“I wasn't sure what to expect, but when a coach comes on that far of a trip, you kind of know what's going to happen,” Dooley said earlier this week, in the midst of a final exam study break.
Of course, the expected is often the unexpected in the recruiting world, so Dooley still savored the moment when Vanderlinden extended to him his sixth scholarship offer -- despite his pledge to the Badgers.
“It was and is an honor to receive a Penn State offer,” Dooley said. “But at this point, nothing has changed in my mind about my commitment to Wisconsin.”
Dooley and Vanderlinden sprouted a relationship last winter before Dooley put an early end to his recruiting process. But much has changed since then -- namely Badgers' head coach Bret Bielema leaving for Arkansas, defensive coordinator Chris Ash potentially following and linebackers coach Andy Buh defecting to California to take their defensive coordinator job.
Dooley's relationship with Vanderlinden hasn't waivered, though, which is why the prospect agreed to see the PSU coach.
“He's a really good guy, and he's clearly a great coach,” Dooley said. “He's put a bunch of linebackers in the NFL; it's kind of unbelievable the way we've grown together. He's just a really nice, and good guy.”
As for the situation with the Badgers, Dooley is keeping in contact with the remaining staff members there. He is awaiting a decision from acting athletic director (and acting head coach Barry Alvarez) on the new direction Wisconsin will head.
“I have been talking to the running backs coach [Thomas Hammond], and some of the other coaches that are still there,” Dooley said. “They have been keeping me up to date so I'm not blindsided by anything, and are assuring me everything is going to be OK. Coach Alvarez is an amazing person, and I'm sure he won't let anything happen to the program.”
But Dooley is still keeping his options open as the Holiday season and a dead period in the recruiting world morph into one.
“There's a good chance that Coach Bielema will take a lot of his assistants with him, and there's a few coaches there that I hate to see go. It's just not something you want to see,” he said.
Away from coaching decisions, coaches visiting and the like, Dooley is still focusing on improving and preparing for the next level, whether it be at Wisconsin or elsewhere. He won't have to do much, though, after a monster year on both sides of the ball at Rochester, where he racked up 137 tackles, 14.5 sacks and an interception in a 4-2 set. He also posted 1,456 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns to go along with 450 receiving yards and another 5 TDs.
“Last year, my pass coverage was better because I dropped into coverage a lot more,” Dooley said when asked to evaluate his play. “But this year, my coach blitzed me a whole lot, so I was definitely a lot more aggressive this season.”
The recruiting world will re-awaken on Jan. 3, and engines will rev and phones buzz as things return to normal for recruits around the country. Dooley has yet to plan a visit to University Park, and likely won't until the picture becomes clearer in Madison. That said, he feels good about the option in his back pocket.
“Linebacker U is the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks me about Penn State,” Dooley said. “They have like 10 linebackers in the NFL -- that's ridiculous. Coach Vanderlidnen does a really good job with turning them, well, into men up there.
“Coach Vanderlinden asked if my family and I would like to come visit on Jan. 11, but we haven't sat down to talk about it yet. Nothing has changed my mind yet, but it's a nice option to keep in the back of my mind.”