The reinforcements are on their way.
The bulk of Penn State’s critical 2014 recruiting class is just now arriving in Happy Valley to get acclimated before the second summer session of classes begins.
And the way things are going, the Nittany Lions may need many of them to be ready to play right away.
With a few years of scholarship restrictions and transfers cutting down the Lions’ numbers, these incoming recruits comprise the first major wave of support to rebuild the roster.
In all, 20 scholarship players hailing from Pennsylvania to Alabama to California are getting settled in, joining the five freshmen who graduated early and enrolled this past January.
Though the class is a mix of players recruited by outgoing coach Bill O’Brien and new boss James Franklin, the staff isn’t about to play favorites. And Franklin spent most of the spring making it very clear that the freshmen — if they do their part — are as likely to play as the upperclassmen.
“We’re going to play the best guys — no matter what,” Franklin said during his recent trip to Wilkes-Barre. “I think a lot of people say that, but they really are seniority-driven. You see that in high school, you see that in Little League, you see that in college. I don’t believe in that.
“If you’ve been a three-year starter, and someone comes in and beats you out — I’m sorry. We’re going to play the best guys.”
Of course, the opportunity isn’t the same at every position. There’s a big difference between quarterback — where new blood Michael O’Connor and Trace McSorley will slot in behind Christian Hackenberg — and, say, Penn State’s latest problems at linebacker.
Two of the new arrivals, Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder, just saw their chances of early playing time this week following the 247Sports report that linebacker Ben Kline suffered a torn Achilles tendon.
Franklin has said he and his staff will not comment on players’ health. Like with Miles Dieffenbach’s knee injury in the spring, Penn State has not given an update on Kline, but a torn Achilles would almost certainly sideline him for the entire 2014 season.
With a strong camp, both Cabinda and Reeder could have a shot at seeing the field behind starters Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell. Kline, who was already coming off of two offseason surgeries, had been in line to compete for a starting outside linebacker spot.
AD search continues
For the first time in nearly 50 years, Penn State could be turning to someone outside of the university to run its athletic department.
Just the fact that the university has named a search committee to interview and recommend a new athletic director reflects the shifting landscape of college athletics.
More than just ties to a school or a background as a former college athlete, athletic directors are becoming more and more like CEOs in order to deal with the increasing financial challenges for a major program.
That aspect of it has added importance for Penn State, which is still digging out from severe, albeit receding, NCAA sanctions, including a $60 million fine being paid in annual installments.
As such, Penn State has hired a consulting firm — Collegiate Sports Associates — to assist the newly announced in-house committee.
Senior vice president David Gray will chair the group and will be joined by Linda Caldwell (faculty athletics representative to the NCAA) Julie Del Giorno (athletics integrity officer), Charmelle Green (associate athletics director), Robert Pangborn (vice president and dean for undergraduate education), Tom Poole, (vice president for administration) and Coquese Washington (women’s basketball coach).
Caldwell and Green have been on past search committees for the football coaching job. Washington was part of the group that screened new Penn State president Eric Barron.
Ernie McCoy, a Michigan alum, was the last athletic director who came from outside the university, holding the post from 1952-69. He was succeeded by a former Penn State football player, Ed Czekaj (1969-80).
Joe Paterno himself was the athletic director from 1980-82 before giving way to Jim Tarman (1982-93), who was the sports information director for Paterno in his early years as head coach.
Two former players for Paterno — Tim Curley (1994-2011) and Dave Joyner (2011-14) — held the title most recently, with Joyner first taking over as acting athletic director when Curley was removed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Joyner was named full athletic director in early 2013 before announcing his retirement earlier this month. He will step down effective Aug. 1.