Wearing a blue Penn State jacket, a composed Bill O’Brien sat at a Lasch Building podium and did not lie.
In this instance, lying would have been futile. The answer was obvious. “We lost some kids because of sanctions. There’s no question about it. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you that didn’t play a factor,” said Penn State’s head coach.
Names like Dorian Johnson, Zach Bradshaw, Will Fuller, and Ross Douglas come to mind. All of them were 3-star or better prospects originally committed to the Nittany Lions before the NCAA levied severe penalties on the program in July. A class that once had the potential to be top ten nationally was lowered a few tiers instantly.
According to Scout, the Nittany Lions finished with the 45th best class in the country, good for 7th in the Big Ten. Rivals was a similar story — 40th in the country and 5th in the conference. 247 Sports (26th overall, 4th Big Ten) and ESPN (24th overall, 4th Big Ten) were a bit more generous, but O’Brien cannot worry about the prospects who got away.
“At the end of the day, all I’m concerned about is the guys who are here.”
Do not even bother asking him about those rankings listed above.
“I respect the people that do that. Some of them are my friends, but at the end of the day, that has nothing to do with how I evaluate a student-athlete,” said O’Brien.
Running backs coach Charles London echoed O’Brien’s sentiments. “I have a lot of respect for those guys, but they really don’t know what we’re looking for fit wise. Maybe a guy they have ranked as a two star, but on our board, he might be a number one guy just because we think he has a niche unique to what we’re trying to do.”
London cited O’Brien’s NFL experience working with a reduced roster as the head coach recalled running a prolific offense in New England that reached the Super Bowl with several players who were not heavily recruited out of high school including Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and Stephen Neal.
Despite the pressure to not miss on any recruits with reduced scholarship limitations, all of this has O’Brien feeling good about the 17 new Nittany Lions.
“Overall this is a great day for Penn State. We signed a lot of kids who committed to us early and stayed with us when they could have gone elsewhere. It says a lot about the tradition that Coach Paterno laid and built for 50 years. We’re trying to keep that going now.”
Here is a final look at the full 2013 class that is filled with a mix of decorated prospects and some lesser known players who will all be key in navigating the remaining sanction years.
- Christian Hackenberg — O’Brien and his assistants deserve some medal for keeping the top-rated pro-style quarterback from Palmyra, Va, committed since February 29, 2012. “There were other schools coming after him, but it’s a testament to the relationship he built with our staff here,” said London. While Hackenberg may end up redshirting, he will have a chance to initially compete for the starting job when he gets to campus in June.
- Adam Breneman — The 5-star tight end from Camp Hill, Pa, is already on campus and a big ambassador for the program. Recovering from an ACL injury suffered last summer, a redshirt might be in his best interest, but Breneman wants to get on the field, and expectations will be sky high when he does.
- Garrett Sickels — The 4-star defensive end from Little Silver, NJ, has been committed since last spring and will have a chance to make an immediate impact in Larry Johnson’s defensive line rotation.
- Brendan Mahon — Rated as a 4-star prospect from Randolph, NJ, Mahon is one of the most hyped recruits in the class. Many offensive lineman take a redshirt during their first season, and Mahon may do the same, but there are high hopes for him whenever he does see the field.
- Zayd Issah — The 4-star linebacker from Harrisburg, Pa, is a big get for Penn State. “We evaluated him on tape and felt really good about him as a student,” said O’Brien.
- DaeSean Hamilton — Hamilton is a 3-star wide receiver from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who played both ways in high school. A pretty solid receiving corps just got an additional target.
- Brandon Bell — Bell is a 3-star linebacker from Mays Landing, NJ. Many players in this class could be asked to contribute on special teams right away, and Bell is a possibility there.
- Richy Anderson — From Frederick, Maryland, the running back will try to follow in his father’s footsteps at Penn State. “Richy is a versatile player. You can put him in the slot, and he can do some things. We’ll probably try him in the return game as well,” said London.
- Curtis Cothran — Rated a 3-star prospect, the defensive end from Newtown, Pa, could contribute right away. “You go into school. You look at Curtis, he’s walking down the middle of the hallway, he’s like the Pied Piper. We feel he has tremendous upside for us,” said O’Brien.
- Parker Cothren — A 3-star defensive linemen from Hazel Green, Alabama, Cothren should add depth along the defensive line and symbolizes a renewed effort on recruiting in the south.
- Andrew Nelson — An offensive tackle from Hershey, Pa, it is likely that Nelson redshirts given most of the Nittany Lions’ starting offensive line already intact. “This is a guy we met early on and thought very highly of him,” said O’Brien.
- Tanner Hartman — The guard from Lynchburg, Virginia, should provide more depth along the Nittany Lions’ offensive line.
- Jordan Smith — Already on campus, the defensive back from Washington, D.C., will have a chance to make an immediate impact in the secondary.
- Anthony Smith — Originally from Randolph, NJ, the defensive back spent the past season at Valley Forge Military Academy and is already on campus taking classes.
- Tyler Ferguson — The junior college quarterback from Bakersfield, California, has three years of eligibility remaining and will compete for the starting quarterback spot with Hackenberg and Steven Bench.
- Kasey Gaines — Recruited by Ted Roof when he was still with the Nittany Lions, the defensive back from Loganville, Georgia, should provide some additional depth to the secondary.
To see what transpired throughout National Signing Day, check out our live blog.