UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's once-dismal start to recruiting a 2011 football class has been turned around down the stretch.
With the Feb. 2 national signing day approaching, the Nittany Lions have secured verbal commitments from 15 players.
Ten recruits have committed since mid-November, including six since Dec. 28. Three of the past six commitments have come from players rated as four-star prospects by Internet evaluation services.
With its recent surge, Penn State sits at No. 34 in Scout.com's 2011 recruiting rankings, with two top-100 players, six four-star recruits and seven three-stars.
Rivals.com has the Lions at No. 35 nationally, with one top-100 player, five four-star prospects and seven three-stars.
"Penn State is really starting to come on and things don't look so bleak now," said national recruiting expert Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports and MaxPreps.com. "It's still not a great recruiting year, but it is much better than it looked during the season."
At the end of July, Penn State had just four verbal commitments, fewest among the 11 Big Ten Conference schools, and the Lions didn't get another commitment for nearly four months.
But it appears the Penn State coaching staff has made a late recovery. A year ago, the 2010 class was ranked among the top 10 in the country by many recruiting experts.
Since late December, the Lions have landed Scout.com four-star offensive linemen Anthony Zettel (6 feet 4, 255 pounds), a guard from Michigan, Donovan Smith (6-7, 280), a tackle from Maryland; and a three-star prospect, Ryan Nowicki (6-5, 280), a tackle from Arizona.
Zettel, a two-way lineman, was a surprise, picking Penn State over Michigan and Michigan State. Nowicki also was unexpected, selecting the Lions over offers from schools such as Southern California and Oregon.
Smith, whom Farrell said was the most consistent offensive lineman at the Army All-American Bowl high school all-star game, picked Penn State over UCLA and North Carolina State.
Penn State also has a verbal commitment from Scout.com four-star recruit Angelo Mangiro (6-3, 295), a guard from New Jersey.
"Zettel was a great get," Farrell said. "It was probably the biggest upset of the year in recruiting for any school in any conference. He is rated the 65th-best player in the country by Rivals and he was considered a lock for Michigan.
"I am sure Michigan will come after him again [before signing day]. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can hold onto him."
Defensively, the Lions have verbal commitments from two Philadelphia-area ends: Shawn Oakman (6-8, 250), a Scout.com four-star recruit; and Deion Barnes (6-5, 230), a three-star recruit who picked Penn State over Georgia last week.
Penn State lost out on speed-rushing defensive end Ishaq Williams from New York, a five-star recruit who shocked the Lions when he picked Notre Dame.
"I think Oakman could be a monster," Lemming said. "He and Barnes both have All-American potential as pass rushers. I think they are both every bit as good as Ishaq Williams."
Sean Fitz of Lions 247.com, a website devoted to Penn State football, believes the Lions finally turned the corner with their 2011 recruiting class after securing linebacker Ben Kline (6-3, 225) from Dallastown, Pa, Dec. 8.
Kline, a Scout.com three-star prospect, is one of two Penn State recruits who originally had given a verbal commitment to Pitt. The other is four-star wide receiver Bill Belton (5-10, 190) from New Jersey.
The Lions, who have another scholarship or two left to offer, also have a second four-star receiver in Matt Zanellato (6-4, 195) from Virginia.
"Kline is a solid defender and he's probably going to end up at middle linebacker," Fitz said. "And Belton, all of a sudden, he's the top playmaker in this class."
Only one player from the 2011 class -- offensive tackle Anthony Alosi (6-6, 280) from New Jersey -- has enrolled early this semester. Penn State had seven early enrollees in 2010.
The class also includes cornerback Shyquawn Pullium (6-1, 180) from Erie Cathedral Prep, who is attending Kiski School this season to improve his academics.
"Looking at the class as a whole, I see some decent players with raw potential, but I don't see many of these kids getting on the field as freshmen next year," Fitz said.
"Maybe Oakman. Maybe Belton. Maybe Pullium. That's about it."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org .