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Perfect Penn State football fits: Progress report on Julian Fleming, Nolan Rucci

STATE COLLEGE − They're making their first true impressions on Penn State football in the past couple of weeks, these half-dozen transfers.

Potential leaders, playmakers and positive impacts for the 2024 season.

So far, they've impressed, according to head coach James Franklin and at least one of his Nittany Lions.

Franklin talked about his transfer pickups for the first time publicly on Tuesday during a Penn State winter media session in Beaver Stadium. He highlighted three of them — wide receiver Julian Fleming, offensive lineman Nolan Rucci and cornerback A.J. Harris.

All of the transfer additions, including former Florida Gator cornerback Jalen Kimber, Wisconsin defensive end Jordan Mayer and Tulsa kicker Chase Meyer, joined the team in January.

Fleming is the starry prospect from Catawissa, Pa. whose decision to go to Ohio State five years ago resonated among PSU supporters. Fleming and Rucci returned to their home fan base and hold particularly important roles this season.

Fleming will immediately challenge for the No. 1 receiver spot after an injury-marred Ohio State career that was solid but unspectacular.

Julian Fleming: New Penn State football leader?

Dec 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Julian Fleming (4) during warmups before the 2022 Peach Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Julian Fleming (4) during warmups before the 2022 Peach Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

"Obviously, his ability to play in this league is helpful. He understands what this league is all about, he also has an understanding about playoffs, as well," Franklin said. "And he’s an older guy which I also think helps in that room.

"Julian’s done a really good job," Frankin added. "Whether it's a job or a team you’re joining, the first thing you do is keep your mouth shut and your ears open and put your head down and go to work, and earn everybody’s respect. And, over time, gradually become more vocal, if that’s a part of your leadership style and personality.

"I think he’s done a good job of that. I’ve heard really good reports from the strength staff, from coaches and from players, probably more importantly. So far so good."

Penn State senior offensive lineman Nick Dawkins had this to say about Fleming on a recent State Media podcast with former Lion Aeneas Hawkins:

"He’s built like a veteran. He maneuvers around Lasch and our locker room as if he’s been here before," Dawkins said of Fleming. "A strong sense of maturity from him. He’s real fluid. We snap to the quarterbacks when they throw to the receivers … (so) I’m able to see catches and see guys run their routes.

"Real strong hands. I'm not talking about good hands like he catches the ball. Strong hands are when you absorb the ball in ..."

Nolan Rucci: Key backup or offensive line starter?

Braedyn Locke of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates with Nolan Rucci following the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 21, 2023, in Champaign, Illinois.
Braedyn Locke of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates with Nolan Rucci following the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 21, 2023, in Champaign, Illinois.

Rucci comes in looking for his first big playing time opportunity in college as a redshirt junior.

The Lancaster County native arrives with a familiar name and unique expectations. His older brother, Hayden, was recruited by the Nittany Lions before choosing the Wisconsin Badgers. His father, Todd, was a standout lineman at Penn State and in the NFL.

Nolan Rucci is the largest of them all at 6-foot-8 and with a lot still to prove. He played in just three games last year at left tackle for Wisconsin, including in the ReliaQuest Bowl defeat to LSU.

“Nolan has multiple years of eligibility, which is awesome," Franklin said. "The other thing is he played in the bowl game and played really well ... I think that was a big confidence boost for him. For us, we knew very well what he was capable of but there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence of it at Wisconsin. They stayed healthy and didn't rotate players the way we have. (So) him playing in that bowl game was really important for both sides.

"He’s still skinny (at 305 pounds) because he’s all of 6-8, and 6-8 isn’t always a positive for offensive linemen if you can’t bend. But he can really bend and has tremendous athleticism."

Dawkins added this about Rucci in that podcast:

“I think Nolan’s a perfect fit for us. He works his dang tail off, he’s always in the building already, which is a good sign. … I knew he was a tall guy but he’s massive, long arms, long legs. I’m excited to see him use his extremities, his length against d-ends in the pass game."

A.J. Harris: Gunning for open cornerback spot

Penn State missed out on signing the five-star cornerback out of high school in Georgia. But he's joined just a year later and already is making an impact in a room that must replace its top three performers from last season.

Harris earned winter workout honors last week from position coach Terry Smith.

Franklin talked about his positively on Tuesday, giving insight into his transfer recruiting process:

“One of the things with him right away is, literally, we got on the phone with him the first time, and we got on the phone with him the second time, and he had done his homework," Franklin said, describing the re-connection between Harris and Penn State. "He knew our roster, he knew the coaches, he had watched our film. He looked at the data on where we ranked, how we played defense. So right away, this guy was talking the things in my mind that really matter."

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at  fbodani@ydr.com and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @YDRPennState.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: A Penn State football transfer report: Julian Fleming, Nolan Rucci