Sandusky scandal takes toll on Penn State's class
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Perhaps no major college football program in the country faced a bigger recruiting challenge than Penn State.
Eight high school players decommitted from the Nittany Lions' 2012 class, including six after the child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky rocked the campus in November and cost late Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno his job.
Paterno's successor, current New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, was hired Jan. 6, and he completed his first Penn State recruiting class Wednesday by signing 19 players to national letters of intent.
The class features 10 offensive players and nine on defense, and includes recruits from nine states and one from Canada.
"We signed a lot of great kids, great student-athletes, that are going to help us build this program," said Charles London, the team's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach.
London credited defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, the two holdovers from Paterno's staff, with a big assist as O'Brien continues to do double duty with the Nittany Lions and Patriots, who face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl Sunday in Indianapolis.
"A lot of credit for this recruiting class has to go to coach Vanderlinden and coach Johnson," London said. "When we were going through the transition period here at Penn State, those two coaches and the old coaches that were here, stayed with those prospects. So once we got here in early January, we just had to pick up the ball where they left off.
"The second thing we got when we got here, after our [university] ID, was a GPS. I needed that on my last recruiting trip. A lot of us are familiarizing ourselves with Pennsylvania, since a lot of us are from the South. The reception in the schools has been great. The student-athletes have been excited to have us in their schools. Everybody's been very supportive."
Penn State's class includes five defensive linemen, three defensive backs and a linebacker.
"We focused on the secondary," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "We lost four starters there last year, so we needed to address that and get some numbers there. I thought we got some kids with versatility that could be either safeties or corners. I thought that was a real positive for us, a real plus.
"And you can never have enough defensive linemen, no matter where you are, no matter what league you play in. A league like the Big Ten, it's just so physical. Those guys take a beating and you hope they give a beating, too."
Offensively, Penn State landed four wide receivers, two offensive linemen, two tight ends -- including early enrollee Jesse James from South Allegheny High School -- a quarterback and a running back.
The two most intriguing prospects are four-star Pennsylvania wide receiver Eugene Lewis and Georgia quarterback Steven Bench, who decommitted from Rice.
"We watched him on tape and felt really good about his production in high school," O'Brien said of Bench on a teleconference. "We may run a different offense than he ran in high school, but his accuracy and decision-making will fit what we do."
Tight end J.P. Holtz, a Pitt recruit from Shaler High School, was among the six players who decommitted from Penn State after the Sandusky scandal, along with Philadelphia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, who signed with Florida.
Other defectors include Massachusetts cornerback Armani Reeves and linebacker Camren Williams, Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, and Colorado offensive lineman Joey O'Connor, who all signed with Ohio State.
Defensive end Noah Spence from Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt was considered a shoo-in to go to Penn State before the Sandusky scandal, but he ended up signing with the Buckeyes.
"So many teams sign these heralded recruiting classes and a handful of them don't make it, a handful leave, and that's not the Penn State way," Roof said. "We'll see how good it is in a couple years."
First Published February 2, 2012 12:00 am