Penn State recruiting class signals amazing job by Bill O'Brien and staff

Recruits Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman (right) enjoying the moment before the start of a game at Beaver Stadium. Both decided to stay at Penn State and are expected to sign Wednesday.
Recruits Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman (right) enjoying the moment before the start of a game at Beaver Stadium. Both decided to stay at Penn State and are expected to sign Wednesday. (JOE HERMITT / Patriot-News)
Posted: February 07, 2013

The bottom had threatened to fall out of Penn State's highly rated recruiting class in the wake of "Black Monday," when the NCAA punished its football program with a four-year bowl ban, reduced scholarships, and other penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

Within two weeks of the July 23 bombshell, five high school players who had orally committed to attend Penn State had backed out. Many others, including top quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg, were exploring their options while being inundated with calls from rival FBS coaches.

"When the sanctions hit, I didn't think there was a way they were going to keep that class," Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said Tuesday. "Then when their season started off really bad at 0-2, I was like, 'OK, there's no way these kids are sticking.' "

However, things got better. The Nittany Lions improved on the field. First-year coach Bill O'Brien received rave reviews for uniting the university and the community following the sanctions and remained positive with his team and his recruits. Hackenberg chose to stay and joined with top-ranked tight end Adam Breneman to serve as unofficial recruiting coordinators, convincing others in their class to honor their commitments.

The result is that 12 members of the Class of 2013, including Hackenberg, are expected to sign national letters of intent on Wednesday. Six players, most of whom committed before the sanctions, have been rated four-star by at least one of the prominent recruiting services.

"I think it's an amazing job done by Bill O'Brien in light of all the obstacles he had to overcome since July when the sanctions came down to what he's done now," Farrell said. "It's really remarkable. I think it's probably the most underappreciated recruiting job of the year."

Breneman, also a four-star player, and four other recruits enrolled last month and will participate in spring practice. They do not count against the 15-scholarship limit for 2013 imposed by the NCAA but as 2012 signees.

"When you consider everything they endured off the field, I think the class is phenomenal for what Bill O'Brien was able to do," said Bob Lichtenfels, Eastern recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. "I think he has done a very good job of selling the program and selling his philosophy of what he does."

It doesn't hurt that O'Brien came from the New England Patriots, where as offensive coordinator he coached future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Hackenberg, who passed for 2,144 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, was sold right away, becoming the class' first commit almost one year ago.

While he waffled a bit after the sanctions, Hackenberg was back on board during the fall. On a visit during Ohio State weekend in October, he said, "I'm loving everything O'Brien has done with the team. He's one of the main reasons why I committed here, and he keeps proving me right."

Breneman, who missed last season after suffering a torn ACL, and Hackenberg emerged as the class' glue guys. Less than a week after the sanctions were imposed, Breneman coordinated a meeting at Penn State attended by Hackenberg and four others in a show of support for the program. All but one stayed.

Brian Dohn, Eastern recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said he admired Breneman and Hackenberg for their leadership roles but credited O'Brien for finding their type.

"He recruited kids with high character," Dohn said. "Not only would he talk to the parents and the coaches, he would talk to coaches on other teams that played against those kids to find out how they acted, what kind of kid they were. That's a pretty big chunk of the reason why the class came together."

The class consists of four defensive backs, three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, two linebackers, two quarterbacks and one each at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Linebacker Zayd Issah of Harrisburg, who decommitted on Sept. 7, re-committed on Dec. 9.

The second quarterback is California junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who might be the short-term replacement for Matt McGloin since he will practice in the spring. Hackenberg, who will remain at Fort Union until his May graduation, won't practice with the team until August, leading to the chance he may redshirt.

Sanctions have limited the Nittany Lions to 65 scholarships as a team beginning in 2014, so O'Brien has strived to develop depth by inviting at least 20 preferred walk-ons for preseason practice.

One condition of the sanctions still provides for current Penn State players to transfer to another school, up to the start of preseason practice in early August, without having to sit out a year, a possibility that stresses the importance of depth.


Penn State Recruiting Class

Name   Pos.   Ht.   Wt.   High School

Richy Anderson*   RB   5-11   180   Gov. Thomas Johnson (Md.)

Brandon Bell   LB   6-1   220   Oakcrest/Mays Landing

Adam Breneman*    TE   6-5   229   Cedar Cliff/Camp Hill, Pa.

Curtis Cothran   DE   6-5   240   Council Rock North

Parker Cothren   DE   6-5   265   Hazel Green (Ala.)

Tyler Ferguson*   QB   6-4   210   Coll. of the Sequoias (Calif.)

Kasey Gaines   S   5-10   160   Grayson/Loganville, Ga.

Christian Hackenberg   QB   6-4   212   Fork Union Military

            Academy (Va.)

DaeSean Hamilton   WR   6-0   182   Mountain View (Va.)

Tanner Hartman   G   6-4   250   Lynchburg Christian

            Academy (Va.)

Zayd Issah   LB   6-3   210   Central Dauphin

Brendan Mahon   G   6-5   300   Randolph (N.J.)

Andrew Nelson   G   6-5   262   Hershey

Neiko Robinson   CB   6-0   170   Northview (Fla.)

Garrett Sickels   DE   6-4   234   Red Bank Regional (N.J.)

Anthony Smith*   CB   6-1   186   Valley Forge Military

            Academy (Randolph, N.J.)

Jordan Smith*   CB   5-11   180   Woodson (D.C.)

*Enrolled in January, does not count against 15-scholarship limit for 2013.


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq

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