Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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5 2 M A R C H 2 0 2 4 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M / / / / / / / T H E C L A S S O F 2 0 2 4 / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / After deciding to leave Georgia, cor- nerback A.J. Harris took a businesslike approach to his search for a new school. Harris was going to be data-driven. He wasn't going to rely on vibes to tell him where he should go. "We got on the phone with him the first time, and then we got on the phone with him the second time, and he had done his homework," coach James Franklin recalled. "He knew our ros- ter. He knew the coaches. And he had watched our film. He had studied our film. He looked at the data, where are we ranked, and how we played defense." To Franklin, that in itself was a strong indication that Harris would be a good fit in Penn State's program. "Right away, this guy was talking about the things in my mind that really matter," Franklin said. "That's what was important to him and his family about choosing the right place from a fit per- spective, and that was going to allow him to achieve his goals both on and off the field. The parents were awesome as well. There was alignment from that standpoint." Harris played in only seven games before falling out of the Bulldogs' rota- tion down the stretch last season. He finished his freshman campaign with 7 tackles, the last 2 coming against Flor- ida on Oct. 28. Nevertheless, Franklin and his staff felt confident that the former four-star prospect from Phenix City, Ala., had the potential to compete for snaps in a Nittany Lion secondary that had seen both of last year's starting cornerbacks, Kalen King and Johnny Dixon, move on to the NFL. The coaches' confidence was based on what they had seen when they tried to recruit Harris out of Central High, where he was listed by On3 as the na- tion's No. 87 overall player and No. 10 cornerback in the 2023 class. "We loved his high school tapes," Franklin said. "Although he hadn't played a whole lot this past year, he was still close enough to what we recruited out of high school that we felt confident in that." — Nate Bauer Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming spent the past four seasons at a pro- gram renowned for producing elite wide receivers. Rated a five-star prospect by three major online recruiting services, Flem- ing put up good numbers during his time in Columbus and is expected to be in the mix for the top-receiver role at Penn State. But by all accounts, the Catawissa, Pa., native did not return to his home state with a sense of entitle- ment regarding that job. When he be- gan working out with the Nittany Lions in January, he proved to his new team- mates that he was prepared to earn it on the practice field. "We don't make promises," coach James Franklin said. "Guys are going to have to come in here and compete and earn jobs. Julian has done a good job with the first thing you do at any [new job or program] — keep your mouth shut and your ears open, and go to work and earn everybody's respect. He's done a good job of that. I've heard really good reports from the strength staff, coaches and players. He's done a good job with all of those things." Fleming had 80 catches for 990 yards and 7 touchdowns during his Ohio State career. His best statistical season came in 2022, when he caught 34 passes for 533 yards and 6 scores. Last year, he hauled in 26 passes for 270 yards. He has one year of eligibility remaining. Many thought Fleming, a star player at nearby Southern Columbia High, would sign with the Nittany Lions in 2020. As fans remember and Franklin admitted recently, Penn State seemed to lead for a long time in the receiver's recruitment. He never committed and ultimately ended up with the rival Buckeyes, but that preexisting relationship was ben- eficial for both sides when Fleming en- tered the transfer portal. "One of the things I'd prefer to do if possible is that if we go to the portal, it's [to pursue] a guy we recruited on the front end," Franklin said. "Julian was a really good example. There was a long and lengthy recruiting process for him and his family. For a while, we thought he was coming. We ended up losing him, but now he's back with us. "There's familiarity and comfort there for him and his family and for us. And his ability to play in this league is helpful. He understands what [the Big Ten] is all about, and he's an older guy, which I think also helps in that room." — Greg Pickel Julian Fleming Makes A Belated But Welcome Arrival Nittany Lions See Role For A.J. Harris In Their Secondary THE HARRIS FILE ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ CB | So. 6-1 | 188 Georgia Central High Phenix City, Ala. THE FLEMING FILE ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ WR | Sr. 6-2 | 209 Ohio State Southern Columbia High Catawissa, Pa.

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