Family and Relationships | Joey Schlaffer’s commitment to Penn State is bigger than Football
Fresh off a 7-6 campaign in 2015, Penn State hauled in the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation and landed the top two in-state players.
Securing the commitments of five-star running back Miles Sanders and four-star offensive lineman Michal Menet was a massive deal for the Nittany Lions.
Sanders and Menet were rated the top player at their respective position, and during their time with the program, they excelled, capturing several conference awards.
Despite the two NFL products being multiple seasons removed from the program, their legacy lives on, especially Menet’s.
Menet’s younger brother, Joey Schlaffer, is one of the top players from Pennsylvania and tight ends in the class of 2023.
In early March, while Menet was in Florida training for the NFL Draft, Schlaffer received his first offer from PITT.
It’s always an emotional day when you get your first offer, but for Schlaffer, it meant even more because his brother was with him.
“I was in Florida with my brother, and we didn't get much time together to be alone because he was getting ready for the draft, and I was busy with school,” Schlaffer said. “To have that experience with him was really cool because we spent the whole night together on the beach talking about it, and to have him guide me through the start was really cool.”
The Panthers weren't the only program to extend an offer to the tight end, as he received five more to end the month from schools such as Michigan State, Rutgers and Bowling Green.
His stock continued to rise as the year progressed, earning eight offers during the summer months from notable programs.
With offers from Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia in his back pocket, Schlaffer entered a pivotal junior season at Exeter high school.
However, two weeks into the season, Schlaffer packed up his bags and headed to Happy Valley for an unofficial visit.
Schlaffer had watched his brother don the blue and white from afar, but now it was his time to experience Penn State from a closer view.
The three-star was in attendance for Penn State’s 44-13 victory over Ball State, and he ended the day gaining an offer.
Schlaffer didn’t waste any time getting back on campus, as one week later, he was on the sidelines taking in the Nittany Lions' victory over Auburn in the annual White Out game.
A month later, on Oct. 23, Schlaffer followed in his brother’s footsteps and committed to James Franklin’s program.
What jumped out the most to him was the culture of family instilled by Franklin and having the opportunity to play where his brother did.
“The family aspect of the program really stood out to me,” Schlaffer said. “The pillars coach Franklin set makes it very easy for the goal to be very clear to everyone, and the leadership that comes from within is something that comes with that family aspect of it.”
Schlaffer had been around the Nittany Lions from a young age visiting with his brother and watching his brother.
While some of the staff is different from when Menet played, the familiarity with the coaching staff played a big role in his commitment.
“The foundation was set pretty early for me going there since 2015 when Michal was getting recruited,” Schlaffer said. “People have the notion from our family of what kind of kids we are, so familiarity and Michal played a big role in my recruitment.”
The Nittany Lions have also excelled in recruiting in-state players, and a pair of players helped add Schlaffer to the program.
Nicholas Singleton and Beau Pribula were among the top players from Pennsylvania in the 2022 class, and both took their talents to Happy Valley.
Schlaffer has faced off against Singleton and Pribula countless times; he mentioned he’s excited to join forces with the Pennsylvania stars.
“I was with Nick when Penn State first offered me, and he gave me the rundown. I talked to Beau after we played him this year,” Schlaffer said. “Those two were the go-to guys when I was trying to get a feel for the program, and Nick helped me solidify my choice.”
As for his play on the field, Schlaffer finished with 48 catches for 834 yards while finding the endzone nine times en route to Exeter township ending the campaign with a 10-4 record.
The best game of his season came against Singleton and Governor Mifflin, where the tight end exploded for five catches and 113 yards.
The Reading, Pennsylvania, native has a good frame and athletic play style that fits the modern style tight end.
Schlaffer isn't the only tight end commit in Penn State’s 2023 class, as he will join forces with four-star Andrew Rappleyea.
The pairing of Schlaffer and Rappleyea will provide the Nittany Lions with two high-quality options at the position.
“We both have a great hunger and understanding of what to expect at the next level, and we can be great together,” Schlaffer said. “We see how the tight ends are doing, and they call them the “The Aces,” and some of them could go to the NFL after the year. The tight end room, everyone is doing it for the success of the group and the team.”
“The Aces” consist of Theo Johnson, Brenton Strange and Tyler Warren, who all play a significant role in the blue and white’s offensive attack.
Over the past decade, the Nittany Lions have produced several top tight ends, including Mike Gesicki, Pat Freiermuth and Jesse James.
With a family relationship going back to when Menet joined the program, Schlaffer reached out to Gesicki, and the two have remained in contact.
When Schlaffer was at an event called “TEU” led by Kansas City Chief Travis Kelce, the duo talked for a while, and Kelce called Gesicki on facetime, so the two Penn State tight ends could chat.
Although Gesicki is excelling with the Miami Dolphins, he looks to mentor Schlaffer, who is a key member of the blue and white’s top 10 recruiting class in 2023.
Schlaffer currently ranks as the No. 23 tight end in the nation and the eighth-best player from Pennsylvania.
With the Nittany Lions having the eighth-best recruiting class a year ago and sitting in the top 10 in 2023, the sky’s the limit for the future.
Schlaffer noted the values and morals of Franklin and his staff play a colossal role in consistently adding top-tier talent.
“It comes down to the values and the morals Penn State sets, and I think every player top to bottom understands that,” Schlaffer said. “The morals and values of the staff are understood, and it's something recruits really do look for, and it's genuine from Penn State.”
Many players enroll in college early to get adjusted quickly, and Schlaffer stated his intentions to do the same.
Although leaving high school is a difficult choice, the in-state product is excited to display his skills and bring energy to one of the biggest stages in college football.
“I'm pretty docile most of the time, but when I get mad, I don’t let people stop me,” Schlaffer said. “I want it just as bad as everyone else does, but I'm not going to throw my hands up at a bad play or call; rather, I'm going to be determined to succeed and encourage my teammates to push.
Alex Rocco is a rising junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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