Already with commitments from two of the top prospects in Pennsylvania from the class of 2014 in the fold, the Penn State football team got visits from three more on Monday, and locked up two of them.
As was expected, James Franklin's Nittany Lions received pledges that they hope will bolster their defense down the road by landing Great Valley defensive end Ryan Buchholz and Archbishop Wood linebacker Jake Cooper.
Buchholz is a 6-foot-6, 235-pound defensive end. Cooper is a 6-2, 220-pound linebacker and the teammate of offensive lineman Ryan Bates, who committed to the Lions on Feb. 15, when he, Buchholz and others were in University Park for Penn State's first junior day this recruiting season.
"I'm very excited to say that I am going to get the chance to play college football with my high school teammate and a great friend," Bates said of Cooper's commitment. "The next couple of years are going to be great."
Their commitments bring the number in the Lions' class to six. In addition to Bates from within the state, Penn State also pulled in Whitehall running back Saquon Barkley last week.
Both Buchholz and Cooper were expected to commit while at Penn State. Buchholz, in fact, said he already knew he was going to commit before he made the trip.
"I was up at Penn State for the junior day last Saturday, but my dad was not with me. I loved it, my mom loved it, and I knew I wanted to commit, but my dad wasn't there, and I really hadn't talked to my head coach yet. I wanted to talk to them," said Buchholz, who made the second trip with his father. "Once I talked to them, I knew I was going to commit."
A second team all-southeastern Pennsylvania player in 2013 according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Buchholz said he has been a lifelong Nittany Lion fan whose best friend is the son of former Penn State quarterback Doug Strang. He camped at Penn State twice last summer and attended the Kent State game in the fall before making two trips this month.
Buchholz has 14 scholarship offers, with Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pitt next in line had the Nittany Lions' not offered. One of his older brothers wrestles and is a walk-on to the Maryland football team. Another is an offensive lineman at James Madison, and one of his cousins plays football for Duquesne.
Penn State, though, always was his school to beat.
"I've always loved the tradition, the stadium. But, after meeting the players and this new staff, I love them 10 times as much," Buchholz said. "I just feel so comfortable with them. The energy they gave off, they're here to get the best players around the country and win championships and games and to do it for Penn State and for us."
Buchholz had 70 tackles, 11 sacks and batted down five passes as a junior in the Patriots' 4-4 alignment. Buchholz was only 5-6 in seventh grade and playing fullback before hitting a growth - if he puts on more weight, the coaching staff said he could wind up as a defensive tackle.
"My size, my length and my speed I think are the things that stand out about me. I'm 6-6, and I'm pretty fast laterally and vertically. It's fun being able to get after the quarterback and make plays," Buchholz said.
While Buchholz plays on a basketball team that was ranked as high as sixth in the state in the winter, Cooper was the seventh-ranked 220-pound wrestler in the state before breaking a couple of fingers. Cooper actually started out as a boxer at his father's encouragement - in fact, he's named after Jake LaMotta - before finally convincing his dad to let him play football with all the other 7-year-olds in the neighborhood.
He scored 42 touchdowns in eight games in his first season, cementing a future that he felt reached a milepost on Monday.
"Being a linebacker my whole life, you've got to watch Penn State. It's Linebacker U. Sitting down and being able to watch guys like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee, you really get inspired by a program like that to go there. I've always wanted to do that since I was a little guy, and to finally say I am going to do that is just tremendous," said Cooper, whose father also was a quarterback at Central State in Ohio before being bitten by the boxing bug. "It's tough to put into words."
Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia, Northwestern, Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt also were high on Cooper's list of schools fighting an uphill battle to get him to consider someone other than Penn State. Duke almost pulled it off - Cooper was expected to commit to Penn State during a visit last Monday but didn't because he had scheduled a visit to the Atlantic Coast Conference school, but it just delayed him a week.
"When you see a place like Duke, you just tend to fall in love with it. Seeing another school and being able to compare with what I thought was my dream school was awesome, and it turns out Penn State is my dream school," Cooper, who works with special needs youngsters at his local YMCA in his free time, said. "I was so excited about it. Giving Coach Franklin and Coach [Brent] Pry was awesome. It was like a building was raised off my back, because the recruiting process is strenuous."
Cooper, who recorded 152 tackles and six sacks as Wood went 13-2 last year, is heading to Penn State with the idea that he'll play inside, but that's not written in stone.
"The coaches did sit me down and said, 'Look, Coop, you're fast enough to play outside. You're very athletic. You're fully capable of playing outside in space, so, if you come in early and you're one of the top three linebackers, then you're going to play one of those positions,'" Cooper said. "Being a versatile guy and being able to play multiple positions and having multiple opportunities is great for me."
Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt running back Andre Robinson also made the trip to Penn State on Monday. Robinson rushed for 2,336 yards and 29 touchdowns this past season, and recruiting websites have the Lions and Ohio State as his two leaders. He's expected to make another trip to Penn State in the near future.
"I had a great time. It was good to get to know Coach Franklin and the rest of the staff better," Robinson said. "I look forward to building a relationship with them."
Cooper and Buchholz already were acquainted and might be joining forces to help sway Robinson to join them.
"You want the best class possible to create the best competition that will make you better, as well as the best team," Cooper said. "So reaching out to these guys is key."