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The Fascinating Legacy of Penn State's 2018 Recruiting Class

Four years later, James Franklin's superstar class remains his most captivating at Penn State.

Recruiting rankings are entertaining to read and certainly matter but often produce more context in the long-range view.

For instance, Penn State's 2023 recruiting class ranks fourth nationally, according to 247Sports, and seeks to chase down Ohio State for the Big Ten's top spot. We won't truly gauge the class' impact for another four years, though.

But now we can reflect on Penn State's remarkable 2018 recruiting class, which was born from the combined 22 wins of two breakthrough seasons. That group ranked sixth nationally and, on Signing Day, coach James Franklin proudly detailed its exhaustive accomplishments.

This class had three Under Armour All-Americans, two All-American  Bowl participants and the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year. It featured three 5-star prospects and two ranked in the national top 10, a first for the Lions since 2000. Fifteen of the 23 signees were 4-star prospects or better. And Penn State had signed the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania for the third consecutive year.

This recruiting class promised to be the launchpad for Penn State's football future. Four years later, it has proven to be the most fascinating of Franklin's tenure that also has cast a "What might have been" tone on the past two seasons.

Penn State's 2018 recruiting class has birthed six NFL Draft picks (including three first-rounders) so far, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the program's single-game receiving record, a new Heinz Field chant, the longest pass play in school history, a dismissed hazing lawsuit, Tom Brady's neighbor and the first college football player to sign an NIL deal with a horse.

Eight of the 23 signees transferred, six are in the NFL, six are still Nittany Lions and three took medical retirements.

Penn State's 2018 recruiting class has plenty of stories to tell. Here they are.

Micah Parsons

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons appears on the red carpet prior to the NFL Honors.

The Draft Picks

Micah Parsons: The highest-ranked player in the class delivered two exceptional seasons, leading Penn State in tackles twice, before announcing plans to opt out of the 2020 season. Dallas drafted Parsons at No. 12 overall in 2021, and the linebacker became a first-team All-Pro, a Pro Bowl selection and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Odafe Oweh: A four-star defensive end and top-100 prospect, Oweh was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020 without recording a sack. The Baltimore Ravens prized his athleticism and promise, drafting Oweh at No. 31 overall in 2021. As a rookie, Oweh made five sacks and forced three fumbles.

Pat Freiermuth: One of 12 four-star prospects in the 2018 class, Freiermuth was an All-America tight end who twice decided to return to Penn State for the 2020 season. He played in four games, breaking the school record for touchdown receptions by a tight end, but sustained a season-ending injury against Ohio State that required surgery. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the 2021 second round, and Freiermuth caught 60 passes, seven for touchdowns, during the regular season. Steelers fans welcomed Freiermuth to Pittsburgh with the chant, "Muuuuuuth."

Jahan Dotson: Once committed to UCLA, Dotson returned to his home-state team and made the starting lineup as a freshman. He then returned to Penn State for his senior season in 2021, becoming an All-American receiver who set the program's single-game record for receiving yards and finished second on the career-receptions list (183). The Washington Commanders selected Dotson at No. 16 overall, making him Penn State's highest-drafted receiver since 1984.

Jesse Luketa: A four-star defensive prospect, Luketa played linebacker (taking over Parsons' place outside) in 2020 before shifting to defensive end in 2021. He eventually played both positions, was a third-team All-Big Ten nominee and was drafted in the seventh round by the Arizona Cardinals.

Rasheed Walker: A multi-year starter at left tackle, Walker was poised to become Penn State's highest-drafted lineman since second-rounder Donovan Smith in 2015. He was inconsistent last season, however, missed the last three games due to injury and was unable to work out at the NFL Combine and Penn State Pro Day. Green Bay selected Walker in the seventh round.

The Current Lions

PJ Mustipher: The defensive tackle was having a terrific season in 2021 when he sustained a season-ending injury against Iowa. Though he played in just six games, Mustipher was named second-team All-Big Ten. He will be back for a fifth season in 2022.

