UNIVERISTY PARK - While there may be no way to truly replace all-time greats David Taylor and Ed Ruth, Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and his staff did the next best thing.
They assembled a class of 12 recruits deemed to be best in the country by most ratings services. While three of them stand above the rest as individuals ranked in the top 10 of all recruits in this class, none of them are expected to start this season.
"I think it's all case by case, but we're planning to redshirt all of them, for the most part," Sanderson said. "We want to put our best team out there. The kids have to be on board and ready to go."
The most talented trio of the 12 hail from three disparate points on a map of the United States. Nick Nevills (Clovis, Calif.), Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas) and Kittanning's Jason Nolf combined to win nine state championships and amass a 559-13 record (.977 winning percentage) in high school. InterMat rated them Nos. 4, 5 and 7, respectively.
The other nine come from various points in the east: Shakur Rasheed, Middle Island, N.Y.; Devon Van Cura, Washington, N.C.; George Carpenter, Carrboro, N.C.; Anthony Cassar, Montgomery, N.J.; Kyle Baker, Easton; Kenneth Yanovich, Broadheadsville; Michael Marino, Glen Mills; Nick Weldon, Clay, Ala.; and Jordan Pagano, Oradell, N.J.
If you think there are more recruits from outside the borders of Pennsylvania than normal, you are correct.
"Pa.'s so strong that it's hard not to just stay in Pa., but every once in a while you've got to go out and get individuals," Sanderson said. "It just depends on who's out there and who wants to come to Penn State."
Nevills is a three-time California state champion and four-time medalist from Clovis High School. He capped his senior season with a 50-0 record (46 pins). His career mark was 200-5 with a state-record 146 pins. He helped lead his team to four straight state championships. He's the only heavyweight in California history to win three titles.
Nevills also was named California's High School Excellence Award winner by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and was selected to the national "Dream Team" of top high school wrestlers by USA Wrestling Magazine.
"He wanted to come to where he thought was best. The regional training center was a big part of him trying to decide where he wanted to go. I'm not too worried about him being away from home. I think he wants to go where he's going to be the best wrestler and be able to do well academically," Sanderson said. "We believe that's Penn State."
Nickal is a three-time Texas state champion who compiled a 183-7 record, 131 of those wins by fall.
In 2012, Nickal was a USA Wrestling Triple Crown Winner at the Cadet level. In 2013, Nickal won the 170-pound title at the FILA Cadet Championships and Junior Freestyle Nationals. Also in 2013 he was fifth at the FILA Cadet World Championships.
This year, he won a gold medal at 84 kg (185 pounds) at the International Junior Champions Tournament.
"He has his attacks from the outside like the low level shots, but he is not afraid to go upper body. He's got some very good tricks and some big throws, good hips. In that regard, yeah, he's going to throw some people here. He's going to be fun to watch. I think the fans will really enjoy watching him compete because he's a big-move guy. But he also has the ability to score the nice single leg and that's what's important," Sanderson said.
Nolf is a three-time PIAA champion who was one two-point loss from a fourth championship and a perfect record. His career mark was 176-1. From the sounds of it, he's the type who will work to erase the memory of that one loss.
"He's very driven. I think he's one of the top-rated recruits, on rankings alone, but I think he's one of the most underrated guys in the class, too, and that says a lot," Sanderson said. "The kid loves to wrestle, loves to compete, loves to train. He doesn't have the freestyle background. He's only wrestled a few freestyle matches in his career I believe. A lot of that has to do with why I say he's underrated. He's a guy, too, that with that mentality, he's going to skyrocket."
Rasheed, a two-time New York champ (160 pounds) who hails from the same high school as former Nittany Lion great Kerry McCoy, has Sanderson excited, too.
"I think he's a guy who is flying under the radar. He's very quick. He still has to learn how to wrestle a little bit. He still wrestles on one knee. He's got a great cradle. If a kid's tough on top that's a big deal. You think of all our guys who have dominated, they're generally pretty good on top," Sanderson said.
Cassar won the New Jersey state title at 195 pounds with a 43-0 record. He has all the attributes Sanderson is looking for, including a strong desire to wrestle at Penn State.
"He's a state champ in New Jersey, which is kind of a big deal. It's all one group. He's another guy who is under the radar also. He came here because he wants to be the best and there's not a better place in the world to train right now than Penn State," Sanderson said.