Penn State is 11 days into preseason camp and a few freshmen have managed to turn heads on campus. However, this group remains incomplete due to the continued absence of 4-star defensive end signee Damion Barber.
Barber, a 6-foot-3, 244-pound prospect from nearby Harrisburg (Pa.) High School, has been occupied this summer by an effort to fulfill academic requirements. Based on statements Nittany Lions coach James Franklin provided during media day last Saturday, the in-state standout may be nearing arrival.
“We’re confident that Damion is going to be here,” Franklin said. “We’ve got some great feedback this week. So we’re really confident that Damion will be here.”
A substantial update has yet to come during the second week of camp. Still, those comments from Franklin are a change of pace from mostly silence on the topic at Big Ten Media Days on July 25.
Barber, considered the No. 13 strongside defensive end in the 247Sports 2017 composite rankings, was a premier Pennsylvania prospect this past recruiting cycle. He helped lead Harrisburg to its first state championship game appearance, collecting 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks along the way, according to John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times.
That journey occurred alongside a pair of prospects who’ve become quite familiar to Nittany Lions coaches and fans: receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts and edge rusher Micah Parsons.
Anderson-Butts pledged to Penn State on July 14, while Parsons previously spent 14 months committed to the program prior to his de-commitment on April 23. He may still return to the class by National Signing Day (Feb. 7), though schools such as Alabama, Florida, Nebraska and Ohio State are among other contenders.
Penn State hoped to have Barber on campus to compete at a position that will require new contributors in 2017. During media day, Franklin focused on defensive end as a spot his staff would be watching closely throughout camp.
“One of the discussions in the offseason was defensive end and finding some production at that position, and guys are going to have to step up,” he said.
Franklin pointed to another player in the 2017 recruiting class who could be counted on during his first collegiate campaign.
“I would say probably [Yetur] Gross-Matos is the freshman that everyone is excited about, and we’re going to need to find a way for him to have a role for us this year,” he explained.
Even if Barber does arrive in August, an immediate impact appears highly unlikely. Roster restrictions further complicate the situation.
“The problem is, once you set your 105-man roster for camp, the NCAA rule, it’s not like you can pull a guy off of it and sub a guy in,” Franklin said. “It’s not like the NFL where you’re getting on the waiver wires and changing guys. So we have some challenges when it comes to that, but the most important thing is will he be here before school starts? And we’re pretty confident that will happen.”
The focus shifts toward long-term goals with Barber, including acclimation in the classroom, weight room and locker room. Penn State’s 2018 spring camp would represent a key opportunity for him to assert himself as a viable option moving forward at defensive end.
Barber initially aimed to enroll July 30, according to Audrey Snyder of DK Pittsburgh Sports. Nearly two weeks later, the waiting game continues. But a conclusion now seems closer than at any point this summer.
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