Georgia DB Taking His Act North

Gaines is the second prospects from his state in as many years to sign with Penn State. He projects as a cornerback with the Nittany Lions.

Georgian Kasey Gaines watched intently as teammate and FOX Sports NEXT top-ranked defensive end Robert Nkemdiche announced his decision to enroll at Mississippi at the start of the school day last Wednesday.

Already decided himself, Gaines shuffled off to the school's office to fax his letter of intent to University Park moments after, sans an early morning announcement or drama with his college decision. The 6-foot, 168-pound defensive back verbally committed to Penn State on Sept. 19, a commitment he stood by all the way until the end.

And though there was no “aha” moment for the FOX Sports NEXT two-star prospect, that was OK with him. Because a long standing belief in Penn State, and the relationships be built with its staff, current players and fellow commits was all he needed to know Happy Valley would be his next home.

“I can't say there was a specific moment that I decided I wanted to go to Penn State,” Gaines said. He visited University Park officially for Penn State's October tilt with Ohio State, and will return for the Blue-White Game in April.

“It was really a thought-out process, and I wanted to go there,” Gaines said. “I'm very happy with my choice.”

Gaines made 63 stops and grabbed a pair of interceptions in his senior season at Grayson High (Loganville, Ga.) and was credited with 14 pass break-ups. But he's adding numbers in a different way these days, packing on nearly 10 pounds since his season ended, with an end goal in mind.

“I'd like to be at a solid 170 by the time I get up to campus, and I've already put on about 10 pounds by getting up to 168,” Gaines said. “They told me they'd like me to be up to 165 by the time I get there, and then Coach Fitz could do his thing. But personally, I'd like to be at 170, and I'm almost there. I'm going to a training facility down here, and eating like crazy. I'm doing everything I can to get bigger, and ready.”

“Coach Fitz” is Penn State strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.

Gaines was initially recruited by former PSU defensive coordinator (and fellow Georgia native) Ted Roof, who left the Lions for the same job at his alma mater -- Georgia Tech. Gains said his commitment to Penn State never wavered.

“I didn't talk to him before he left, and I was disappointed that he left because of the relationship I built with him,” Gaines said. “But I'm also really happy for him at the same time. His family is here, and he's about to be in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame, so he has a lot of ties down here.”

But similar to so many cases in the recruiting cycle year after year, disappointment fostered a new opportunity in terms of Roof's replacement. New Dittany Lion defensive signal caller John Butler has visited Gaines three times since Roof left, quickly building on what Roof established.

“He [Butler] has been down here a bunch of times since everything happened, and I love Coach Butler,” Gaines explained. “I'm happy he got promoted, and I'm excited to work with him when I get up there. I love his personality and enthusiasm.”

Whether Gaines will redshirt once he gets on campus is still up in the air, but a position switch is likely not. The senior said he's been informed he'll more than likely be moved to a cornerback position, an area of the field he gained valuable experience at for the 10-2 Rams.

“They told me I would be playing the field side corner. Obviously, we didn't call them field and boundary corners in high school, but I have played in that type of position before,” Gaines said. “Whenever we'd get up big in games, my coaches would get some other guys in at safety and move me to corner, so I got a lot of work there.”

And redshirting?

“I think of redshirting as a positive, if that's what I have to do,” Gaines said.” I look at it from the standpoint of getting up there and getting used to everything, and getting extra work and extra time in the weight room to improve my speed.”

There's also no question that a transition is in order from his days of playing centerfield in Georgia. But Gaines is OK with that.

“The biggest thing is switching to the one-on-one type of stuff. That's the big thing,” he described. “I played the deep ball a lot at safety, and was always seeing the whole field. I like playing center field and seeing the big picture, but at corner, it's more one-on-one and focusing on one man.”

Gaines will soon receive a Penn State playbook, and will quickly work to get familiar with Butler's multiple aggressive terminology. He'll also have to get used to the North and all that comes with it, too. But the Nittany Lions roster already features one Georgia product who has made that transition, and Gaines hopes to use him as a starting point.

“I met [Penn State sophomore quarterback] Steven Bench on my official visit, and we kind of hit if off a little bit with him being from the South, and sharing some of the same characteristics and views as me,” Gaines said. “I'm excited that he's up there, and that there's another guy from Georgia up there. So, hopefully, when I get up there, we can hit it off again.”

A lot excites the Georgian about his venture north, but he also knows he only has four months to savor the home life in Loganville. Soon he'll be savoring the teaching of Bill O'Brien, Butler, and company. And that excites Gaines, too.

“The thing I'm most excited for is the coaches and what they've done up there with Coach O'Brien. I really love that guy, and what he's done,” Gaines said. “He believes in good young men, not just football players, and that was what it was like here in high school [with head coach Mickey Conn], too.”

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