Anthony Smith will still be considered a freshman by the time the Fall 2013 semester falls around, and he's grouped in with the Class of 2013. But it's more accurate to say that Smith, like yesterday's subject, Adam Breneman, is a member of the Class of 2012. Last January, new Head Coach Bill O'Brien sought to sew back together a promising recruiting class that had been decimated in the wake of the upheaval that defined the 2011 Penn State football team. He was somewhat successful - he retained most of the Class of 2012, and added a few late commitments to the roster, starting with defensive back prospect Da'Quan Davis.
O'Brien and his staff, however, could not manage to fill each scholarship left for the Class of 2012. At the time, this seemed unfortunate - though Penn State had gone through a public relations nightmare, the Joe Paterno-recruited Class of 2012 was heavy on elite level commitments and was expected to be in the running for several high profile recruits that would be late deciders. Although none of that came to fruition, it may have been a bit of a blessing for this year's class.
Given the scholarship limitations imposed by the NCAA in July, perhaps the best way to be sure that the roster could be filled to its new, smaller capacity for the duration of the sanctions was to bring in several early enrollees. Although technically Penn State is prevented from signing more than 15 recruits each year for the next four years, the failure to complete the Class of 2012 last year has allowed Penn State to sign more than 15 recruits this year, provided that several of them enroll for the start of the Spring 2013 semester.
So welcome, Anthony Smith, Class of 20 . . . well . . . 12/13.
Unlike Breneman, the outspoken five-star tight end prospect who has loudly reaffirmed his commitment to the Nits for the last ten months, Smith is a bit of an unknown. He played high school football at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, New Jersey, but flew under the radar. This past season, he enrolled at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, to improve both his academic performance and athletic opportunities.
It worked. Smith visited the university on Penn State's big official visit weekend in early-December, and committed on the spot alongside four-star linebacker Zayd Issah, three-star wide receiver Daesean Hamilton, and the now decommitted Jonathan Walton.
Smith is a prospect at a position in desperate need of them - the defensive backfield. The early enrollee will most likely begin his career at corner, where newly named defensive coordinator John Butler started each defensive back prospect last year. But at 6'1, 186 pounds, Smith (along with junior Jesse Della Valle) is the largest corner on the roster. Will a year in the weight room with resident strength and conditioning madman Craig Fitzgerald yield gains that will place Smith at safety?
Would you bet against that?
Smith enrolls in a terrific position. Given his extra year at Valley Forge, he is more physically mature than nearly everyone in his class, and his position and early enrollment status make him a virtual lock to see time in a backfield that desperately needs its young talent to play a key role. It will be interesting to see where he lines up when Penn State takes the field on August 31st at MetLife Stadium in Smith's home state of New Jersey.
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