Back in July when the NCAA levied harsh and unprecedented sanctions on the Penn State football program following the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, many thought that the Lions would struggle to recover-if ever.
Five months later on National Signing Day, the Nittany Lions landed 17 commitments, with eight of those coming after those sanctions were lowered on the program and a top-40 class according to Rivals.com. How did they do it? Easy, it was all about their coach Bill O’Brien, and an unlikely source: the recruits themselves.
O’Brien held the 2013 class together in part because he’s a terrific coach, and in part because players want to play for him in Happy Valley. It takes a special person to convince and persuade people to be innovators, groundbreakers-especially young kids. Bill O’Brien is one of those people.
After the sanctions were levied in July, Penn State’s cavalcade of prospective 2013 recruits flocked to State College for answers from O’Brien himself. He met with the players, then their parents. He overviewed just what restrictions his program had been hit with; a four-year bowl ban, a scholarship reduction and endless shame in the present and future. With no promise of a week in South Florida for a bowl game for three of the players’ four years of eligibility, O’Brien convinced all but one of them to remain a Nittany Lion.
“I think it’s an amazing job done by Bill O’Brien in light of all the obstacles he had to overcome since July when the sanctions came down to what he’s done now,” Rivals.com director of recruiting Mike Farrell said yesterday. “It’s really remarkable. I think it’s probably the most underappreciated recruiting job of the year.”
But the second-year coach also had some help from the recruits themselves, as local commit Adam Breneman and top-rated quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg both did their fair share of recruiting of their peers in order to build a post-scandal footing for Penn State. Breneman even orchestrated the now-famous recruit trip to see O’Brien in July. There’s no doubt that other players were encouraged when they saw top-flight recruits staying loyal to their commitments to the Nittany Lions.
It didn’t hurt that the Nittany Lions excelled on the field in 2012 despite losing some prominent players to the NCAA’s transfer exception that allowed Lions to transfer anywhere without penalty. Playing without it’s leading rusher and receiver from 2011, the Lions finished 8-4 and 6-2 in Big Ten play following an 0-2 start. If not for the postseason ban, they would have been playing in the Big Ten Championship game in January with a shot at the Rose Bowl.
Anyway you slice it, Penn State has done an incredible job since being bulldozed by the NCAA in July, and with Bill O’Brien and his stellar recruits on board both on and off the field, things are looking just fine in Happy Valley.
Here’s the full 2013 class per Rivals.com:
Signed Letter of Intent
The names here that stand out are obvious, as the Lions nabbed either the nation’s top or second-ranked quarterback in Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, VA), the nation’s third-ranked tight end (that Bill O’Brien loves) in Adam Breneman (Cedar Cliff, PA), a top-four offensive lineman in Brendan Mahon (Randolph, NJ) and another top-four defensive lineman in Garrett Sickels (Little Silver, NJ). Not lost in the shuffle though are a wealth of three-star recruits who will see time and make an impact quickly for post-sanction Penn State. Make no mistake, Nittany Lions fans, this list of names are ones that you’ll grow to know well in the coming seasons.