A look at James Franklin’s recruiting success at Penn State
Derek Wingo knew his early commitment to the Penn State Nittany Lions wouldn’t mean the end of recruiting. As comfortable as he felt with Penn State in the winter, Wingo never expected to go nearly a full year without taking additional visits or talking with other coaches.
Nearly five months after making his oral commitment, Wingo’s enthusiasm for the Nittany Lions hasn’t faded at all.
“I would say I’m 100 % committed to Penn State, but I still do hear from some other coaches,” Wingo said last Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, then rattled off a long list of schools that want to get their hands on the All-American. The Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes are the first two he mentions. He hears from the Texas A&M Aggies and Oklahoma Sooners a little bit, too.
“Miami, definitely,” Wingo said. The Miami Hurricanes are the hometown team in dire need of linebackers in the Class of 2020 and Wingo is South Florida’s top-ranked player at the position in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
The Hurricanes have made it clear to Wingo, just as they have to every other linebacker they’ve recruited in the 2020 class: Their starting linebackers are both gone after the 2019 season; playing time — and a chance for an immediate starting role — is up for grabs.
The current crop of starting linebackers in Coral Gables set a precedent for what Miami is trying to do now. Linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney both started right away as freshmen, and are now coming up on their fourth and final seasons with the Hurricanes. Quarterman has started all 39 games since he arrived on campus. Pinckney has started all but three.
Miami’s crop of potential successors is a swath of untested players. Some have changed positions, some have spent a few years developing off the bench and some — most notably Avery Huff, who will enroll Monday after playing 2018 with Wingo at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas — will get a chance to make their first impressions in the summer.
While the Hurricanes finally secured a linebacker commitment May 6 when three-star Largo Pinellas Park outside linebacker Alvin Mathis pledged to Miami, Wingo remains a major target, just like he was even before the Hurricanes’ Class of 2019 didn’t come together as planned, leaving them with the long-term void at linebacker.
“Obviously they have a little problem at linebacker right now. They’ve been kind of preaching that. They’ve just kind of brought that up,” Wingo said, “but even before that they’ve been preaching that same thing, how they want me there.”
With his frame and intelligence, Wingo has become an appealing prospect largely because of his versatility. He began his career with the Raiders as a quarterback before transitioning to defensive athlete role in 2018. The rising senior said schools have talked to him about playing everywhere from defensive end to middle linebacker and the Nittany Lions primarily like him at weakside linebacker, where he can rush off the edge.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect said the Hurricanes have preached versatility in their pitch for Wingo. He has played safety, so he could replace Pinckney at weak-side linebacker, but his experience at quarterback also makes him knowledgeable enough to potentially play middle linebacker as lines blur between Miami’s two linebacker positions. Wingo also likes what he has seen so far of the Hurricanes with Manny Diaz as coach.
“Everybody sees Coach Diaz’s new thing, the way he’s changing it — ‘The New Miami’ — everything that’s coming around and they’re doing a pretty good job over there,” Wingo said. “You see guys like Pinckney staying another year just to be able to be there, so stuff like that you can tell they have a good thing going on for the next year.”
It won’t be easy for Miami to keep Wingo home, though. The edge rusher orally committed to Penn State late last year and has already become one of the vocal leaders of the Nittany Lions’ 2020 class. He hasn’t visited anyone other than Penn State since a January trip to see the Hurricanes, and he doesn’t have any plans to get back down to Miami, although the proximity, he said, makes it a strong possibility.
For now, he’s more worried about helping the Nittany Lions build the best class possible.
“I think that’s kind of my thing,” Wingo said. “I’m always trying to get in the guys’ DMs and stuff like that, let them know, try to get them over here, so that’s the biggest thing.”