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James Franklin hoped he took a big step toward turning Penn State into Big Ten title contenders, landing one of the best running backs and defensive ends in the country


STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — James Franklin hoped he took a big step toward turning Penn State into Big Ten title contenders Wednesday, landing one of the best running backs and defensive ends in the country.

The Nittany Lions also have finally emerged from the NCAA sanctions levied against them in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Blake Gillikin, from Atlanta, was the first scholarship specialist Penn State has signed since Sam Ficken in the 2011 class. The Nittany Lions had sorely needed a skilled punter.

The Nittany Lions signed four offensive linemen for the second straight year and Franklin has done his best to load up on big guys.

Other things to know:

Top 25 Class: Yes

Best in Class: At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, Miles Sanders was the key recruit in Franklin's class. Widely considered the best running back in the country, the Woodland Hills High School star gave Franklin a scare early Wednesday morning. Franklin failed in two tries to contact Sanders, and PSU's signing room fell silent. Franklin was stone-faced, very uncomfortable looking. Finally, a third number was tried and Sanders picked up.

Best of the rest: Shane Simmons, a 6-4, 221-pounder, could make an immediate impact at defensive end and just might end up giving Sanders a run as the best player in the class.

Late addition: Brenon Thrift (DT, Lackawanna C.C.) A JUCO player that had been on PSU's radar and is a solid addition for a team that really needs to replenish its DT reserves with Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Tarow Barney moving on and recent decommitments from DTs Karamo Dioubate and Michael Dwumfour.

One that got away: Andrew Pryts (S, Hermitage, Pennsylvania) A legacy player whose father Ed played for the Nittany Lions, Pryts flipped to Stanford earlier Wednesday. He had visited both schools multiple times and changed his mind despite committing to Penn State in August.

How they'll fit in: Penn State had to tread water under Franklin in the waning days of the NCAA sanctions. With a full class and full complement of players available at every position — Franklin said decent special teams may have won PSU four more games last year — perhaps Big Ten contention is on the horizon.

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