QB that got away now stands in the way of Lions
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A lifetime of experience separates the skills of the formidable old coach from the exceptional talents of the young kid, but Joe Paterno and Terrelle Pryor both want the same prize Saturday night: a victory that could carry their team closer to a Big Ten Conference championship.
Seven months ago, Pryor, the Jeannette High School star, told Penn State that he was spurning its football scholarship offer.
State College, Pryor told reporters, was just too "country."
"I just don't like that place," he said.
Instead, Pryor, the most sought-after high school recruit in the country, chose Ohio State. Instead of playing for Paterno, who sometimes has been reluctant to start freshmen athletes, Pryor, 19, is calling the plays for another national football powerhouse.
The stakes Saturday night in Columbus might be familiar to Paterno, but they're new to Pryor.
"He's fired up," said Jeannette assistant coach Roy Hall, who talked to Pryor Monday. "He can't wait to get going."
Penn State's undefeated season is on the line.
The third-ranked Nittany Lions (8-0, 4-0) not only need to contain Pryor and defeat the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (7-1, 4-0) to remain in the thick of the national-championship race, they must find a way to win at the Horseshoe for the first time in three decades.
And then there's that "country" comment.
Some of Penn State's coaches and players said they don't hold a grudge against Pryor, who also had Michigan and Oregon among his final four schools, but it's clear they haven't forgotten the words.
"I resent the fact about it being country and whatnot," Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said yesterday. "... But that's his thought of this place. He decided to go to another school. It's working out for him right now. I didn't have any bad blood with him."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Pryor is eager to face the team that let him slip away.
"Terrelle would never admit it if there were [more pressure]," Tressel said. "I'm sure he's excited. He loves the big stage and the big challenge. ... Columbus is just as close as State College is -- I mapped it out for him."
Hall, his high school quarterbacks coach, said Pryor is expecting some backlash from Penn State fans.
"He knows he's going to get harassed and jerked around," said Hall, who has attended four of Pryor's games in Columbus but will have to skip this one because his Jayhawks are playing Greensburg Central Catholic in a battle of unbeaten high school teams.
"When a P.A. boy leaves the state for Ohio and doesn't go to Penn State or Pitt, he knows he's going to get the business. But he thrives on it. He feeds off that situation."
Pryor was set to join the Buckeyes on national signing day Feb. 6, but he delayed his decision because his father, Craig, wanted him to take another look at Penn State.
Joe Paterno and his son, Jay, Penn State's quarterbacks coach, had visited Pryor and his family in Jeannette a few days earlier along with defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.
Clark offered his support in the recruiting process.
"I went to one of his basketball games and actually sat and talked to him after the game, to try to get him to come here," Clark said. "But he had other plans."
March 19, four days after Pryor led Jeannette to a PIAA Class AA basketball championship at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center, he signed with Ohio State.
During his news conference, Pryor said he "loved" Bradley, who recruited him.
"I would've had Penn State higher and would've considered them more if I knew coach Bradley was going to be the head coach when Joe Paterno retires," Pryor said.
Bradley, who has no such assurances, has been running the team on the sideline the past three games with Paterno, 81, upstairs in the coaches' booth. Bradley said he still talks to Pryor.
"He's actually texted me a couple times and called once asking if he was going to take me on a tour of Columbus, but I told him I didn't need one," he said. "He was a guy we really wanted. They loved me at [the] Eat 'n Park [in Jeannette}. I guess they have 33 different shakes there and I probably had 27 of 'em."
Bradley said he's not sure how close Pryor came to committing to Penn State.
"That's a tough question," he said. "You'd probably have to ask him that. He was nothing but great with me. I had a great relationship with him."
Pryor, 6 feet 6, 235 pounds, is 5-0 as Ohio State's starter since taking over for Todd Boeckman after a 35-3 loss at Southern California. He is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Buckeyes since Art Schlichter in 1978.
"We haven't played anyone with his size and speed," Bradley said. "He's a Vince Young-type of quarterback. He gets out on the perimeter and he just kind of glides. He's got such good vision for a young guy.
"It will be fun to see him, but it will be a challenge to defend him."
Paterno also offered high praise for Pryor.
"I think he will be one of the really good quarterbacks we've had come out of this state," Paterno said.
What would have happened had Pryor signed with Penn State? Who would the Lions' starting quarterback be -- Clark or Pryor?
"I would hope it still would be me," Clark said. "... He made his decision. [I] don't know if it's a bad one or not. I can't really say it's a bad one because he's doing well right now. He's actually playing as a true freshman. So what more could you want?"
Perhaps a little payback for Penn State.
First Published October 23, 2008 12:00 am