Sanctions already taking toll on Penn State recruiting

Posted: July 25, 2012

Brandon Bell wanted to play football for Penn State because of the program's past - its history, its tradition, its legacy.

"It's Linebacker U," Bell, a senior at Oakcrest High in Mays Landing, N.J., said when he committed in June to join Penn State's highly touted recruiting class of 2013.

But now Bell and all other Penn State recruits have to wonder about the Nittany Lions' future and whether they want to be part of a program that was rocked by NCAA sanctions on Monday.

The impact of the NCAA's punishment on Penn State's recruiting - the lifeblood of any college program - extends far beyond Bell and the rest of the recruiting class of 2013.

It includes the incoming class of 2012 - players who have been released from their national letters of intent and are free to sign with another school immediately - as well as youngsters in the classes of 2014 and 2015 and for years to come.

"I just don't see what would motivate a high-profile kid to go there right now," West Catholic football coach Brian Fluck said. "These kids, they all want to play in bowl games."

Area high school coaches and national recruiting experts agree that the NCAA sanctions, which include a four-year ban on postseason bowl games as well as the loss of 10 scholarships per season for four years plus a roster cap of 65 scholarship players, will have a devastating effect on Penn State's recruiting.

"It's more like eight years than four years," said Bob Lichtenfels, national recruiting analyst for, regarding the negative impact of the bowl ban and scholarship reductions.

In the short term, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants will work to maintain the class of 2012. Those incoming players and the current athletes on the roster are now free to transfer to another program and play right away. Penn State also must try to keep together the recruits for 2013, who include some of the best seniors in high school football.

In that group are quarterback Christian Hackenberg of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy; tight end Adam Breneman of Camp Hill, Pa.; and offensive lineman Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon, Pa.

According to's rankings, Hackenberg is the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, while Breneman is the No. 1 tight end and Johnson is the No. 2 offensive lineman.

But it seems unlikely that many players of that caliber will opt to attend a school that won't be able to participate in a bowl game for four years, and might not be good enough to merit postseason play for several seasons after that.

"This is a business," Lichtenfels said. "These kids want to be seen. They want to advance their careers. The bowl season is a big part of that."

Hackenberg, who just finished the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback showcase, now is considering South Carolina and Auburn, according to Mike Farrell of the recruiting service Farrell tweeted that Hackenberg "wants to play in a bowl game."

In a text message to the Associated Press, Breneman wrote, "Although I am still processing and discussing the impact of today's announcements with my family and coaches, I did speak with Coach O'Brien and his staff today and I remain committed to Penn State."

Johnson tweeted, "If you plan on calling me/texting me about this . . . STILL NO COMMENT."

Roman Catholic senior Will Fuller, a wide receiver, said Sunday that he would honor his commitment to Penn State "unless they get the death penalty," which means a shutdown of the program. He declined to comment Monday.

Another member of the recruiting class seemed to confirm his commitment. In separate tweets Monday, offensive lineman Brendan Mahon of Randolph, N.J., expressed his support for O'Brien and his staff.

"Every kid's dream is to play in the NFL, and Bill O'Brien and his staff will get me there," Mahon tweeted. He later added, "O'Brien has my back and I have his."

But two players from the 2013 class have withdrawn their commitments. The father of defensive back Ross Douglas, of Avon, Ohio, told Monday that his son de-committed and is considering Nebraska and Wisconsin.

On Saturday, Timber Creek (Erial, N.J.) defensive tackle Greg Webb - rated a four-star recruit by and one of the most highly touted players at his position in the country - de-committed from Penn State and made a commitment to attend North Carolina.

And one of the top recruits in Penn State's class of 2012 has drawn renewed interest from national champion Alabama.

Biff Poggi, football coach at the Gilman School in Baltimore, told USA Today that he spoke Monday with Alabama coach Nick Saban about offensive lineman Brian Gaia.

"The better kids are going to want to get the exposure you get from bowl games, so they will leave," Poggi said.

Two former South Jersey stars who are members of Penn State's 2012 recruiting class - defensive linemen Jamil Pollard of West Deptford and Austin Johnson of St. Augustine Prep - declined to comment Monday.

"Defer all questions to my coach," Pollard texted, referring to O'Brien.

In addition to limiting the program's ability to attract top-level players, the sanctions also could hurt Penn State from a competitive standpoint, because of a lack of pure numbers. Penn State can sign just 15 scholarship players in each of the next four years. Other programs can sign 25 players per year.

"I had a top college coach tell me that if he got half of the 25 per year to pan out, they would compete for a conference title," Lichtenfels said. "But it's really more like eight or nine. Now you only have 15 per year, you just can't afford to miss on kids. It's immense pressure to get it right."

The loss of those 40 scholarship players over four years as well as the roster cap of 65 scholarship players - 20 fewer than there are in other programs - is likely to have a major impact on Penn State's depth, which will be severely tested by the inevitable injuries as well as gaps created by recruits who don't develop into top performers.

"I just don't see how this can't really hurt them," said Tim Gushue, the coach at Shawnee High in Medford, N.J. "I can't imagine a five-star recruit going someplace where he can't play in a bowl game.

"But who knows? It could create opportunities for other kids to step up. And it's still a great university. People can't lose sight of that."

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bell made his commitment before the conviction on child sex-abuse charges of former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky, before the release of the Freeh Report, before the NCAA sanctions.

Oakcrest coach Chuck Smith said Bell, probably like every other recruit, was pondering what Monday's news means for his future.

"Not an easy day," Smith said.

Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223,, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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