College Football
Ethan Grunkemeyer might be Penn State's next diamond in the rough
College Football

Ethan Grunkemeyer might be Penn State's next diamond in the rough

Published Jun. 16, 2023 12:22 p.m. ET

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — When three-star quarterback Ethan Grunkemeyer strode to midfield for his turn in the pro circuit at Day 2 of the Elite 11 Finals, tight end Luke Reynolds hustled into place as the initial target. Reynolds accelerated off the line of scrimmage, stuck his left foot in the ground and knifed over the middle for a perfectly-timed throw and catch on a slant route that offered a glimpse into what Penn State fans might be seeing in the future at Beaver Stadium.

Just as Ohio State commits Air Noland and Jeremiah Smith synced their workouts on Wednesday evening, the two Penn State pledges Grunkemeyer and Reynolds did the same one night later. Grunkemeyer, who is rated No. 625 overall and the No. 40 QB in the 247Sports Composite, arrived in California as one of the lower-rated quarterback prospects in the 20-player field. But he has positioned himself squarely among the top half, if not higher, after consecutive standout efforts ahead of Friday's 7-on-7 tournament. In doing so, Grunkemeyer has media members and fans alike wondering if history is repeating itself. After all, it was another Nittany Lions commit from Ohio — this year's projected Penn State starter Drew Allar — who rose to the occasion at the Elite 11 Finals in 2021, catalyzing his surge toward five-star status and the eventual No. 1 quarterback spot in the 247Sports Rankings.

"I think he looked great," said Reynolds, a four-star prospect and one of the week's standout receivers, during an interview with FOX Sports. "He's got a great arm. He's got great torque. I don't know what else he could have done better."

Grunkemeyer's live arm and effortless release fueled an MVP nod from the recruiting service On3 following Wednesday's session and a 10th-place finish in the event's official Day 1 rankings. The underlying data from that evening's work hinted at the kind of potential Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich saw when he extended a scholarship offer on April 20, and is why Reynolds was so excited when Grunkemeyer committed last month.


In the early hours of Friday morning, Elite 11 released the results of its BreakAway Data Ball Score from opening night that combines "a QBs (sic) average velocity and average release time from 12 throws made at the BreakAway station. The higher the score, the faster and quicker the ball is delivered." Grunkemeyer's performance netted him a second-place finish behind four-star Trever Jackson, an uncommitted prospect being pursued by Missouri, Pittsburgh and Miami, among others. Notably, Georgia commit Dylan Raiola, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, landed outside the top 10 for this metric.

Grunkemeyer built on his strong debut with another solid effort in Thursday's pro day circuit. An eye-catching blend of accuracy and zip formed the backbone of a score (42) bested only by Alabama commit Julian Sayin (49), Texas Tech commit Will Hammond (45), Notre Dame commit CJ Carr (44), Raiola (44), Jackson (43), Nebraska commit Daniel Kaelin (43) and Colorado commit Danny O'Neil (43).

"It's been awesome to see all these guys throw and see how I stack up, you know?" Grunkemeyer said following Thursday's workout. "It's a blessing to be out here and have the opportunity and just see what I can do on the national stage. ... I had the confidence that I was able to compete with these guys. It was just kind of, you know, seeing it in person."

There are obvious parallels between Allar and Grunkemeyer given their origin stories and late-blooming recruitments. The former was raised in Medina, Ohio, roughly 115 miles northeast of Columbus and more than 230 miles from Penn State's campus. He traveled to the Elite 11 Finals with a three-star ranking and without much interest from the Buckeyes, who had already accepted a commitment from four-star prospect Devin Brown, one of the contenders to become this year's starting quarterback. Ohio State didn't extend a scholarship offer to Allar until early September, by which point he had been committed to Penn State for six months and was soaring toward the No. 3 overall spot in the 247Sports Rankings and a No. 32 overall ranking in the 247Sports Composite.

Grunkemeyer grew up even closer to Ohio State's campus in Lewis Center, Ohio, some 20 minutes north of Columbus, and cheered for the Buckeyes from the moment he was born until his recruitment began in earnest last year. Grunkemeyer's mother, Megan, even played basketball at Ohio State.

But Miami (Ohio) was the only school to offer Grunkemeyer a scholarship in 2022 before bigger programs like Penn State, Virginia, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Northwestern joined the fray over the last 10 weeks. As of this week, Grunkemeyer still hasn't received a scholarship offer from Ohio State, whose quarterback focus in the 2024 recruiting cycle centered first on Raiola and then on four-star prospect Air Noland, another Elite 11 Finals participant, after the former decommitted from the Buckeyes last December.

"It's not in my control," Grunkemeyer said. "They went out and got the guy they wanted, you know? Air is an amazing quarterback, so I understand what they did with that is (they went) out and got the best quarterback for them. Every team has a fit, and I feel like he fit really, really well with their system. And I fit really well into Penn State's system. So I'm just happy to end up where I feel is home and where I can fit in.

"I grew up watching (Ohio State), but the biggest thing for me wasn't picking my favorite school growing up. It was picking the best school for me. And I feel like Penn State was that, just from my perspective. And from the coaches' perspective, they showed the same interest. It's more about fit rather than where I grew up and what I was a fan of as a kid." 

That he and Allar have shared the same personal quarterback coach in Brad Maendler of QB Excelerate helped convince Grunkemeyer that Happy Valley was the ideal choice, especially since his relationship with the expected Penn State starter predated Allar's commitment to the Nittany Lions. The longevity of their relationship convinced Grunkemeyer that everything Allar told him about playing for head coach James Franklin's staff was rooted in truth rather than recruiting-pitch spin.

Grunkemeyer also saw how early Yurcich identified Allar as having the traits worthy of becoming the program's primary target in the 2022 recruiting cycle, and how right Yurcich was proven to be when as the eventual five-star prospect continued to climb the national rankings. That lent credence to the things Yurcich said to Grunkemeyer before and after he extended the scholarship offer in April. Yurcich only needed four more weeks to secure Grunkemeyer's commitment.

"There was talk about him obviously committing," Reynolds said. "So once I saw that tape, I was pumped because he can do everything. He can make plays with his feet and also can stretch the field. He's got a great arm. So I was pumped when I saw he committed."

In just two days, Grunkemeyer already has shown enough at this week's Elite 11 Finals to warrant an uptick in the recruiting rankings, perhaps ascending from a three-star prospect to a four-star prospect just as Allar did two summers ago. And with no other quarterbacks scheduled to make official visits to Penn State this summer, the coaching staff seems sold on Grunkemeyer becoming a core contributor to the program. 

History might repeat itself for a future Nittany Lions quarterback from Ohio. 

"It's always been my dream to win a national championship," Grunkemeyer said. "I feel what Penn State is building there, it's definitely doable in the next couple years — if not this year."

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.


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