Penn State recruiting fares well despite sanctions
Penn State’s first recruiting class since the NCAA hammered the
program with sanctions includes a potential quarterback of the
future and a promising pass-rushing defensive end.
So much for the gloom-and-doom scenarios about getting shunned
on the recruiting trail following the steep scholarship cuts as
part of the penalties for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation
High school prospects could formally declare their college
choices starting Wednesday, and coveted Virginia quarterback
Christian Hackenberg and highly rated New Jersey defensive end
Garrett Sickels were among the 12 players who faxed in letters-of
They joined five prospects who have already enrolled early as
freshmen to cap the 17-member Class of 2013 on a relatively
drama-free signing day.
”What we want here is a smart team, a high character team. A
big, fast football team that can play in all types of weather,”
coach Bill O’Brien said at the Penn State football building.
A few touted prospects had taken back verbal commitments since
July, after the NCAA announced its sanctions which also included a
four-year postseason ban.
Otherwise, the centerpieces of the class, including Hackenberg,
Sickels and Pennsylvania tight end Adam Breneman, stuck with their
long-standing verbal commitments.
”Sanction-wise, certainly we lost some kids because of
sanctions. There’s no question about it,” O’Brien said. ”But at
the end of the day, all I’m concerned about are the guys who are
here. We’re not about collecting talent. We’re about building a
Most recruiting services had Penn State’s class fourth in the
Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska. As of late
Wednesday afternoon, ESPN had Penn State ranked 24th overall in the
country, while 24/7 Sports had the Nittany Loins at No. 26. Rivals
placed Penn State at No. 43 and Scout at No. 46.
”They get a `B’ for results and an `A-plus’ for effort, which
translates into a real good class,” said veteran CBS Sports
Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.
But it was far from easy.
Days after the sanctions were announced, eight players including
Hackenberg and Breneman sat in the same Penn State squad room that
O’Brien held his news conference Wednesday. There, the Nittany
Lions coaching staff answered questions about the future of the
program amid the penalties.
Seven ended up staying, and many have been visible on social
media about keeping their pledges to Penn State
Christian Hackenberg’s father, Erick, said O’Brien has been
honest with the family during the highs and lows of the last
several months. O’Brien has the program back on steady ground
following a better-than-expected 8-4 record in 2012 and an improved
A pro-style offense modeled after the system O’Brien coordinated
in his previous job with the New England Patriots looked good, too,
”I don’t think there’s a group of recruits, parents or coaches
… that’s gone through more than Penn State,” Erick Hackenberg
said Wednesday in a phone interview. ”Everything that (O’Brien)
has ever said has been dead on.”
Breneman is already enrolled and taking classes after graduating
early from high school. He and the four other January enrollees can
take part in spring practice starting next month.
Otherwise, there were no late surprise defections or
”The main theme of the class was keeping it together,
rebounding and adding key pieces down the stretch,” said Sean
Fitz, editor of Lions24/7, which follows Penn State recruiting.
”It was a tough job, a tough sell, but I think they did a
The NCAA sanctions capped the number of recruits that Penn State
can sign to 15 annually for the next four years starting with the
2013 class. Most teams can sign 25 in a year.
However, recruits who joined Penn State as early enrollees
officially count against the 2012 scholarship class – meaning the
2013 class could actually include more than 15 players.
There’s much more work to come.
The sanctions call for the scholarship roster size to be capped
at 65 by Sept. 1, 2014. That means the Nittany Lions must build
depth through a more aggressive walk-on program – O’Brien calls
them ”run-ons” in Happy Valley because of the hustle they have to
show on the practice field.
A typical run-on might be a Pennsylvania player with offers from
a mid-major or Division II team, but is attracted to the prospect
of potentially playing for a BCS program despite having to pay for
Brian Dohn, a Fox Sports recruiting analyst, praised Penn State
for its haul after ”nobody thought they would have a class after
It will also be a task to build depth and potentially rely on
run-ons to help fill spots against Big Ten powerhouses like Ohio
State and Michigan that might be at full strength, he said. ”If it
turns out that the walk-on program is generating kids at a higher
level, then he’s rediscovered the wheel in recruiting.”
Just fine with O’Brien, who doesn’t pay attention to rankings
NOTES: Penn State announced Wednesday that Central Florida would
visit Penn State on Sept. 14 to fill the open date left after
Virginia last week backed out of the game at Beaver Stadium. The
Cavaliers made the move after lining up a home-and-home series with
Oregon to begin in Charlottesville, Va., this season. … O’Brien
was previously an assistant from 1995 to 2001 under current Central
Florida coach George O’Leary when O’Leary was head coach at Georgia
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