Months after the fallout of an alarming and disturbing sex abuse scandal tore the fabric of trust and everything that was right at Penn State, head coach Bill O’Brien dedicated himsefl to an unenviable task, to put it nicely.
“Penn State is toxic,” CBSSports.com’s Brett McMurphy wrote when discussing Penn State’s bowl future toward the end of the 2011 season.
Penn State coaching vacancy is ‘toxis situation’ was the headline used by former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, and current StateCollege.com editor in chief, Ron Musselman when discussing the search for a successor to Joe Paterno, or interim head coach Tom Bradley.
By now you know the story. Penn State was thrown down a well by many following the allegations charged to former defensive coordinator and Penn State loyalist Jerry Sandusky. The investigation in to Sandusky in turn led to the removal of Joe Paterno as head coach and President Graham Spanier as well as the decision to place athletics director Tim Curley and administrator Gary Schultz on temporary leave as they battled charges of perjury. Schultz has since decided to resign, while Curley continues to be on the university’s payroll (a shocking story for another day).
While the court proceedings and unwanted quotes from Sandusky form time to time will cast a dark shadow on anything going on with the football program, O’Brien must answer questions he really has no responsibility for.
“I will say this: We were not at Penn State when that happened,” O’Brien told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a recent interview. “There’s a lot of special people here at Penn State that are involved in the investigation of what occurred. But we’re here now, and we’re moving forward.
O’Brien has made his intentions clear for recruiting at Penn State. To be successful O’Brien intends to do the following:
- Strengthen Penn State’s in-state recruiting efforts
- Continue to build on pipeline states such as Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, New York and New England states
- Move recruiting trails south
The recruitment of Georgia quarterback Steven Bench in this year’s recruiting class may not be a real significant addition, but it was seen as a move that opens the door to the south. With an assistant staff that understands the ACC, SEC and even the Big 12 there is a fair expectation that recruiting in the southern states will be something Penn State can handle, with the facilities and opportunities that they have available. Doing so, of course, will be easier said than done when going up against the likes of Alabama, Florida, LSU, Virginia Tech and so on. But Penn State’s Class of 2013 already has players who turned down offers to play for some of those schools, including reigning BCS champion Alabama. This is somehting that has not been done in years by Penn State wiht their first three commitments.
Penn State’s Class of 2012, as expected perhaps, lost some key players to other schools following the news of the scandal and the subsequent coaching change.
Pennsylvania tight end Adam Breneman
Pennsylvania’s top in-state prospect, five-star linebacker Noah Spence, was vocal about his feelings about Penn State’s dark cloud, and was picked up by Ohio State in mid-December. Losing Spence, considered a near lock for Penn State, was huge. Spence may still have gone to Ohio State, and Penn State has failed to secure top in-state recruits before, but seeing Spence leave the Harrisburg area for a division rival at the time he made the decision was even more significant at the time.
Four star defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, from Illinois, was one of the first to back off his commitment to Penn State and instead accept an offer from Ohio State. Massachusetts four-star linebacker Camren Williams, who for months had sought out to convince other players to join him at Penn State, returned from a trip to Columbus after changing his commitment to the Buckeyes in late January. His high school teammate, defensive back Armani Reeves followed him to Ohio State nine days later (although Reeves never committed to Penn State, the decision of Williams is believed to have played a significant role in Reeves’ decision).
O’Brien’s decision to stay on board with the New England Patriots through the playoffs was criticizd by some, but accepted by many following the program. A chance to flash a Super Bowl ring was enticing enough to fans, who had come to accept that Penn State’s Class of 2012 would struggle to stay afloat after a lengthy coaching search dipped past the bowl season and already had most of the damage done.
But the Class of 213 is a different story. Now O’Brien is in the director’s chair on a full time basis and he is putting together the cast that he feels will be worthy of recognition. Already Penn State has received verbal commitments from three four-star players at key positions. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, from Virginia, was the first player to offer a verbal. He was followed that same day by cornerback Ross Douglas, out of Ohio. this past weekend Penn State received a verbal from New Jersey defensive end Garrett Sickels, and all of a sudden there is a buzz about Penn State’s recruiting efforts. On Friday evening Penn State hopes to add one more prized recruit to the bunch, when the nation’s top tight end and Pennsylvania prospect, Adam Breneman, announces his decision. Penn State is considered the strong favorite against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Maryland. If Breneman chooses to stay in state, it would be a significant win for Bill O’Brien, his staff and Penn State.
Right now, Penn State has more four-star recruits lined up than the entire Class of 2012 received. The trick will be keeping them all on board, and adding to the pile while rivals Michigan and Ohio State figure to put together their usual strong recruiting class.
“To be honest with you, we feel great about where we’re at right now with recruiting,” O’Brien said in his interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We’ve got a real good jump on next year’s class, and we feel like there’s a lot of people receiving us well out there, as it’s related to Penn State football.
“Again, we’ve got a great staff and we talk about the future. We’re not looking in the past. We’re moving forward.”
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