. Distance was also likely a factor.
“It’s close to home,” Simmons said of Penn State. “Far enough where I can become a man, but my parents can still come and see me.”
It helped Penn State that Simmons already had a connection with Franklin and his staff, who began recruiting him a few years ago back at Vanderbilt.
Now, Simmons says he’s going to return the favor. One of the reasons he committed so early, he said, was because he wants to have plenty of time to help recruit other top players to join him.
“Oh yes,” Simmons said. “I’m trying to win a championship.”