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Penn State football: Why Nittany Lions’ transfer portal exodus shouldn’t be cause for panic

A month ago, James Franklin likened a recruit’s commitment to marriage. Well, over the last couple weeks, the Nittany Lions have experienced more than a few divorces.

Penn State has had 11 confirmed scholarship transfers in the first year of the portal. Two more players — safety Lamont Wade and offensive tackle Alex Gellerstedt — have reportedly entered the portal. Should Wade and Gellerstedt leave, which looks likely, Penn State will have lost 18 scholarship players to early departure, including those five underclassmen who declared for the 2019 NFL draft.

That’s a lot. And it’s understandable if fans freaked out over the last couple weeks; it felt like a transfer Twitter statement written in the iPhone notes app popped up daily.

But the sky isn’t falling in Happy Valley. For the most part, the Nittany Lions aren’t losing significant contributors to transfers. And the number 18 shouldn’t keep people from recognizing that these decisions are all personal in nature.

In some instances, there are influences outside football that call for a change in scenery. Brelin Faison-Walden, a North Carolina native, is off to Charlotte to deal with a health problem within his family. Dae’Lun Darien, a Baltimore native, is attending Delaware as his father deals with an illness. Torrence Brown, who medically retired in August, can’t play for Penn State again by NCAA rule.

For those entering the NFL draft, they’re about to get paid. Plain and simple. Miles Sanders is going to make an NFL roster now. What happens if he returns to Penn State and blows his knee out? Then he can’t help out his single mother working two jobs. Sanders, Ryan Bates, Connor McGovern, Shareef Miller and Kevin Givens are capitalizing on their situations while they feel they can.

As for the rest of the transfers, it’s about playing time. Danny Dalton, who appeared in three games, was one of six tight ends on scholarship. Safety Ayron Monroe was buried on the depth chart, as was cornerback Zech McPhearson to a lesser extent. Wherever Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk go, they’ll see targets; that might not have been the case with KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, Justin Shorter and a cast of talented youngsters demanding the ball in 2019. That’s what happens when programs pull in heralded recruiting class after heralded recruiting class.

Wade’s situation is really the only head-scratcher. The former blue-chip recruit was a leading candidate to replace Nick Scott at safety. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, after Wade posted a cleared-out locker to his Instagram story with the caption, “This wasn’t my decision, but hey.”

Still, Wade is one out of 13 transfer portal situations, confirmed or reported, that can’t be explained. The rest? Understandable.

Anyone who generalizes Penn State’s situation without looking into each circumstance is being ignorant. And to those who bash a kid for taking advantage of the portal — of new-found liberties — just stop. Because this is what the Nittany Lions’ staff asked for.

“We’re recruiting guys with high expectations, and that’s the big shift that you’re seeing from Year 1 to now,” offensive recruiting coordinator Tyler Bowen said on Dec. 19. “We’re recruiting guys with expectations that hey, you want to come into a top-10 program that’s going to compete for championships, you’re going to have to compete for a job.”

Added Franklin: “I tell guys all the time, I’m going to go out and recruit a linebacker next year to beat you out, and you’re going to be crazy enough to help us recruit him. That’s kind of what we want to create, that type of mentality. … If you start here, you’ve earned it.”

Well, when one guy wins a starting job, three or four lose out. With the portal available, it’s not reasonable to expect that all of them will stick around.

No, the transfer portal hasn’t been kind to Penn State’s three-deep. No, Nittany Lion fans don’t have to like losing close to a quarter of the roster. But with the newly-implemented portal, players have the freedom to explore their options, and they’re exercising that right.

Eleven confirmed transfers and counting is high. But divorce was always a part of the college football landscape. The past couple weeks have just proved that Penn State is no exception.

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