Penn State salvages solid football recruiting class

Penn State coup: South Jersey's Bill Belton had formerly committed to Pitt.
Penn State coup: South Jersey's Bill Belton had formerly committed to Pitt.
Posted: February 02, 2011

When the recruiting race for the Class of 2011 began in earnest last summer, Penn State appeared to be stuck in the starting gate.

The Nittany Lions had only four oral commitments as of mid-October. They appeared to have waited much longer than other schools to offer scholarships, and there was the persistent question of whether then-83-year-old coach Joe Paterno was more of a hindrance to recruiting than a help.

But the Lions, capitalizing on the coaching change at Pittsburgh while loading up at defensive end and along the offensive line, used a late closing kick to overtake some of their Big Ten rivals as national signing day arrives on Wednesday.

Penn State has oral commitments from 15 players entering the first day when recruits can sign binding letters, and could possibly gain a 16th on Wednesday. With the departure of two seniors who passed on returning for a fifth year, the Lions are believed to have 16 scholarships.

Two of the top recruiting websites, and, have Penn State ranked sixth in the Big Ten, now made up of 12 teams. That's up from 11th place in October. ranks the Nittany Lions 33d in the nation for their recruiting class, while Rivals comes in at 36th. In October, they were No. 63 by Scout and unranked by Rivals, which lists only the top 50.

"I think they did well to salvage a rough start," said Mike Farrell, national and Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for "They were way down heading into November, but they picked it up a little bit. Starting in December, they added a lot of quality guys, high three-star and four-star."

Bob Lichtenfels, the East regional recruiting manager for, said the late success for Penn State was a reflection of a trend from highly ranked recruits to wait as long as possible before making a decision.

"More big-time kids this year seemed to have waited more than in other years," Lichtenfels said. "They had to wait for them to make a decision. So there was nothing magical in how they finished. It's just more of the individual decision process."

Paterno hasn't visited a recruit since dropping in on Terrelle Pryor in Jeannette, Pa., in 2008, and has been criticized as one who cannot finalize attracting the recruit. Farrell said that means each of his assistants "has to do the job of two coaches."

"They really have to hustle a lot," he said, "because they don't have a head coach who goes into a living room to close the deal like every program in the country can. Without the tradition, the fan support, and the facilities there, it would be a disaster."

The Nittany Lions benefited from the firing of Dave Wannstedt as Pitt's head coach, picking up two former commitments to the Panthers - wide receiver Bill Belton of Winslow Township High in South Jersey and linebacker Ben Kline of Dallastown, Pa.

"The Pitt situation helped them get two of their best recruits," Lichtenfels said. "Those two kids are studs. They committed to Pitt, and when all the coaching stuff happened, Penn State jumped on them quickly. That helped them tremendously."

The Lions loaded up in two areas, getting commitments from four defensive ends and five offensive linemen. Two of the ends are Philadelphia-area high school products - 6-foot-9, 250-pound Shawn Oakman of Penn Wood and 6-5, 222-pound Deion Barnes of Northeast.

Penn State coaches also worked hard in getting offensive linemen, including a trio of four-star performers in guard Angelo Mangiro of Succasunna, N.J., Anthony Zettel of West Branch, Mich., and Donovan Smith of Owings Mills, Md.

"Zettel is a monster," Lichtenfels said. "If he can gain 20 pounds between now and the fall, he has a great chance to be playing. Donovan Smith will probably redshirt because he's still a little raw, and will probably need a year to develop."

The Lions are still in the hunt for 6-1, 200-pound defensive back Adrian Amos of Baltimore, who had committed to Connecticut but withdrew after coach Randy Edsall took the job at Maryland. Amos, who visited Happy Valley last weekend, also is considering West Virginia.

Of course, there also are failures on the recruiting circuit. Penn State was a finalist for the services of five-star defensive end Ishaq Williams of Brooklyn, but he opted for Notre Dame.

"He would have been the best player in the class, by far," Farrell said.

In addition, Penn State did not recruit any quarterbacks or running backs. There are four quarterbacks on the spring roster, but two of them - Rob Bolden and Kevin Newsome - have expressed interest in transferring, and no one seems to know what will happen at the position.

Penn State's Recruiting Class

Name   Pos.   Ht.   Wt.   High School

Anthony Alosi    OT    6-5    285    Hun School

Deion Barnes    DE    6-5    222    Northeast

Bill Belton    WR    5-10    180    Winslow Township

Kyle Carter    TE    6-4    227    William Penn

Sam Ficken    K    6-1    180    Valparaiso (Ind.)

Jordan Kerner    DE    6-4    225    Fairview (Pa.)

Ben Kline    OLB    6-2    218    Dallastown Area (Pa.)

Angelo Mangiro    OG    6-2    290    Roxbury (N.J.)

Ryan Nowicki    OT    6-5    275    Cactus (Ariz.)

Shawn Oakman    DE    6-9    250    Penn Wood

Shyquawn Pulliam    ATH    6-0    178    Kiski School (Pa.)

Allen Robinson    WR    6-2    190 St. Mary's Prep (Mich.)

Donovan Smith    OT    6-5    265    Owings Mills (Md.)

Matt Zanellato    WR    6-3    190    Lake Braddock (Va.)

Anthony Zettel    OG    6-4    255    Ogemaw Hts. (Mich.)

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano

at 215-854-4494 or


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