‘It’s a gold rush’: Penn State football coaches heading to Europe to find raw recruits

By Frank Bodani York Daily Record

James Franklin and his staff are going overseas looking for recruits.

Penn State coaches already have worked satellite camps in high-profile recruiting areas to get attention. They’re mining Florida talent harder than ever because they’ve got an assistant with ties there. And they’ve become a leader at evaluating top talent early and developing relationships with national recruits.

Now, they appear to be jumping on the latest recruiting phenomenon — highlighted by a reported recruiting trip to Germany.

Europe has quickly become the next frontier in college football talent.

The Nittany Lions convinced Germany’s Joseph Darkwa — a raw but high-ability defensive lineman — to pledge his commitment in the recently-completed 2019 recruiting class.

And they know there are many more to be found with vast possibilities.

‘Untapped resource’ in Europe

Notre Dame, Michigan and Virginia are a few of the schools also ramping up recruiting efforts in these places once considered too risky to invest resources.

That has all changed, and with a big push from one former player.

“This feels close to becoming a bit of a critical mass and becoming more of a common pillar to a lot of recruiting strategies,” said Barton Simmons, scouting director for 247Sports.

Jan 1, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin yells from the sidelines during the second half in the 2019 Citrus Bowl against the Kentucky Wildcats at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-382988 ORIG FILE ID: 20190101_ads_mb4_299.JPG

“It’s like a gold rush of sorts. I think there is a feeling that’s it’s a bit of an untapped resource out there. It’s the race to be first and to establish the relationships and the networks out there and to know your way around.”

It doesn’t matter that the coaching, facilities and competition are suspect throughout Europe. The talent is undeniable and its finally becoming exposed and marketed, Simmons said.

“Look, there are big-bodied human beings that are very athletic in Europe … and they’re only so many big-bodied, athletic human beings in the world,” he said. “The sport of football is one that can accept a guy who is raw. And he can thrive in the game. We see kids every year drafted in the first round who only played high school for one year, who developed late. You can find talent and shape it. And there is talent over there.”

Penn State’s special connection

It’s a no-brainer for Penn State and Franklin, known as an ultra-successful, aggressive recruiter. There’s also this: Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer once coached the guy who has become a funneling agent of sorts for European talent.

Spencer coached Brandon Collier at Massachusetts before the defensive tackle bounced around the NFL, Canadian Football League and European leagues. Collier said he was impressed, if not stunned, by the amount of raw American football talent on his European teams — talent that simply needed the same guidance he received in college.

As Collier’s playing career ended he “saw another vision” that would keep him in football.

He started his own company called Premier Prospects International that offers exposure and some of that guidance to players hungry to come to the United States. He gets their film in front of his former coaches and leads them on recruiting tours, like an upcoming one to Clemson.

Already, his players have landed at Notre Dame, Michigan, Virginia, Temple, Towson State and Duquesne. He said he has helped about 40 players who either have scholarship offers or who are already playing in college.

While Germany is the hot bed of American football for now, with over 300 teams, talent has spread across France, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, Collier said.

To celebrate such an awakening, he will hold a recruiting camp in Amsterdam at the end of the month. Franklin and the Penn State staff are then scheduled to visit prospects in Germany at the end of April, starting with Darkwa, that 6-foot-5, 270-pounder who should grow into a defensive tackle.

“He’s got to work on his strength, he never really worked out in the gym,” Collier said. “He’s just naturally big and athletic. But, man, once he gets in his weight room program he’s going to be a freak of nature.”

Simmons is making the trek to the Amsterdam camp. There could be 250 prospects there, a gathering too big and significant to ignore for a company built on analyzing college-bound talent.

Certainly, more of these campers will end up playing college football in the States than ever before.

Collier is “forcing people to pay attention. He’s forcing programs to look at his guys,” Simmons said. “He’s getting them over to America and getting them in coaches faces.”

Collier said he will never forget the men, like Penn State’s Spencer, who helped him turn a small-school college career into a profession.

He said he’s overwhelmed by how paths to college and even careers in football are opening up for kids so far from where the game was built.

He wonders where this could be headed.

“It’s bigger than money,” he said. “When a kid tells you, ‘You make my dream come true. I can’t thank you enough,’ that’s bigger than money for me.”

Read the original from the York Daily Record by Frank Bodani