The Texas Longhorns routinely gain commitments from many of the top rated prospects in the state of Texas. Alabama and Auburn essentially shut down their state, and the same can be said for the three major Florida schools. And let's not forget about Ohio, whose borders have, until recently, been virtually locked tighter than...well, they've been tight. So when one looks at Pennsylvania recruiting, and takes into consideration the number of BCS programs in the state, one might expect a similar shutdown style of recruiting.
Unfortunately, the largest program in the state has trouble holding on to the top talent within the commonwealth. In the past four recruiting classes (2008-2011), Penn State has gained commitments from 13 of the 50 players that had been ranked in the Scout 300 rankings. This number is slightly inflated by the Class of 2010, when Penn State pulled almost half of the states 15 Scout 300 representatives. If you take out that class, the numbers drop to six commitments out of 35 Scout 300 prospects.
While one man won't make a difference in those numbers, he can change the way that particular recruiting class is perceived. Terrelle Pryor definitely would have done that in 2008; Ben Koyack may have been able to do that in 2010. This year, that man is Noah Spence: Penn State's most important target in 2012.
Spence is a five-star defensive end recruit from Harrisburg, PA (Bishop McDevitt). He currently ranks as the No. 6 prospect in the country by Scout.com, and though he only ranks as a four-star on 247Sports.com, Penn State analyst Sean Fitz and National Analyst JC Shurburtt have each indicated that Spence will be receiving a hefty bump in rank during their next analysis. Needless to say, Spence is a top priority for many schools.
He currently holds offers from a majority of the major eastern and midwestern programs, among other national powerhouses. Penn State, Pitt, Maryland and Notre Dame are some of the schools making the hardest push, but Spence also has verbal and/or written offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami (FL), Michigan, South Carolina, Stanford, USC and Virginia Tech.
But what makes him so important to the Penn State recruiting effort is that he's an in-state all-star recruit. With the talent level of Pennsylvania's historically fertile recruiting grounds waning in recent years, holding onto the top targets in the state should be a priority. In hindsight, not landing Terrelle Pryor was a gift, but at the time he was the type of player that the staff should be putting major resources into (other than straight cash).
Two years ago, tight end Ben Koyack from Oil City was high on the Nittany Lions, but ended up choosing Notre Dame. It's difficult to say what the staff could have done differently to land these prospects, but there should be no reason that a highly rated recruit from Pennsylvania doesn't end up at Penn State.
Additionally, Spence is our top target because he plays a position of need. After this season, both projected defensive end starters will be gone. The remaining players other than Pete Massaro, assuming he applies for and receives a sixth year of eligibility, will only have one or two years of playing time under their belts. A prospect like Spence could contribute immediately and help the edge rush return to its once powerful status.
Finally and most importantly, Spence is a humbled kid, who is taking extreme caution with his recruiting to ensure that he makes the right decision. His father Greg is handling his recruitment, to make sure that his son doesn't forget that he's still a 17-year old kid. The Spence family by all accounts are the exact types of people you want at Penn State. He is a talented, hard-working young man that seems to have a great head on his shoulders. He is destined for success wherever he chooses to go to school. Let's just hope that choice is Penn State.
This post is Part One in a two-part series known as Point/Counterpoint, the first installment of the series on the new Black Shoe Diaries. Tune in tomorrow to see another side to this debate, and then again on Friday to choose a winner.