February 5, 2013
The most chaotic year-plus of recruiting for Penn State will come to a close today. But for the Nittany Lions, national signing day figures to have some of the least drama of the entire stretch.
For the dozen high school players expected to officially sign with the Lions today, there has been plenty of time to think about the NCAA sanctions against the program and what they mean for their future.
Today figures to be no different.
Barring any unexpected surprises, Penn State's 2013 signing class will top off at 17 players, with five having already enrolled at the school for the spring semester.
This year's class is the first of four for Penn State that is limited to 15 scholarships because of the sanctions. The five who are already on campus – RB Richy Anderson, TE Adam Breneman, QB Tyler Ferguson, DB Anthony Smith and DB Jordan Smith – can be counted against the 2012 class.
When the dust clears, the class will not be rated among the national leaders. Nor will it be among the most impressive in team history.
What it will be, however, is one of the most memorable.
Those that come aboard today committed to a first-year head coach and an overhauled coaching staff and then stuck with them despite unprecedented penalties against the program.
They sign on knowing full well that they may never get to play in a bowl game or realistically compete for a national championship. Penn State's postseason ban runs for three more years and the scholarship reductions will affect the team well beyond that.
It began almost a full year ago when quarterback Christian Hackenberg became the first member of the class in late February. Since then, Hackenberg has rocketed in the national rankings and is widely considered one of the best pocket passers in the country.
Having a prospect of his caliber remain solidly committed to the team has helped hold the recruiting class together.
Hackenberg has been dubbed the country's No.1 quarterback recruit by ESPN and has been heavily featured by the network in their signing day coverage.
It's been a long ride, so I'm really looking forward to (signing), Hackenberg said on the network Monday. The big thing for us was the scholarship limits. It really wasn't so much the bowl ban. It was just making sure I had players around me to make plays and that I was going to be developed by (O'Brien) and he wasn't going to leave on the spot. Those were the main two things we talked about.
Helping convince Hackenberg was the fact that Penn State was able to redshirt some talented players in 2012 – guys like former WVC star Eugene Lewis at receiver and Akeel Lynch at tailback – so that they would be around to play with Hackenberg for much of his tenure.
Hackenberg and Breneman, who pledged to O'Brien just a few weeks after the quarterback, became ambassadors of sorts for the recruiting class, helping sway other prospects on visits to campus, over the phone and through social media.
Yeah, I think Adam and I got that (role) sort of involuntarily, just being the type of guys we are, Hackenberg said. It was fun. I really enjoyed that and it gave me the opportunity to step in up there and be a leader in my class.
There were losses along the way, of course. In all, Penn State had five verbal commitments – LB Zach Bradshaw (Virginia), DB Ross Douglas (Michigan), WR Will Fuller (Notre Dame), OL Dorian Johnson (Pitt) and DL Greg Webb (North Carolina) – leave the fold in the wake of the sanctions.
All five were highly regarded recruits, with Johnson rated as one of the top linemen in the country.
A sixth player – Harrisburg area linebacker Zayd Issah – also backed out of a verbal in the summer only to change his mind in December and pick Penn State again.
*RB Richy Anderson…Md.
LB Brandon Bell…N.J.
*TE Adam Breneman…Pa.
DL Curtis Cothran…Pa.
DL Parker Cothren…Ala.
*QB Tyler Ferguson…Calif.
DB Kasey Gaines…Ga.
QB Christian Hackenberg…Va.
WR DaeSean Hamilton…Va.
OL Tanner Hartman…Va.
LB Zayd Issah…Pa.
OL Brendan Mahon…N.J.
OL Andrew Nelson…Pa.
DB Neiko Robinson…Fla.
DL Garrett Sickels…N.J.
*DB Anthony Smith…N.J.
*DB Jordan Smith…D.C.