All was calm, and quiet Wednesday in State College, Pa.
Several inches of snow coated the ground, and the cloud-cover hung low over the Valley.
The scene was calm on National Signing Day, showing no hints of what the recruiting trail was like for the Nittany Lions in the past year.
The last 365-days have been spent navigating uncharted waters for Penn State University’ s football program.
On July 23rd, 2012 , the NCAA levied what they called ‘unprecedented sanctions’ against the program, including a 60-million dollar fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions, among other penalties.
“We didn’t know the day they announced the sanctions exactly what to do,” Director of Football Operations Bill Kavanaugh said. “It took almost a month or so for everything to be laid out. Once we had that we just continued on the same path we were on recruiting wise.”
He added, “Coach O’Brien’s leadership never wavered. We just stayed the path and that is why we think we put together a great 2013 class here.”
Fast forward to February 6th, 2013 -- and the class of 2013 signed their letters of intent, after a long road to State College.
“Last off-season when everyone first got here and Coach O’Brien got done with the Super Bowl we had a strategy that we used through the summer and then when the sanctions hit we adjusted it a little bit,” Recruiting Coordinator and Running Back Coach Charles London said. “But we are still going for the top players in the country and the top players within driving distance around here that are Penn State kids.”
Head Coach Bill O’Brien acknowledged the same thing on Signing Day.
“The strategies definitely changed and I feel like we've got a lot of bright guys here in this building,” O’Brien said. ‘A lot of guys smarter than me that had some good ideas. The strategies will constantly be evolving, but we feel really good about how our strategy worked at it relates to today.”
And now that the letters of intent are signed for five-star’s quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, and four-stars linebacker Zayd Issah and defensive end Garrett Sickels along with the rest of the 2013, the class will be remembered as a recruiting success.
“We breathed a quick sigh of relief,” Kavanaugh said. “And with Coach O’Brien we are onto the next year, take a deep breath and we are rolling already to 2014.” ?
Perhaps the biggest challenge with the class of 2013 and beyond, is the scholarship limit -- only allowing Penn State to sign 15 athletes in each class.
“We just have to make sure that we are really thorough in our research of the prospects,” London said. “We have to make sure we are crossing or T’s and dotting our I’s and make sure the kids are exactly what we are looking for.”
That fact, is something that the staff has spent a lot of time trying to solve.
“It's almost impossible to say this, to do this, but you really can't miss when you can only sign 15 scholarship players. We feel really good about where we're at,” O’Brien said.
There are two factors that Penn State is focusing on to make sure that they stay on top of recruiting, even with the sanctions.
“It becomes vitally important to, number one, be as thorough as you possibly can be in recruiting, as thorough as you can be within the rules of recruiting, you've got to do a great job of, so to speak, leaving no stone unturned,” O’Brien said. “The next deal that becomes really, really important is the Run on program. We feel really good about that Run on program.”
One theme that was echoed throughout signing day ceremonies, was the type of athlete that Penn State is looking for to fill each and every one of the scholarships available.
“We just have to make sure they are the right fit type of Penn State kid we are looking for,” London said. “This is a special place, and it takes a special type of player to come here and be a student athlete so we are just trying to find that.”
The staff has changed their focus from quantity to quality, and will remain that way because of the sanctions.
“The most important thing is to find kids who fit the Penn State mold, not necessarily the fastest or the biggest,” Kavanaugh said. “They are going to be damn good football players, they are going to be the right size, speed, but they need to fit Penn State. They need to fit what Coach O’Brien is doing on offense or what Coach Butler is doing on defense.”
Kavanaugh added, “Not every good players fits your scheme, school, or program. We want to find the right guys, whether it is a smaller fast guy, a bigger bruiser, we are going to find the right guys and that is what we are doing right now.”
Even though the day was calm and relatively uneventful for Penn State, it was viewed as a success by the coaching staff.
“I think overall, this is a great day for Penn State. People may look at me and say, “Why do you say that? We're in the middle of sanctions, all these things,” O’Brien said. “Well, this is a great day for Penn State because it proves a number of things for Penn State. We signed a number of kids that committed to us early and stayed committed to us, stayed committed to us when they could have gone elsewhere.”
He continued, “That's really a great day for Penn State. That says a lot about Penn State, not any one coach or anything, but a lot about Penn State.”
A day that the Nittany Lions hope to build upon as they move forward with the Class of 2014 and beyond.