STATE COLLEGE, Pa.
Penn State’s first recruiting class since the NCAA hammered the program with sanctions includes a potential quarterback of the future and a promising pass-rushing defensive end.
So much for the gloom-and-doom scenarios about getting shunned on the recruiting trail following the steep scholarship cuts as part of the penalties for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
High school prospects could formally declare their college choices starting Wednesday, and coveted Virginia quarterback Christian Hackenberg and highly rated New Jersey defensive end Garrett Sickels were among the 12 players who faxed in letters-of intent.
They joined five prospects who have already enrolled early as freshmen to cap the 17-member Class of 2013 on a relatively drama-free signing day.
“What we want here is a smart team, a high character team. A big, fast football team that can play in all types of weather,” coach Bill O’Brien said at the Penn State football building.
A few touted prospects had taken back verbal commitments since July, after the NCAA announced its sanctions which also included a four-year postseason ban.
Otherwise, the centerpieces of the class, including Hackenberg, Sickels and Pennsylvania tight end Adam Breneman, stuck with their long-standing verbal commitments.
“Sanction-wise, certainly we lost some kids because of sanctions. There’s no question about it,” O’Brien said. “But at the end of the day, all I’m concerned about are the guys who are here. We’re not about collecting talent. We’re about building a team.”
Most recruiting services had Penn State’s class fourth in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska. As of late Wednesday afternoon, ESPN had Penn State ranked 24th overall in the country, while 24/7 Sports had the Nittany Loins at No. 26. Rivals placed Penn State at No. 43 and Scout at No. 46.
“They get a ‘B’ for results and an ‘A-plus’ for effort, which translates into a real good class,” said veteran CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.
But it was far from easy.
Days after the sanctions were announced, eight players including Hackenberg and Breneman sat in the same Penn State squad room that O’Brien held his news conference Wednesday.
Penn State announced Wednesday that Central Florida would visit Penn State on Sept. 14 to fill the open date left after Virginia last week backed out of the game at Beaver Stadium. The Cavaliers made the move after lining up a home-and-home series with Oregon to begin in Charlottesville, Va., this season. ... O’Brien was previously an assistant from 1995 to 2001 under current Central Florida coach George O’Leary when O’Leary was head coach at Georgia Tech.