Devyn Ford and Brandon Smith — two of America’s most coveted talents in the 2019 recruiting class — settled on their college selections seven months ago. Both prospects picked Penn State from scholarship offer sheets that included dozens of Power Five opportunities.
Now less than two weeks shy of sealing the deal with signed letters of intent, Ford and Smith want to ensure they arrive in Happy Valley surrounded by players who are prepared to compete for championships. They are among 11 Nittany Lions commits expected on campus this weekend, though they carry a unique distinction.
Ford and Smith are two of a select few who are making the trip in an unofficial capacity. Both players used their official visits to Penn State during the inaugural spring window.
So, what’s the difference?
For one, they and their families must handle financial costs incurred for the trip, unlike official visitors. But this is worth it, they asserted.
“It is very important to make this trip because this will be the last time before we become students that we’ll have to hang out with each other as recruits,” Smith said. “Our commitment class is strong and we’re looking forward to hanging out with each other and making it even stronger.”
The five-star Louisa County (Mineral, Va.) High School linebacker will travel nearly 300 miles to be in town this weekend. That’s quite the juxtaposition when compared to official visitor Keaton Ellis, a Nittany Lions cornerback commit who attends high school less than two miles away from Beaver Stadium.
Ford, a top-10 running back recruit in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings who wrapped up his North Stafford (Va.) High School career last Saturday, is looking ahead at a car ride that exceeds four hours.
“It’s important to get up there and visit the school with the rest of my class that’s committed to get a feel and to build relationships,” Ford said.
Smith and Ford are listed first and second, respectively, in composite Virginia recruit rankings. Ford pledged to Penn State on May 18, and Smith followed suit three days later.
Aside from spending time alongside classmates — this should be the largest such gathering since Sept. 29, when prospects packed Beaver Stadium for a matchup between Penn State and Ohio State — they are intent on finishing the recruiting cycle on a high note.
“We want the uncommitted kids to know the type of bond we have and the family atmosphere we create when everyone’s together,” Smith said.
The anticipated guest list of uncommitted official visitors is impressive. It includes defensive tackle Jared Harrison-Hunte (Middle Village, N.Y.), receiver Cornelius Johnson (Greenwich, Conn.) and offensive lineman Jakai Moore (Nokesville, Va.).
Penn State is searching for the final pieces of a recruiting class currently situated 13th in 247Sports composite rankings. Coaches and support staff will spearhead an action-packed weekend, but peer-to-peer interactions routinely make the most meaningful impact during events such as this.
“We’re looking forward to spending time with all recruits,” Smith said. “We just want to show them all a good time and make it known that this is a great place to be.”
So what’s the message they aim to deliver during discussions with potential college teammates?
“That PSU is a great school to be a part of in every aspect — academics, football, and even social interactions — and that our class is solid and willing to go up there and do whatever it takes,” Ford said.
Brenton Strange, a tight end who pledged to Penn State in October, is also making an unofficial visit this weekend. He, too, will journey almost 300 miles to make that happen, but Strange explained it’s all part of the plan.
“I think everybody should know that we are building something special at PSU,” he said.