There’s a reason Penn State calls national signing day a celebration. .
Coach James Franklin has had a top-21 class in each of the past five years, highlighted by a No. 5 ranking from Rivals.com last year and dropping to No. 11 this year — second in the Big Ten only to Michigan.
After getting signatures from 23 players — 19 in December (11 enrolled last month) and four Wednesday — Franklin talked about his incoming freshman and some returning veterans.
Here are three takeaways from his new recruiting class:
1. How did Penn Hills’ Daequan Hardy end up at Penn State?
Hardy didn’t get an offer from Penn State until Tuesday, as he was deciding among Mid-American Conference schools and William & Mary. Even Franklin admitted going “back and forth” on the 5-foot-10, 160-pound cornerback/wide receiver.
But Franklin remembered Hardy running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at a Penn State camp two years ago.
“Not too many human beings on the planet run 4.4,” he said.
Then, Hardy was dominant last season while leading Penn Hills to the PIAA Class 5A championship. In the title game against Manheim Central, he scored four touchdowns (two receptions, a kickoff return and 100-yard interception) and picked off two other passes in a 36-31 victory.
Overall, he scored 22 times during the season in five ways (catch, run, pick, punt and kickoff).
“I think what happens sometimes with coaches, you get so caught up in the eyeball test and measurements,” Franklin said. “Daequan’s not a big, imposing guy at this point of his career, but if you put the tape on and watch his production, he had as good of a senior year as anybody in the country.
“So for us, being the state school, we’re always going to take care of the players in our state, and he earned it. Kind of more of an old-school approach in terms of having a really dominant senior year and kind of going from there.”
Franklin credited former Gateway coach and Penn State defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith’s “strong ties” in Western Pennsylvania for securing Hardy.
“We’re excited about what we’re able to do going in that direction,” Franklin said.
Franklin also went overseas for a recruit, signing defensive tackle Joseph Darkwa of Dusseldorf, Germany. Franklin said Darkwa weighs in at “a skinny 272 pounds.”
“He’s probably a lot more advanced than we anticipated him being, and being able to watch all his workout tapes, very athletic and excited about his future.”
2. What’s the future hold at quarterback?
With Trace McSorley moving on, Franklin said senior Tommy Stevens will start spring ball atop the depth chart and sophomore Sean Clifford will provide significant competitions. Will Levis will be No. 3 in the spring.
Stevens missed the Citrus Bowl with a lower-body injury, but Franklin appears to have plenty of confidence in his recovery. Still, the coach is mindful Clifford took advantage of some of Stevens’ lost opportunities last season.
“I’ve got so much respect for Tommy. I’ve got so much confidence in Tommy,” Franklin said. “It’s going to be a tremendous spring. It’s going to be a tremendous summer. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that we have in our quarterback room. I really do.”
3. Is Clairton graduate and Lamont Wade totally on board?
Wade, the No. 1 player in the state in 2017, entered the transfer portal this year, looked around and decided to return to Penn State. Franklin said his conversations with Wade were “tricky.”
“Lamont came and talked, but now the challenge is you go in the transfer portal, it becomes public,” he said. “There’s a lot of voices. There’s a lot of noise.
“The good thing is, back to the recruiting process, had a really strong relationship with mom and dad. Lamont’s a year away from graduating. This doesn’t make sense.
“To be able to talk it through, he’s able to look around. To Lamont’s credit, you know, he’s frustrated. He wants to play more. He wants to have a big impact, and we want that for him, too. It’s talking through all these things.”
Wade could be in line to start at free safety after senior Nick Scott exhausted his eligibility.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.