When Penn State football takes the field in 2024, the Nittany Lions will do it with the last five No. 1 overall recruits from the state of Pennsylvania. James Franklin hasn’t always gotten the best player within his own state’s borders on the first try, but this offseason he has assembled the best talent that PA has to offer. However, his run of attracting the best player is going to end in the 2025 cycle.
In 2020, Julian Fleming was the top player in PA and the five-star wide receiver was the No. 4 player in the country. He left PA for Ohio State and has beaten the Nittany Lions four times, but transferred to Happy Valley last week. Then, over the weekend, Nolan Rucci, the top player from PA in the 2021 recruiting cycle transferred to Penn State after three seasons as a backup offensive tackle at Wisconsin.
Fleming, Rucci, and incoming freshman Quinton Martin join Nick Singleton, J’ven Williams as PA No. 1s on Penn State’s roster. Well, in 2025, the No. 1 player in the state, according to 247 Sports, is Zahir Mathis, and his top five doesn’t include the Nittany Lions.
In October, Mathis announced that Ohio State, Florida State, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina were his final five schools. Penn State offered Mathis back in May of 2021, the first major program to offer the now 6-foot-6 225-pound edge rusher, but he hasn't shown much, if any interest in Happy Valley.
Mathis, from Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia, would be a nice fit in Penn State’s defensive system. In the past few seasons of the Franklin era, the Nittany Lions have specialized in developing lengthy edge rushers like Odafe Oweh, Arnold Ebiketie, and this year, Chop Robinson. Yet, Mathis is looking to leave the state and has three teams on his list that were national championship contenders in 2024.
Penn State needs to elevate to that level to ensure that Franklin keeps a fence up around Pennsylvania. The cruel irony is that, to elevate to title contention, Franklin will need to secure players like Mathis. It will be an especially tough blow if Mathis joins Ryan Day and Ohio State.
Franklin has successfully stolen players from Ohio, like quarterback Drew Allar and Ethan Grunkemeyer, but it’s even more important to get the top player from within state lines. After missing on Mathis, he will need to turn his attention to four-star defensive lineman Maxwell Roy and four-star linebacker Cameron Smith, who are two of the other top PA players in the 2025 class.
Maybe, like Fleming and Rucci, Mathis will come back home in a couple of years. If he lives up to his massive potential, then he'll be a welcome addition.