Juice Scruggs: A four-star offensive lineman, Scruggs was an honorable mention All-Big Ten guard last season. He will shift to center this season. Scruggs did not play in 2019 while rehabbing from an injury he sustained in a car accident.

Nick Tarburton: The defensive end fought injuries for several years before earning a starting role in 2021. He played in all 13 games, starting eight, and made his first sack against Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. Tarburton received the 2021 Tim Shaw Thrive Award at the program's annual banquet.

Jake Pinegar: A fifth-year senior, Pinegar returns to challenge for the starting kicker role he held as a freshman and sophomore. Pinegar was 11-for-12 on field goals in 2019. He worked through an injury last season, when Jordan Stout handled the kicking duties.

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Charlie Katshir: The linebacker played in all 13 games on defense and special teams last season and seeks a larger role this year. He could be part of a linebacker rotation that needs to replace two starters. Former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry raved about Katshir, saying he could play all three linebacker positions.

Bryce Effner: Effner is among Penn State's most veteran offensive linemen, having started at left tackle against Rutgers and Michigan State last season. He also plays on special teams. 

The Transfers

Will Levis: After starting two games in three years at Penn State, Levis transferred to Kentucky, where he was a team captain and led the program to 10 wins in 2021. Levis generated 3,202 yards of total offense, finished with a completion rate of 66 percent and threw 24 touchdown passes. He now is considered a potential first-round draft pick in 2023 and broke NIL ground by signing an endorsement deal with a Kentucky thoroughbred horse farm.

Justin Shorter: The former five-star receiver never found his stride at Penn State, laboring through injuries and inconsistency in 2019. Shorter sought a fresh start at Florida, where he caught 66 passes the past two seasons. Shorter returns for the Gators in 2022 seeking to be one of their top receivers.

Daniel George: The 6-4 receiver caught a school-record 95-yard touchdown pass as a true freshman in 2018, heralding a bright future. That was George's only touchdown catch at Penn State. He played in one game last season and this spring announced plans to transfer to Akron, where he will play for former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

Ricky Slade: A five-star running back and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia, Slade began the 2019 season as Penn State's starter but ceded more playing time to Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford. Ultimately, Slade transferred to Old Dominion in 2020, when the program did not have a season. Slade was not with Old Dominion in 2021.

Zack Kuntz: He was a four-star prospect at tight end with Freiermuth who needed to add mass to his 6-7 frame. Kuntz recorded three catches at Penn State and transferred to Old Dominion, where he broke out for a 73-catch season in 2021 that ranked second nationally among FBS tight ends. Kuntz returns to Old Dominion this season as a first-team All-Conference USA tight end.

Judge Culpepper: The defensive end, who became neighbors in 2020 with Tom Brady, is now a redshirt senior defensive tackle at Toledo. Culpepper played in 22 games at Penn State before transferring to Toledo, where he started 13 games and made 43 tackles last season.

Trent Gordon: Gordon spent three seasons at Penn State, playing cornerback and safety, and transferred to Arkansas after the 2020 season. He played in eight games for the Razorbacks, including their 24-10 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Isaiah Humphries: A three-star defensive back whose father Leonard played at Penn State, Humphries transferred to the University of California after his freshman season. He opted out of the 2020 season, returned for the Bears in 2021 and entered the NCAA Transfer Portal earlier this year. Humphries in 2020 filed a lawsuit against Penn State, Franklin and a former teammate alleging that he was hazed and harassed while with the team. A federal judge dismissed Penn State and Franklin from the suit in 2021. 

The Medical Retirements

Nana Asiedu: A four-star lineman with an impressive future, Asiedu retired from football before his freshman season after being diagnosed with a heart condition.

Jordan Miner: Another promising four-star prospect, the defensive back also was forced to give up football because of a heart condition diagnosed before his freshman season. Miner was just 17 at the time.

Aeneas Hawkins: A defensive tackle, Hawkins announced his retirement from football in January after spending much of his time at Penn State "battling injury." He serves as the chief athlete officer for Limitless NIL, the NIL agency started by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the network.