Star freshmen have no ill will toward Bill O’Brien

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It was just a year and a half ago that Bill O’Brien had eight committed Penn State recruits at the school’s football facilities and made his case for why they should remain with Penn State despite difficult NCAA sanctions.

Two of them were tight end Adam Breneman and quarterback Christian Hackenberg. They were the highest-ranked players of the group and the ones for whom leadership was a natural proclivity. In the next few months, they helped organize phone calls and group messages that helped the recruiting class bond and stick together.

Though O’Brien is gone now, Breneman and Hackenberg haven’t lost their belief in Penn State. Not only are they still around, they’re optimistic about a future they see becoming as positive as the time they have already spent in Happy Valley.

“I wouldn’t say anything’s changed,” Hackenberg said.

On winter break, Hackenberg and Breneman said they spoke with O’Brien before and after he decided to leave. O’Brien explained his situation to them.

“It was tough, but like I said, I wish him the best of luck,” said Hackenberg, who was a standout for the Nittany Lions in his freshman season. “He’s moving forward with his life and we’re moving forward with what we have to do at Penn State.”

“There’s been some negative things said about Coach O’Brien,” said Breneman, who caught 15 passes including three touchdowns this past season. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business and Coach O’Brien had a great opportunity.”

New coach James Franklin met with Hackenberg Sunday. He briefly recruited Hackenberg when he was at Vanderbilt, and Hackenberg said he remembered his energetic personality from that process. Their conversation was brief Sunday, but Hackenberg liked Franklin’s vision for the team. He’s still waiting to learn more about the offensive system Franklin will run but said he is committed to staying at Penn State and didn’t think about transferring.

Holley no longer committed

Penn State’s top-rated recruit, Brooklyn, N.Y., defensive lineman Thomas Holley, switched his commitment Tuesday to Florida, according to recruiting sites and

Holley, 6 feet 4 and 300 pounds, was rated by Rivals as the No. 63 overall player in the nation.

Recently after he committed to Penn State, Holley said one of the main reasons for his commitment was assistant coach Larry Johnson, who announced Monday that he was leaving the Nittany Lions.

“My relationship was a bit different with Coach Johnson, with it being a little more different and more special,” Holley said in December. “He would just call me and talk to me not about football but more so about basketball and being excited for that, and ‘How’s life?’ He connected with me on a more personal level.”

Mark Dent:, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.

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