Stay updated as Penn State rises toward the top of the recruiting rankings! Don’t miss the coverage from Tyler Donohue, who brings a decade of experience as a national college football reporter and recruiting department staff member with a Big Ten program. Read his daily notebooks here at 7:20 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and follow us on Twitter for the latest Nittany Lions recruiting news.
Looking back to when Rutgers was Saquon Barkley’s ‘dream school’
Saquon Barkley can further build his Heisman Trophy case Saturday against Rutgers. The Do-It-All Penn State star gained 312 offensive yards and scored 3 touchdowns during his first two matchups vs. the Scarlet Knights.
Closing in on what is likely to be his second-to-last game in Beaver Stadium, Barkley can begin to put the finishing touches on his Penn State career by torching Rutgers again. It might be hard to imagine now, but he once planned to spend these scintillating collegiate seasons in a Scarlet Knights uniform.
Barkley, who attended Whitehall (Pa.) High School, committed to Rutgers early in his junior season of high school. Barkley broke out as a big-time playmaker that fall, delivering a 213-yard, 4-touchdown performance the day before he gave former Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood his verbal pledge.
At the time, a commitment to the program seemed like a no-doubt-about-it decision.
“When they first offered me [on Aug. 3, 2013], to be honest, I was gonna commit right on the spot,” Barkley told Todderick Hunt of NJ.com in September 2013. “When they first started recruiting me, it was my dream school. I got there and I loved it. I loved the coaches, I loved the offensive style, and I just thought I would fit in well. And I was hoping they would offer me and they did.”
That’s right, he viewed Rutgers as his “dream school.” The Scarlet Knights, then a member of the American Athletic Conference, were fresh off a nine-win season and less than two years removed from the departure of program architect Greg Schiano.
It’s also important to put Barkley’s recruitment in context. Though the nation now knows him as a game-changing talent, there were few signs he was destined for expansive Power 5 opportunities entering his junior campaign.
“I wasn’t a big-time recruit [when I committed to Rutgers],” Barkley told Jacqueline Kantor of Penn Live.com in September 2015. “It was my first offer. When I committed to Rutgers, my friends were like, ‘Wow, you committed so early.’ And I said I don’t think anywhere else is going to offer me, this is the place I’ve wanted to be since I was a little kid.”
He tallied 1,506 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns as a junior, attracting increased attention from college coaching staffs. Penn State, then led by Bill O’Brien, offered midway through the season.
Still a Scarlet Knights commit four months later, Barkley traveled to Happy Valley in February 2014 for a junior day event. Like most of the recruits in attendance, it was his first on-campus encounter with newly hired Nittany Lions coach James Franklin.
“We’re sitting in this meeting, and Coach Franklin got up and started talking to all the recruits,” Barkley told Kantor. “And he had this plan about dominating the state and then picking up pieces from around the country that could really help us out. And he was not just talking about national championships, or the Big Ten championships, but a plan laid out for the families.”
Franklin reaffirmed Penn State’s desire to bring Barkley on board. Barkley flipped his commitment to the Nittany Lions only four days after that visit.
Saeed Blacknall, now an established Penn State receiver who also pledged to Rutgers during high school, had flipped to the Nittany Lions as a member of the 2014 recruiting class a few weeks earlier. Blacknall, now a third-year teammate of Barkley, reminisced about their shared time together as Scarlet Knights commits Wednesday after practice.
“I joke with him, ‘You would’ve been right there with me in the Scarlet Knight red’,” he said. “When you look back and see how they turned out obviously this was the best choice.”
Penn State adds Michigan LB Lance Dixon to 2019 target board
Penn State continues to assemble its target list for the 2019 recruiting cycle, which college football staffs are fixated on at a steadily increasing rate. This search for talent led the Nittany Lions to a new target Thursday, as James Franklin offered linebacker Lance Dixon:
— Ace™ (@Lance__Dixon) November 9, 2017
Dixon, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior at West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School, has enjoyed an accelerated recruiting process in recent weeks. Cincinnati, Michigan State and Syracuse are among other schools to offer him since Sept. 30.
Considered the No. 24 outside linebacker and a top-10 Michigan recruit in 247Sports’ 2019 composite rankings, Dixon provides an athletic force off the edge. He exhibits excellent range as a linebacker/safety hybrid, and his junior-season development is an encouraging sign about his long-term potential as a disruptive playmaker.
Along with his latest offers, other Power 5 opportunities include Iowa State, North Carolina State and Purdue. Dixon holds more than a dozen total offers.
He visited Happy Valley earlier this season, attending Penn State’s Oct. 21 victory over Michigan. Dixon was part of a record-setting Beaver Stadium crowd (110,823) that day.
The Nittany Lions’ 2019 linebacker board features several out-of-state standouts. Other notable targets include Marcel Brooks (Flower Mound, Texas), Shane Lee (Baltimore), Brandon Smith (Mineral, Va.) and Cade Stover (Mansfield, Ohio).
Dixon has 102 tackles — 10 for loss — and 4 sacks this season. Watch his highlights here:
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