Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program and college recruiting is an arms race now. Since James Franklin has taken over the head coaching duties at Penn State, he has great success in this business. As Penn State continues to build the depth once depleted by the sanctions, here are a few freshmen to keep an eye out for this season.
SHANE SIMMONS, DEFENSIVE END
With Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan gone, the defensive end position has plenty of talent, but a shortage of experience. Redshirt Junior Torrence Brown and sophomore Shareef Miller seem to be the favorites to start, but Shane Simmons should see plenty of time this fall. Simmons was the No. 1 player in Maryland and the No. 4 defensive end in the country coming out of high school. He has added 25 pounds since coming to Penn State and in the spring, all while maintaining his explosiveness according to Franklin. If Simmons can seize the chances he gets early in the season, he could end up being a major factor moving forward.
MICHAL MENET, GUARD
Michal Menet and Connor McGovern were two major additions to Penn State's class of 2016 at a position of need. McGovern saw plenty of action as a freshman and though the offensive line suffered injuries, Menet redshirted his freshman season. In 2017, McGovern will shift over to center and Ryan Bates will stay at left tackle, leaving the guard spots up in the air to a degree. Though Steven Gonzalez and Brandon Mahon (whenever he gets back from injury) are the favorites, Menet will push for the starting job. A four-star recruit from Exeter Township Senior High School (PA), Menet was the No. 1 rated guard in the country coming out of high school and the No. 2 recruit in Pennsylvania behind teammate Miles Sanders. Though the depth is quickly improving on the offensive line, it still shouldn't be long until Penn State fans will see Menet on the field.
WILL FRIES, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
After Andrew Nelson's injury in 2016, speculation surrounded the redshirt of Will Fries. The three-star recruit from Cranford, New Jersey had progressed to a point in 2016 that one more injury on the line would have resulted in him seeing the field, though it thankfully didn't come to that point. Ryan Bates and Andrew Nelson/Chasz Wright look to have the starting jobs at tackle secured, but Fries should see time in 2017 anyway as he develops. If he continues to develop as he did during his freshman campaign, he'll find his place on the field soon enough.
LAMONT WADE, DEFENSIVE BACK
Lamont Wade was the jewel of the 2017 recruiting class. He was likely to play as a freshman, but after a season-ending injury to John Reid, Wade's role has already changed. Coming to Penn State via Clairton (PA) where he had a decorated high school career and was the highest ranked WPIAL player since Terrelle Pryor, Wade figures to be a key piece on the defensive side of the ball in 2017. As an early enrollee, Wade has had time to get comfortable in the wake of Reid's injury, and will be a versatile and key cog in the secondary this season.
Penn State has finally made the leap from playing freshmen because they had to, to now playing freshmen that are actually ready to contribute from day one. To his credit, James Franklin has shown patience in not burning a redshirt though the circumstances may have dictated otherwise. As he continues to bring in more and more talent, he and his staff will have to continue to find the happy balance between the two. But hey, that's a great problem to have.