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Penn State football: Breaking down the Nittany Lions’ 2019 early enrollees

Monday marks the start of Penn State’s spring semester, and that means the Nittany Lions’ early enrollees are on campus and ready to begin their collegiate careers.

James Franklin and his staff signed 18 players on Dec. 19, a class that ranks No. 10 by 247 Sports. The class’ average player rating is 92.12, the fourth-highest in the country behind only Alabama, Georgia and Clemson. Penn State still has a chance to add to its class in February, but for now the focus is on the 11 players enrolling early.

Here are the newest Nittany Lions, along with a comprehensive breakdown.

(Note: All figures are from 247 Sports’ composite rankings)

ILB Brandon Smith

The skinny: 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, Louisa County High School (Mineral, Va.)

Rankings: Five stars, No. 2 inside linebacker, No. 25 nationally

HS stats: 375 tackles, 62 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 14 forced fumbles in three seasons

What they’re saying: “He’s got a five-star rating, but he’s a five-star kid with a five-star family. We’re looking forward to him coming in and learning the system and learning our way and being able to make calls and checks and get guys lined up. That’s the challenge for young guys.” — Penn State defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith

DE Adisa Isaac

The skinny: 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Canarsie High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 4 defensive end, No. 79 nationally

HS stats: 77 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 22 sacks as a senior

What they’re saying: “What a specimen on the edge. Tall, long, athletic, fast. Who knows with Yetur Gross-Matos? He’s a great guy and will have an opportunity to become a mentor. For Adisa to get mentored by Yetur, and then once Yetur leaves, he’ll be ready to step in.” — Terry Smith

RB Noah Cain

The skinny: 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, IMG Academy (from Flower Mound, Texas)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 7 running back, No. 104 nationally

HS stats: 3,936 scrimmage yards, 46 total touchdowns over four years

What they’re saying: “There’s an opportunity to start. I’m ready for the competition after playing at IMG the last two years. I know, for myself, I plan on handling my business.” — Cain, to 247 Sports

OLB Lance Dixon

The skinny: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, West Bloomfield High School (West Bloomfield, Mich.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 11 outside linebacker, No. 195 nationally

HS stats: 95 tackles, 11 TFLs, 11 hurries, five sacks, five passes defended, one forced fumble as a senior

What they’re saying: “Being a Michigan kid, it was difficult to tell Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and Coach (Mark) Dantonio I was not going to stay in state. … By choosing Penn State University, I am ultimately choosing to not only elevate my athleticism and my overall football career by joining one of the best teams in the nation, I will be elevating so much more. … I am excited to learn and grow and become who I am meant to be.” — Dixon, to the Detroit Free Press

S Tyler Rudolph

The skinny: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, St. Thomas More School (Oakdale, Conn.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 22 safety, No. 263 nationally

What they’re saying: “Tyler has been an outstanding player and leader for us during his time at St. Thomas More. He has been an impact player on defense since the first time he stepped on the field. He is a person who the rest of his teammates rally around.” — St. Thomas More head coach coach Jeff Moore, to Penn State Athletics

QB Michael Johnson Jr.

The skinny: 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, Sheldon High School (Eugene, Ore.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 8 dual-threat quarterback, No. 271 nationally

HS stats: 7,306 passing yards, 3,463 rushing yards, 134 total touchdowns over four years

What they’re saying: “You’re going to have to compete anywhere you go. I mean, that’s why I’m coming in early, just to try to get a little bit of an advantage and get spring ball under my belt before fall camp. This is the confidence I have in myself.” — Johnson, to, on why replacing Trace McSorley in 2019 is “realistic”

QB Ta’Quan Roberson

The skinny: 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, DePaul Catholic High School (Wayne, N.J.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 9 dual-threat quarterback, No. 284 nationally

HS stats: 4,899 passing yards, 59 passing touchdowns in two seasons

What they’re saying: “Ta’Quan came to camp and earned it the hard way. We loved how he threw the ball, but he didn’t run a 40. We said, ‘Hey, you need to come back and do all the testing.’ And he came back. And we offered him, and it didn’t take much longer after that. He committed and never changed.” — Penn State head coach James Franklin

CB Keaton Ellis

The skinny: 5-foot-11, 177 pounds, State College Area High School (State College, Pa.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 33 cornerback, No. 308 nationally

HS stats: 51 tackles, four INTs, nine pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, 1,376 all-purpose yards as a senior

What they’re saying: “You watch his film, to me, I think he’s got the best corner film in the country of all corners. And we watched them all.” — Terry Smith

OL Anthony Whigan

The skinny: 6-foot-4, 292 pounds, Lackawanna College (from Lexington Park, Md.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 3 JUCO OT, No. 10 JUCO nationally

What they’re saying: “Anthony Whigan is a skinny 300 pounds and still has a lot of room to grow. He is super athletic. You watch him at Lackawanna, and he played four positions on the offensive line. He’s played both guards, both tackles. He provides flexibility, but has the athleticism to play on the edge.” — Penn State offensive recruiting coordinator Tyler Bowen

CB Marquis Wilson

The skinny: 5-foot-11, 167 pounds, Windsor High School (Windsor, Conn.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 37 cornerback, No. 334 nationally

HS stats: 51 tackles, four INTs as a junior

What they’re saying: “What really stood out to me was the connection and love we built over time. You get wowed by the big crowd, student body, nice things and everything. The more I kept visiting there, you get more in-depth and detailed about what I love about it.” — Wilson, to the Hartford Courant

TE Brenton Strange

The skinny: 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Parkersburg High School (Parkersburg, W. Va.)

Rankings: Four stars, No. 14 tight end, No. 355 nationally

HS stats: 186 receptions, 2,660 yards, 23 touchdowns over four years

What they’re saying: “His production has been incredible. If you look over the last two years, he’s a guy who’s got over 2,000 receiving yards. … Also he’s showed the physicality on defense playing SAM linebacker. The biggest thing for him, just like any high school kid coming into a college program, is his physical development over the offseason. That’s a big part of getting him early. That helps to get an extra semester with him.” — Bowen

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