STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It's unusual that there isn't a build up to what used to be signing day, but of course with the NCAA's new early signing period it made last month's date the one where Penn State, like many schools, inked the majority of its football pledges. The Nittany Lions and everyone else are still working through the new calendar.
The NCAA's dead period runs through Thursday, meaning the contact period begins Friday and runs up until Feb. 4 so expect the recruiting trail to heat up within the next 36 hours. This will be an important time as the coaching staff continues building beyond the 2018 class.
With a 2018 class ranked No. 4 in the nation per 247Sports and with still a few spots left that will be solidified in February, I spoke with wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis last month in Arizona ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. I picked Gattis' brain about what's left for this staff to do before the February signing period, how they're figuring out where their final few scholarships will go and what the early signing period meant for them after going through it once.
Of course recruiting never ends and now the timeline for 2019 prospects is accelerated, something that has Gattis, James Franklin and all of Penn State's staff looking ahead more than ever.
Q: Now that you are past it with all the signees committed, what do you think was the benefit to the early signing period for you guys?
A: "I think our early signing period went great. ... The question mark going into this year was how many kids were going to sign early based off the new signing period, and I believe I think I saw the numbers that 60 percent of committed prospects signed so I think the early signing period was good. But, I think there are some things that they necessarily didn’t take into account as far as it won’t affect us, but some school with bowl games having signing periods during bowl games and stuff like that so I think there are still some challenges to iron out as far as the early signing period, but right now the challenge is figuring out how many guys didn’t sign. Now you have to go back through all of your recruiting boards of prospects to figure out who didn’t sign their National Letter of Intent. ... I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for colleges across the country right now to figure out who is available, who hasn’t signed a NLI as far as for the next signing period, but we still plan on signing a couple more guys in the next signing period. We were fortunate enough to have one of the best classes in December, but we’re still looking to add on to that class in February."
Q: Who does all of that compiling for you guys to figure out who is still out there?
A: "Andy Frank and his department are steady at work right now trying to figure out who are the guys left and the thing that you can’t do at this next period is panic. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done a diligent side of it, making sure the prospects you’re taking are the kind of prospects you want to build your program around, but like as coach mentioned before there’s going to be a lot of schools recruiting these guys so that’s one of the things that’s going to be the challenge, but also by getting your early signing period out of the way you can focus on your 2019 class and start getting out and seeing a lot of those guys in January."
Q: Do you know what the final number is looking like for the class at this point?
A: "Every year we set a standard number and that number grows by about six scholarships just because of the amount of attrition you have in college football with guys who are declaring for the NFL, transferring, not coming back for their fifth year so that number is forever growing. That’s a challenge to this day. I still don’t know how many we’re going to sign in February let alone next year. We’ve got a good idea, but that number is just kind of hard to say. We're looking forward to starting to build toward the 2019 class."
Q: Right, everything is accelerated because of the early signing period now so how will these next few months impact you all as a staff?
A: "It is. What people don’t know is the whole calendar is pushed up so they’re going to start taking official visits in May and it sped up the whole process. I don’t know how active we will be as far as that process, but the recruiting process for the 2019 kids is sped up so now in January that’s going to be a critical point to get out and see those kids before you go back out spring recruiting because some of those kids are going to be making decisions before spring games after going on official visits. It’s a challenge every college is having to deal with right now. I don’t think any college or anyone has the correct answer, but I think everyone has the answer that best fits their program."
Q: So it's just more go, go, go for you all then, right?
A: "It never ends. It’s a constant cycle that never ends. Now you’re recruiting 2020 and 2021 so we do a great job as a staff, we have a great recruiting department so our guys are tirelessly working each and every day to figure out who the prospects are that we’re going to be recruiting in the future.”
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