By Joe Scalzo
Anthony Stanko knows what you’re wondering and the answer is no.
No, the Howland offensive lineman didn’t seriously think about de-committing from Penn State when the Jerry Sandusky scandal first erupted.
No, he didn’t when Joe Paterno was fired.
No, he didn’t when more than a half-dozen other Division I coaches called, asking him to re-consider.
And no, he didn’t when the Nittany Lions decided not to promote someone already on staff, instead hiring a relatively-unknown NFL assistant named Bill O’Brien.
Because, you see, when Stanko verbally committed to Penn State last March — the first player in the 2012 class to do so — he didn’t commit to the Penn State football team. He committed to Penn State University.
“I never strayed,” said Stanko, who carries a 3.25 GPA and also had offers from Northwestern, Stanford, West Virginia, Kent State, Akron, Bowling Green and Toledo. “I stayed through all the controversy and I think it’s because I realized it’s a great place to live. The academics have always been fantastic and even if the football changed a little bit, the school itself hasn’t changed.
“I’m going to go there and get a good education. That’s what was most important to me.”
On Feb. 1, Stanko will be one of at least seven Mahoning Valley football players to sign national letters-of-intent with Division I programs.
For obvious reasons, Stanko’s decision will get a little more attention than the rest, particularly after three other PSU commitments (including defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Illinois, who switched to OSU) decided to go elsewhere. More could follow.
“I give Anthony credit for not buckling and believe me, there were seven or eight schools that called me wanting to know if they could re-recruit him,” said Howland head coach Dick Angle. “He was steadfast and I admire that. I think he made a good decision.
“Obviously, they’re going to get through this and Anthony is exactly the type of kid and the type of player they need.”
While Penn State has never had as much success recruiting Ohio as out-of-state programs such as Michigan or Notre Dame, the Nittany Lions have always tried to keep a foothold in Youngstown. Two Mooney High graduates (running backs Brandon Beachum and Michael Zordich) were on this year’s roster and one of the team’s most high-profile players of the last decade, quarterback Daryll Clark, was an Ursuline High graduate.
Going back further, you can point to standouts such as the elder Zordich (Chaney), Warren Harding’s Deryck Toles and Omar Provitt (although he never played), Eddie Pryts (Brookfield), Tony Davis (Howland), Isaac Smolko (Springfield) and James Coates (Warren JFK) — and that’s just a sampling.
“Penn State, especially over the last five or six years, did not recruit Ohio very hard,” said Mark Porter, director of ScoutingOhio.com. “Usually, if a kid is good enough to go to Penn State, they’re good enough to go to Ohio State and if they’re both recruiting a kid from Columbus or Cincinnati or Toledo, they’re going to lose.
“But they’ve always recruited the Youngstown area very hard. The biggest thing for them is, Youngstown is only 21/2 hours away from Penn State and it’s 21/2 hours from Columbus, so there shouldn’t be any difference there.”
While Paterno and his staff built good relationships in Ohio — Angle, for instance, is good friends with both Jay Paterno, Joe’s son, and Tom Bradley, who served as interim coach in recent weeks — the school had little choice but to hire an outsider, Porter said.
“They’re getting a fresh start and they just brought in a first-class guy,” Porter said. “They should be able to put the past behind them and at a school like Penn State, you’re getting the best of the best with coaching and facilities.
“I don’t think it [the scandal] really kills them, football-wise in Ohio.”
Stanko spoke to O’Brien for the first time earlier this week and he’s taking his official visit this weekend, along with most of the team’s other verbal commitments.
Unlike many of the PSU football alumni, who have been critical of the hire, Stanko has nothing but good things to say about O’Brien.
“He seemed like a great guy,” said Stanko. “And I knew things were going to change in the future. Obviously, Coach Paterno couldn’t coach forever.
“Penn State is always going to have a great coach there, no matter who it is. They’re always going to have great football. When I was trying to decide on a school, I was focused mainly on where I was going to spend the next five years of my life and where I was going to get the best education. Football was just kind of icing on the cake.”