East Xtra: Woodland Hills' Sanders first to commit to PSU for class of 2016

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Woodland Hills standout Miles Sanders is starting a job this week making pizzas for a national chain.

Saturday, Sanders served Penn State a big slice of the pie for the school's 2016 recruiting class.

Sanders, who is rated as one of the top junior running backs in the country by several recruiting websites, verbally committed to Penn State while visiting the school this past weekend. Sanders became the first recruit from the class to commit to Penn State and first-year coach James Franklin.

"I was thinking about [committing] the past month," said Sanders, who lives in Forest Hills. "I went on a couple of other visits. I didn't see anything on those visits. I know Penn State is the place for me."

Sanders chose Penn State over eight other offers. Pitt, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska were a few of the others. Sanders said he didn't want to attend Pitt because he felt it was too close to home.

Sanders said the plan was to commit when he did, even heading into the trip. He discussed his choice with his mother late last week, and then called Penn State assistant coaches Terry Smith and Charles Huff to let them know. Sanders wanted to relay the news to Franklin in person, which he did when the two met Saturday.

"We shook hands. He said 'I got your back' and I said I got his," Sanders said. "He said a verbal commitment means we're now engaged. When I sign we'll be married. And there are no divorces."

Franklin made recruiting Sanders a priority shortly after he was hired at Penn State. However, Sanders' primary recruiter was Smith, a former coach at Gateway. Smith was well aware of Sanders' talents. As a freshman, Sanders rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns to lead Woodland Hills past Smith's Gateway team in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

"When [Smith] was at Gateway, he saw what kind of skills [Sanders] had," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said.

Sanders was one of just a handful of freshmen to have started for Novak. Darrin Walls and Mike Caprara were two of the most recent. In two seasons, Sanders has rushed for 1,705 yards and 26 touchdowns, this despite missing several games each season because of injuries. He has had seven efforts of 100-plus yards, including five last season. He finished last season with 1,064 yards and 14 touchdowns on 128 carries (8.3 yards per carry).

The production is there, as are the measurables. Sanders is 6 feet, 195 pounds. He said he has run a 4.39 40-yard dash and has bench pressed 300 pounds.

"Every running back is different," Novak said. "Some guys are power backs. They run into people coming at them. Some have moves. They have different moves to get by people. Some guys shoot speed and outrun [defenses]. The thing about Miles is he does all three. He has great natural instincts and great vision."

Novak said Sanders will line up as a quarterback sometimes this season in what is essentially a wildcat formation. Sanders played quarterback in midget league. He'll also be used to return kicks and will see time at safety.

Sanders has led Woodland Hills to consecutive WPIAL title game appearances. However, both games ended in losses.

"I'm trying to break records and get a championship," Sanders said. "We're going to get that this year. We were really young the past two years. We have the same players, so we have a good chance of winning [a WPIAL title] and winning a state championship."

Down the road, Sanders expects big things at Penn State. He said the coaching staff already has plans for him to play a significant role his freshman season. He foresees a lot of team success, as well.

"I can tell you this: We'll be in the [College Football Playoff] and probably in the national championship, and probably winning a national championship."

Novak said Sanders has the talent and work ethic to be one of the leading figures in Penn State's potential success.

"Miles is a hard worker," Novak said. "He works hard in the weight room and at practice. He's a special kid."

Come on down

Miles Sanders became the first player to commit to Penn State from the 2016 class, continuing coach James Franklin's recruiting momentum. Here's a look at the 19 players to commit from the 2015 and classes, including their position, hometown/school and star rating (according to the 247Sports composite rankings):

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