Illinois' attempt to recruit Penn State players adds intensity to game

Posted: September 25, 2012

Tim Beckman had yet to coach a game at Illinois before he became an adversary in the minds of Nittany Nation for sending members of his staff to State College, Pa., in July to recruit Penn State players shortly after the NCAA assessed harsh sanctions against the football program.

Now Beckman - one of three first-year coaches in the Big Ten - and the Fighting Illini are preparing to host the Nittany Lions in their conference opener on Saturday and presumably we'll see some very intense visitors with long memories of what happened.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Beckman said he regretted that the recruiting episode "ended up being this talked-about," but otherwise felt he was making opportunities available for any Penn State player who wanted to transfer without having to sit out a year.

Beckman said he was contacted by one player who was seeking to transfer before the July 23 announcement of the sanctions, which were handed down in the wake of Penn State's handling of the child sexual-abuse scandal that led to the conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

He said going after that player, and others, were "what the NCAA allowed us to do."

"This game is developed, I believe, for opportunity," Beckman said. ". . . That's what college football is about. . . . [This] did give a young man the opportunity to make his decision on what he wanted to do."

Beckman did not identify the player. Offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt freshman who has Illinois roots, eventually transferred to play for the Fighting Illini, one of nine players to leave the Lions program for other schools following the sanctions.

In announcing the sanctions, the NCAA said coaches could visit Penn State players, who would be allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year.

After the sanctions came out, Beckman sent eight assistants to State College, where they joined coaches from dozens of FBS programs shopping for talent. Penn State players complained they could not leave the Lasch Football Building without being approached by other schools in the parking lot, but Beckman said his coaches never set foot on campus.

"We told them we would be off-campus, and if they'd like to, they could" visit, Beckman said. "If they didn't like to, then we wouldn't pursue them any further."

The presence of coaches on and around campus angered senior linebacker Michael Mauti, the most outspoken Penn State player. Mauti declined after last Saturday's win over Temple to directly answer a question about facing Illinois, and the Penn State athletic communications staff is not making him available to reporters this week.

Beckman said he spoke with Penn State coach Bill O'Brien at the Big Ten football media day in Chicago, but it wasn't clear if the conversation resolved the issue.

"I hope so," Beckman said. "But this game is about the players and about playing on the field. I know they'll be prepared. I know Coach O'Brien does a great job getting his players prepared and ready. It's going to be a 60-minute battle, no question."

O'Brien was not available for comment. He will address reporters Tuesday at his weekly teleconference.

Asked how his team would match the anticipated intensity from Penn State, Beckman said it shouldn't be a problem "because it's a Big Ten football game."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow @joejulesinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/lioneyes

 

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