The manner by which the Nits’ new boss conducted himself at the introductory press conference, then at Joe Paterno’s funeral/ceremony events, followed by the open access he gave to the media on National Signing Day, and inclusive of any and all public comments he’s made since he was announced as Paterno’s successor last month – all the while preparing the New England Patriots for another Super Bowl run – encompassed a top quality man.
It’s hard not to like this guy so far. If the old adage about first impressions is true, O’Brien is definitely on the right track.
Obviously, this most recent recruiting class cannot and will not be a reflection on nor related to O’Brien in any form or fashion. He walked into a firestorm and held on to what he and his new staff could. Overall, there are definitely a few gems in the group which O’Brien was thrilled to sign, and for good reason. Next February’s class will be the first test of his true recruiting acumen, but for now, there are a few “kids” (we miss you already, Joe) who could be stars in the near future.
Akeel Lynch was the biggest find here. Silas Redd and his buddy Curtis Dukes are suddenly upper classmen, so the need to find the next horse in the backfield, or at least a legitimate body to which the same chance will be able to be given, was enormous.
Under Mac McWhorter’s new guidance, Lynch will eventually be running behind several names in this class, and the two most impressive among them are Tony Stanko and Wendy Laurent. The former is a 300-pounder from Ohio and the latter, who was not a highly-touted prospect, came late to the party but fits the McWhorter mold. Laurent is smart; you don’t just “go” to The Hun School because you live nearby it. Combine his brains with excellent quickness and size, and Laurent is one of more versatile offensive line prospects to come to State in the last half-dozen years. McWhorter especially likes Laurent because he has the capability to play all three positions up front, although guard or center is most likely his eventual landing spot.
Strictly in terms of star rankings, which don’t mean nearly as much as most people think, the “best” prospect in this class is wide receiver Eugene Lewis. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder had offers from Mark Dantonio, Frank Beamer and Steve Spurrier but chose to stick with PSU and will add valuable depth to the receiving corps in the coming seasons. Although Lewis is not a speedster who can stretch the field the way Derek Moye did, he’s more similar to Bryant Johnson in that his size will allow him to be a much-needed possession receiver as well as a dangerous threat in the Red Zone.
Most importantly, as PSU loyalists witnessed in 2011, who will throw the ball to Lewis and others down the road? As hard as it is to agree with Matt McGloin, he said it best when asked about his reaction to the players who reneged on their verbal commitments after the combination of the Sandusky scandal and the death of Paterno shed enormous uncertainty around the program for the first time ever. McGloin said in so many words that if those guys didn’t want to be (at Penn State), then (the Penn State community) doesn’t want them there. Preach on, Matt. You’re not a great quarterback, but you do lead in your own unique way.
One member of that group was quarterback Skylar Mornhinweg from the Philadelphia area. Mornhinweg de-committed from State and eventually landed with the Florida Gators. The move was surprising, particularly because the kid chose not to play for the coach who was aligned with Tom Brady and because his father – Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg – is closely aligned with the man who this space believes was a key factor in O’Brien’s hiring, Ron Jaworski.
Whatever the case may be or have been regarding the younger Mornhinweg’s decision, don’t get too excited about the only quarterback who signed on the dotted line last Wednesday. Steve Bench is merely a placeholder for whichever signal-caller O’Brien will rein in next year at this time. The good news is that the Class of 2013 is heavily loaded with QB prospects, and two of them will be in State College for Junior Day on the 18th of this month; both arms – Ryan Burns and Christian Hackenberg – are from Virginia. Another on the radar is Kevin Olsen from New Jersey.
On a side note yet also relative to a potential incoming quarterback to Penn State, albeit not in the form of recruiting, is Danny O’Brien (no relation). Rumors are swirling and possibly hours away from being confirmed that O’Brien will transfer from Maryland. Because O’Brien graduated in three years, he would not be subjected to the NCAA rules which force a transferor within FBS programs to sit out for an entire season. An even more attractive feature of O’Brien’s unique status is that he has – and would have at another school – two more years of eligibility remaining. Keep an eye on this developing situation because while there is certainly no guarantee that O’Brien would win the starting job from McGloin if he does land in State College, it would surely be nice for Penn State fans to have him in the mix for a year or even two while his namesake head coach develops the new offense to showcase it for Burns, Hackenberg & Co.