Penn State Happy With Haul

All things considered, new Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien and his staff felt fortunate to land their 19-man recruiting class.

Penn State junior running back Silas Redd had a message for those recruits who stayed with the Nittany Lions through the crazy events of the last few months.

“First of all, thank you for committing in (light) of everything,” Redd said Wednesday, after PSU had signed a somewhat surprising 19-man class. “And just really putting your faith in us -- now your new teammates and (coaching) staff. Things will be OK. I guarantee you things will be OK.”

Senior quarterback Matt McGloin had a much different memo for the prospects who bailed on PSU in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and subsequent head coaching change.

“If you don't want to be here, then we don't want you here,” McGloin snapped. “That's the way it is.”

When the Sandusky rocked Happy Valley in early November, Penn State had a 16-man class that appeared destined to finish among the top 15 collections in the nation.

But then the university and program came under heavy criticism from the public and the media. And then the school's Board of Trustees fired Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno. And then it took the school two months to hire New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien as Paterno's replacement, with less than a month remaining before signing day and O'Brien committed to the Patriots through the NFL playoffs. And then O'Brien kept only two members of the former staff, meaning many of the committed prospects had lost the men who had recruited them to Penn State.

And then -- Jan. 22 -- Paterno passed away, following a short fight with lung cancer.

On Wednesday, Penn State signed the 19-man class, which included 10 players who were committed to the program when the Sandusky scandal broke, one who committed before O'Brien was hired and eight others who came on board in the final month leading up to Letter of Intent Day.

That left six players who headed for other schools, including Scout.com five-star defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, four-star defensive back Armani Reeves and four-star linebacker Camren Williams -- all of whom landed at Ohio State.

Penn State finished with only one four-star prospect in receiver Eugene Lewis and no five-star signees. As of this writing, the Nittany Lions' class was ranked sixth in the Big Ten and 49th in the nation.

And yet, given the extenuating circumstances, most analysts tabbed Penn State's recruiting effort a success.

“Considering the time constraints this staff was under and how well the new staff was able to get out on the road and mesh with recruits, it was a pretty impressive job,” Scout.com East recruiting manager Bob Lichtenfels said. “I think they did a solid job of filling some holes and adding depth, along with finding a few kids who are going to be very good college ball players.”

The new staff, which did not begin to come together until mid-January and never had O'Brien on campus for more than a day or so at a time (on LOI Day, he was with the Patriots in Indianapolis preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl vs. the New York Giants), definitely was not complaining about the class.

“We appreciate the people who stuck with us through the period of uncertainty,” said new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who served in the same capacity at Auburn last season.

Added Larry Johnson, one of the holdovers from the previous staff: “I'm not disappointed we lost guys, I can tell you that. I'm thrilled with the fact that families -- moms and dads -- stayed with us through the whole thing. It was tough for them just to hang in there.”

Johnson recounted a story of a recruiting visit he made to see a Penn State commitment, albeit without naming names. He stopped by to watch the prospect playing in a high school basketball game only to see the young man heckled by opposing fans for being associated with Penn State.

“It was gut-wrenching, just to know how far it reached out,” Johnson said. “For (the family) to stay where they were and just kind of wait and see how it played out was tremendous.”

Different Penn State coaches received different feedback on the Sandusky scandal while on the recruiting trail.

Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, another holdover from the previous staff, said, “Most people saw this for what it was, and that it was a great university and will still be a great university. So I don't think that factored in as much maybe perception would have led you to believe.”

Added Roof: “To say it was prominent -- I'm not going to say that. But to say it never came up, that's not accurate, either. Some kids and their families had their questions about that. I understand that.”

The staff's reply?

“Penn State is Penn State, and it stands for excellence both on and off the field,” Roof said. "Our deal is, whatever unfortunate incidents or situations have happened, we can't do anything about that. But (they want) to build on the foundation -- the great foundation -- that Coach Paterno and his staff built; to accentuate that and also to be able to move forward.”

O'Brien held a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening to discuss Penn States' Class of 2012, and was adamant that he was happy with group, regardless of its overall rating.

“I could care less about player ratings,” he said. “What I care about is we found the right fit for Penn State with all these prospects.”

When it asked whether Redd spoke on behalf of the program when he thanked the players who signed with Penn State, O'Brien answered in the affirmative.

“You've got to give these guys a lot of credit,” O'Brien said. “They committed to Penn State University. They committed to the special place it is, where you can play football and get a degree. That was a testament to their mental toughness, their ability to stick it out. I give them all the credit in the world.”

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