Blue White Illustrated

February 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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5 6 F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 2 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M C ommitments around the New Year holiday have become a trend for Penn State in recent years. Mehki Flowers, a class of 2022 safety prospect who signed with the Nittany Lions last month, announced his com- mitment on the first day of 2021, and he wasn't the first player to do that during James Franklin's tenure as head coach. Flowers was following the lead of another safety, Texas native Isaiah Humphries, who announced his decision on Jan. 1, 2017. History repeated itself yet again a few weeks ago, but with one small change: When Maryland athlete Neeo Avery chose the Lions, he announced his deci- sion on New Year's Eve. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Glen Burnie could play a variety of positions at the college level, and he is eager to continue his career at PSU. "Penn State is the school for me," Av- ery told Chad Simmons, On3's national recruiting director. "I picked Penn State over Georgia and Kentucky. They've been very consistent with me. They're very honest with me, and I've been thinking hard about Penn State for about two or three months." A three-star prospect according to the On3 Consensus, Avery has primar- ily played quarterback at Good Counsel High, but that isn't going to be his col- legiate position. Prior to his commitment, most schools were pursuing him as a tight end. That started to change last fall when Avery broke his hand at midseason. The injury forced him to play defensive end — it was one of the few positions he could play with a cast — and Avery showed immedi- ate potential, recording eight sacks in his first two games. "My first game starting at defensive end was actually when Coach [Ty] Howle and Coach [James] Franklin came down to watch," Avery said. "After that, they were saying that they'll take me as a tight end or a D-end." His performance at defensive end caught the attention of quite a few schools. South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame all offered after re- viewing his film as an edge rusher. Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes primarily liked his ability to rush, but Penn State's coaches told him consistently that they believed he could play either position. A few weeks before announcing his commitment, Avery said, "I just want to play wherever I have more impact. That's most important." After choosing the Nittany Lions, he said he felt as though the decision will give him the flexibility to find his best path at the college level. "They've given me the option to play offense or defense," he said. "They like me on both sides of the ball, and I feel I can excel at defensive end or tight end, so that will be a decision I make down the road." Avery came close to ending his recruit- ment last summer. Following a visit to Georgia in late July, he quickly announced that he would be deciding sometime within the next week. All signs were pointing to him ending up in Athens, but following a handful of conversations with Franklin and Howle and other members of Penn State's recruiting staff, he held off. A four-star prospect in the On3 Con- sensus Ranking, Avery sits at No. 169 na- tionally. He's the eighth-ranked athlete and the third-best player in Maryland for the class of 2023. Leading into his deci- sion, Avery took three visits to State Col- lege, two in the summer. He then returned for the White Out game against Auburn. "It's like a big family at Penn State," he said. "The feeling is like I'm at home there. It's really that simple. I want to be a part of that family." ■ Penn State continues to add talent in the trenches with athlete Neeo Avery. While he's an emerging prospect on defense, Avery was viewed by most schools as a tight end. STRENGTHS Frame/tools: Playing quarterback and de- fensive end last season, Avery displayed im- pressive linear speed. When he had chances to run, he was highly effective. Physicality: Avery is not afraid of contact, whether it's with the ball in his hands or as an edge defender. Burst: When you watch him come off the line of scrimmage as an edge rusher, you can see just how explosive he is. AREAS OF DEVELOPMENT Pad-level consistency: Avery has a bit of stiffness in the upper half of his body. As he gets tired, his pad level rises, and his speed- to-power suffers. Power: He is well-built at 225 pounds but can keep growing. While he's fit, he doesn't have the lean look of an athlete who strug- gles to gain weight or has topped out. Positional skills: Avery will need to learn the nuances of the tight end position. As a former quarterback, he should understand route concepts and present an excellent tar- get. Yet the actual function of gaining separa- tion will be interesting to watch. PROJECTION Tight end: This tends to be a landing spot for athletes or players who defy positional norms in high school. Although Avery will be new to the position, he's got a great frame, burst and linear speed, and those qualities should easily translate to tight end. — Thomas Frank Carr P L A Y E R E V A L U A T I O N Lions Ring In New Year With Addition To 2023 Class RYA N S N Y D E R | S N Y D E R 4 2 0 8 8 @ G M A I L . C O M COMMITMENT PROFILE NEEO AVERY Although he played quarterback and defensive end dur- ing his junior season, Avery is viewed primarily as a tight end at the college level. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER

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