Penn State Building a Good Recruiting Class Despite Turmoil

From @DanKiesel: Why would any recruit go to penn state? They are building a good class. How?

Change often gives a program a jolt in recruiting. New energy and new ideas tend to get people excited, whether that’s fans or recruits. You’re seeing that at Texas A&M this year as well as at Arizona and Ole Miss. Of course, the Penn State situation is different from those others because of the taint of an unprecedented college scandal connected to former coach Jerry Sandusky and how the university’s leadership allegedly handled things. That story isn’t going away any time soon.

To see the Nittany Lions ranked among the nation’s top 15 in early recruiting rankings for the Class of 2013 in light of all of that is impressive. Bill O’Brien and his staff are clearly doing a good job of selling the evolution of the Penn State program while also playing up his offensive pedigree. A big key for Penn State was getting one of the country’s highest-ranked QB prospects, Christian Hackenberg, to commit early.

Hackenberg praised the school’s “tradition” and told reporters he believes that O’Brien is going to “revolutionize” this program. It also sent a message to other top recruits, making it an easier sell. Recruits often get influenced easily. The rationale: If Johnny Bluechip thinks “there is something special about to go on there, I probably should consider that place too.” That was evident when, a few weeks after Hackenberg committed, Penn State landed Adam Breneman, arguably the top-ranked tight end in the country. Normally, it shouldn’t be a shock that Penn State could reel in a touted tight end from Pennsylvania, but given everything surrounding this school, it is noteworthy. But O’Brien has shown he can recruit, and having a track record utilizing tight ends the way he did in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez is a good chip in his pocket.

These days, your best recruiters often are the recruits themselves and that sounds like it’s been the case with this Penn State class, as Breneman and Hackenberg explained to Eastern Football Recruiting.

“Christian and I have taken the role of being the leaders of this class,” said Breneman. “It takes a different kind of player to be part of this and we want to be difference makers.

“If you look on Twitter under the hashtag “Restore the Roar” – that’s us and that’s what we want to do. We’re not done yet, our goal is to have a top five class.”

“There’s a new energy with the program,” said Hackenberg, who was born in Tamaqua, Pa. and grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania before moving to Virginia. “Coach O’Brien has brought that and he’s the biggest reason I’m going to Penn State.”

Neither Hackenberg nor Breneman are concerned what others think or say about the program. They have formed their own ideas. “Outsiders don’t understand what it means to be a Penn Stater,” Breneman said. “I grew up as a Penn State fan and had to separate that when making my decision. I’ve gotten some hate mail and heard all the nasty comments and jokes. But those people just don’t get it. One guy will not tear the university down.”

On Thursday, the Harrisburg Patriot-News ran a story with the headline: Penn State football recruits using Jerry Sandusky scandal as motivation. The story noted that, “Mere hours before CNN, citing emails exchanged by three former university officials in 2001, dropped the latest bombshell in the Sandusky saga, Central Dauphin linebacker Zayd Issah became the 14th member of O’Brien’s first full recruiting class.”

“We’re building our own relationships, and nothing is going to get in the way of our goals,” Hackenberg said. “I really don’t have any comment on that whole situation. That’s the same for a lot of us. That wasn’t us in any shape or form. That was the last staff. And, to be honest, we’re sort of using it as motivation.”

Apparently, many kids are buying in on that. Remember, people have great capacity to compartmentalize. They see something that happened but didn’t directly affect them and they just move on. Does it matter to them that there will be million-dollar civil suits swirling for years around Penn State? Doubtful. Or that the legacy of Joe Paterno is going to be debated for a very long time going forward? Again, doubtful. Those things may deter some recruits or some parents of recruits, but clearly not everyone is going to feel that way. Now, if the NCAA were to get involved, taking issue with the university’s (and its athletic department’s) handling of the Sandusky case, then it might be a different story. We’ll see if things change then.


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