Lions make inroads into WPIAL again


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 82, has left campus only three times in the past three years to visit a high school prospect.

Paterno's previous recruiting trip took place 17 months ago, when he went to Jeannette High School and tried to persuade quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit, to sign with Penn State.

Paterno's late push did not work, although Pryor delayed his decision until six weeks after national signing day before picking Ohio State.

Despite Paterno's lack of visits, it does not seem to have had much of a negative impact on Penn State's overall recruiting.

That is especially true in Western Pennsylvania, where defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has regained the upper hand on his counterparts from Pitt.

Of the seven players who have given the Nittany Lions verbal commitments for 2010, five are from the WPIAL. They are linebacker Mike Hull (Canon-McMillan High School), quarterback Paul Jones (Sto-Rox) and offensive linemen Luke Graham (Penn-Trafford), Miles Dieffenbach (Fox Chapel) and Tom Ricketts (North Allegheny).

Asked at a media gathering last night if Western Pennsylvania had once again become a fertile recruiting ground, Paterno said: "I can't touch it."

NCAA rules prohibit Paterno from commenting on recruits before they have has signed a national letter of intent, but fifth-year linebacker Sean Lee from Upper St. Clair said Bradley should be commended for a job well done.

"It's pretty obvious coach Bradley is doing a great job of recruiting in Western Pennsylvania," Lee said. "It's a good deal for us."

Lee and junior center Stefen Wisniewski from Central Catholic are among 10 Western Pennsylvania players on the current roster. They were recruited by Bradley, who also landed standout linebackers LaVar Arrington (North Hills), Paul Posluszny (Hopewell) and Brandon Short (McKeesport) and center A.Q. Shipley (Moon) through the years.

"There's always been lot of talent in Western Pennsylvania," Wisniewski said. "I'm glad to hear that we have so many commitments for next year already."

Losing Ricketts and Dieffenbach to Penn State on back-to-back days last week was a major blow to Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who had been in the running for both.

Ricketts' father, Tom, was a standout lineman at Pitt in the 1980s and a No. 1 pick of the Steelers. His mother, Sandy, was a swimmer for the Panthers. And the Rickettses have season tickets to Pitt football games.

Dieffenbach's father, George, is the long-time women's tennis coach at Pitt.

Jones, who waffled on his verbal commitment a few times early in the process, is rated as a five-star prospect by Scout.com; Ricketts, Dieffenbach and Hull received four stars and Graham three.

"Obviously, [the recruits] realize that football is alive and well at Penn State again," Wisniewski said. "It will be nice to get some more Western Pennsylvania guys on board. I'll be one of the first guys in line to help welcome them."

When Lee arrived on campus in 2005, the Lions had four losing seasons in the previous five. But they have rebounded to win 40 games over the past four seasons and two Big Ten Conference titles and to post a 3-1 record in bowl games.

"When I first got here, people were ticked, they were mad," Lee said. "They were tired of losing. They wanted to win games. They didn't want any more excuses.

"It was guys like Paul Posluszny and Michael Robinson who said, 'We're tired of losing. We're going to work as hard as we can in the offseason and we're going to do everything possible we can to win games.' That attitude has kind of trickled down.

"Coach Paterno still has a lot of fire, integrity and passion. A lot of our success has to do with him. Even at 82, he's still getting it done."


Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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