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PSU Football Recruiting

Recruiting notebook: With Derrick Davis decision looming, a look back at other PSU targets from Gateway HS

Photo from Terry Smith's Twitter: PSU assistant coach Terry Smith (second from right) is an alum and once was head coach at Gateway High, where his stepson, Just King (right), starred before going on to enjoy a good career at Penn State.

Derrick Davis, the four-star safety from Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa., is expected to announce his college commitment Saturday. Davis will choose between three finalists — Penn State, Ohio State and LSU — and already has eliminated Pitt and Georgia from that group.

With perhaps the top remaining target on the Nittany Lions’ recruiting board for the Class of 2021 set to make his decision, let’s revisit how Penn State has done historically with players from Gateway.

The Lions have had a connection with the school on the east suburbs of Pittsburgh for decades, dating back to when Terry Smith starred for the Gators. Smith went on to enjoy a successful career as a player at Penn State, and later served as the head coach for Gateway for more than a decade. Now in his seventh season on James Franklin’s staff at Penn State, Smith will try to reel in another of the many talented players the Gators have produced over the past 20 years.

Here are the biggest wins and losses for Penn State in recruiting players from Gateway, as well as some other notable standouts the school has produced.


Justin King – King, whose stepfather is Terry Smith, was a 5-star recruit as a cornerback in the Class of 2005, and was ranked the top player in the state. His commitment was crucial during a down time for the program, and King played a big role in the resurgence at PSU. On the field, King played in 28 games defensively, making 58 tackles and three interceptions. He also saw time on offense as a freshman, during which he compiled 227 yards rushing, 126 yards receiving, and two scores. He declared for the NFL draft after his junior campaign, and was a fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams. During his pro career, he played with St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, registering 116 tackles, one interception, and one sack in 40 games.

Jon Ditto – Two years after King joined the Nittany Lions, Ditto followed suit. A wide receiver and tight end, Ditto was ranked as a three-star recruit, the 16th best player in the state for the class. His impact on the field with the Nittany Lions was minimal, however, as he played in just two games, and did not register any stats. He finished his playing career at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), where he played in nine games, making 11 catches for 130 yards and a score.

Brenon Thrift – Thrift came to Penn State in 2016 after taking an unusual path through his college career. A senior at Gateway in 2014, Thrift was ranked a three-star recruit and the 46th best player in the state as a defensive end. He initially committed to Temple University, where Smith was an assistant coach at the time, but ended up at Lackawanna College, a junior college that has produced countless DI players. Following his stint with Lackawanna, Thrift was a two-star recruit, ranked as the ninth-best JUCO player in the state. A late addition to the Nittany Lions’ Class in 2016, he did not appear in a game during his lone season at PSU. He then transferred to West Virginia University, where he played in 15 games, registering four tackles and .5 sacks with the Mountaineers.

Jaquan Brisker – Brisker was unranked coming out of Gateway in 2017, but his talent was evident. After a two-year stint at Lackawanna, he ascended to a four-star recruit, and the second-best JUCO player in the state. He played in 13 games in 2019 with the Nittany Lions, recording 42 tackles and two interceptions. He has started both games at safety for PSU this season.


Shayne Hale – The 2008 Gateway product was a four-star recruit who was No. 4 in Pennsylvania. The defensive end committed to the University of Pittsburgh, where he played in 20 games, recording four tackles and three sacks.

Dorian Bell – The top player in PA in 2009, Bell was a five-star recruit who joined Ohio State. He played in just eight games as an outside linebacker for the Buckeyes, recording nine tackles and .5 sacks. Off-the-field problems prompted his departure from Ohio State, but he was productive afterwards at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, as he made 170 tackles and added 9.5 sacks in 24 games with the Dukes.

Corey Brown – Brown joined his classmate Bell at Ohio State, and he was ranked a four-star recruit and the fifth-best prospect in PA in 09. Brown enjoyed a solid career with the Buckeyes as a defensive back, as he played in 47 games, making 79 tackles.

Montae Nicholson – A four-star recruit and the fourth-best player in the state in 2014, Nicholson elected to maintain his commitment to Michigan State, despite a late push by Smith and the Nittany Lions. In his time with the Spartans, the safety registered 200 tackles and four interceptions, leaving early for the NFL Draft. A fourth-round draft pick of Washington, he played in 35 games, making 34 tackles and snagging three interceptions. He was cut by the team earlier this year.

Robert Hainsey – Hainsey became a marque recruit during his time playing at Gateway, but he transferred to IMG Academy in Florida to conclude his high-school career. A four-star prospect who ranked 84th nationally, the offensive guard joined Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class, and has played in 40 games, including 28 starts.

Additionally, Cameron Saddler, a four-star prospect in the Class of 2008, enjoyed a solid career as a running back for Pitt, while 2014 three-star safety Delvon Randall was a top player for Temple, committing to the program while Smith was there. Also, 2019 three-star receiver Courtney Jackson is in the early stages of his career with Syracuse.

PSU target reopens recruitment

Penn State has yet to secure a commitment from a defensive tackle in the Class of 2021, but a former target for the Nittany Lions may be back on the board. Marcus Bradley, a four-star prospect from Gaithersburg, Maryland, announced his decommitment from the University of Maryland on Monday.

Bradley initially gave his pledge to the Terps in May. Penn State offered Bradley last November, and he visited campus the following month. In April, however, the Nittany Lions did not appear on his list of top schools in his recruitment. He’s considered the 12th best defensive tackle in the country, and the 175th player overall nationally.

Commits Dinkins, Pribula reach championship games

A pair of PSU in-state commits have advanced to their high-school district championship games. Last Friday, senior Khalil Dinkins and junior Beau Pribula helped propel their respective squads to semifinals victories. Dinkins, who plays for North Allegheny in the WPIAL, posted seven carries for 69 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ 21-7 victory against Seneca Valley.

North Allegheny, the top seed in Class 6A, will face Pittsburgh Central Catholic for the championship on Friday. Pribula, meanwhile, guided Central York to a 42-15 upset win against Central Dauphin in District 3 Class 6A action. The QB passed for 186 yards on 13-of-17 attempts, and he rushed for 150 yards, accounting for five total touchdowns. The Panthers will face York on Friday with gold on the line.

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