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Penn State Football: With Summer Camps at Risk, Pry Talks Talent Evaluation

by on March 31, 2020 2:10 PM

Back in the summer of 2016, seemingly a lifetime ago, future Penn State tight Pat Freiermuth took the field at Beaver Stadium and began catching everything.

He caught passes over defenders, he grabbed the ball out of the air just in time to put both feet in bounds. It was impressive, and a day later, Penn State offered Pat Freiermuth a spot in its recruiting class.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Penn State would have offered Freiermuth eventually anyway. A prospect rarely makes his way to a football camp without James Franklin and his staff having done their homework. Equally true, camps are bloated, a mixture of high quality prospects, their friends, players who are hoping to get noticed and odd-and-ends in between.

So nothing beats in-person workouts and performance. Penn State's own history of walk-on (run-on) success is a testament to the fact players slip through the cracks all the time. Even Saquon Barkley wasn't as highly coveted as Miles Sanders, and while both players had well documented careers at Penn State, nothing about Barkley's recruiting profile suggested he would become the player he is today.

You just never know.

Which creates an interesting problem in a COVID-19 world: Penn State was scheduled to host a handful of football camps this summer like it does every year. A few of them are relatively pointless on the recruiting front, but upperclassmen and underclassmen showcases and 7-on-7 camps provide a great opportunity for in-person evaluation.

And that opportunity might be gone.

"We're having these discussions now," Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said on Tuesday morning. "I mean it's a great question because without the promise of camps and, and even spring visits and, you know, seeing these guys perform at these combines and getting testing numbers and measurable, having them out in our own personal camps and working them out [it's hard]."

Penn State's 7-on-7 camps don't begin until June, and given the uncertainty of what next week might look like it's nearly impossible to project farther beyond the day at hand. All the same, college football coaches and administrators across the country are planning out for everything and every permutation of delays and cancelations.

The functional recruitment of a player is one thing — video chats are still possible, and phone calls and texts are always a big piece of the puzzle. That won't be changing anytime soon. But how do you evaluate players when you can't even see them play, run or execute drills?

You work with what you know.

"I keep going back to what I do know about guys," Pry added. "[Are they] answering more questions, and check more boxes... let's go back and if we don't have an opportunity and there's seven or eight linebackers that we'd like to evaluate and we don't have an opportunity to do that any further, let's talk about what they bring to the table. What are the things we know about each one of these guys? Questions that don't need answered. And then let's kind of rank these guys with that information, with that perspective."

Of course, like everyone in sports and across the country, Pry only knows so much and in turn there is only so much he can do to combat the situation. For now, he joins a growing number of people in a hope that all of this will be over soon, with a quiet appreciation for the fact the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be still very far away.

All the same, Pry keeps plugging along, because like everyone else, he has no other option.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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