Terry Smith Sheds Light On Joe Moorhead’s Recruiting Tenacity
Penn State defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith first came across new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead more than 10 years ago while serving as the head coach of Gateway High School in his hometown of Monroeville, Pa.
During TaxSlayer Bowl media availability on Friday, Smith recalled a neat story about Moorhead and his stepson Justin King. King — one of the most highly-touted recruits to ever sign with the Nittany Lions — could have chosen from practically any team in the country given his supreme talent on both sides of the ball for Gateway, which earned him a prestigious five-star designation across the recruiting services.
King was an integral part of the program-defining 2005 freshman class that helped Penn State to one of the most exciting seasons in school history, capped off by a thrilling 3OT victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The group also famously featured fellow beloved five-star Derrick Williams, current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, and Denver Broncos wideout Jordan Norwood, among others. King was no slouch on the next level either, spending six seasons in the NFL with St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh from 2008-13. But even 10 years removed from their tremendous debut campaigns, a rarity during Joe Paterno’s tenure, one coach’s recruiting pitch still stands out to King.
According to Smith, while Moorhead was beginning his five-year stint with Akron from 2004-08, the new face of Penn State’s offense went above and beyond to sell the Zips to King knowing full well he didn’t have a shot at landing the coveted corner.
“At the time, clearly, Justin was a national prospect, and Joe recruited him probably as hard as anyone in the country,” Smith said. “He knew he didn’t really have an opportunity to get Justin to Akron, but his recruitment was based on if things didn’t work out, he would be there for Justin.”
“Justin and I actually spoke this past week and he remembers…how well he was recruited and just stated how much he liked Joe,” Smith continued. Moorhead, who hails from the Steel City himself, showcased that he truly cares about building lasting relationships off the field with prospects of all skill levels. It would have taken incredible guts to go after a player of King’s caliber back then, but now that Moorhead is the newest member of one of the most vibrant coaching staffs in the nation, with abundant resources to boot, opposing schools beware.
In fact, one prospect in particular on Penn State’s wish list that Moorhead has almost certainly reached out to already is 2016 four-star corner Damar Hamlin. Hamlin is a big-time contributor for Moorhead’s alma mater, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, and will lead the Vikings into the PIAA AAAA State Championship on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 6:00 p.m. against Parkland in Hershey. It appears Hamlin will decide between Penn State, Pitt, Ohio State, and Notre Dame in the coming weeks.
The Nittany Lions also have another Central Catholic standout on their roster who was teammates with Hamlin last fall: true freshman safety John Petrishen. Although Moorhead is in charge of revamping the Penn State offense, helping to add more WPIAL talent down the stretch before National Signing Day on Feb. 3 would be huge. Penn State’s 2016 class currently sits at No. 10 in the nation according to the 247Sports Team Rankings.
Moorhead will clearly bring a fresh perspective to the coaches booth, but don’t overlook his ability as a recruiter. James Franklin has hammered home the importance of deploying his staff all over the country in search of talent, but the first priority, of course, is to “Dominate the State” and Moorhead will help to lock down his native 412 area code.