It was a disastrous year for the Nittany Lions, sinking to a 3-9 record and absorbing plenty of slings and arrows about the state of the program. And yet Joe Paterno — the guy perceived to be too old — struck back with an excellent recruiting class.
Penn State's class was rated by most in the national top 15. The main ingredient is QB Anthony Morelli, who the Lions lured away from Pitt at the 11th-hour.
Morelli, 6-4 and 208 pounds, has the size and build of a classic quarterback. Rated one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, he changed his mind to Penn State on signing day.
Penn State sought help on the offensive line and signed Greg Harrison of Shenandoah Valley, Austin Hinton of Secaucus, N.J., and Trent Varva of Lake Orion, Mich.
Harrison, Hinton and Varva are big, solid space eaters who can go along way toward restoring Penn State's ability to dominate. While they are likely to go through an adjustment period, once that trio understands how the college game is played, they are likely to be solid for a long time.
QB Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh — The Nittany Lions have struggled at the QB position since the early part of the 2002 season. Morelli has tremendous arm strength, and shows good mechanics and a quick release. Unbelievably accurate on the deep outs, he may have more potential than any QB in the country.
OL Trent Varva, Lake Orion, Mich. — Varva is a big, powerful tackle who excels at blocking for the running game. Varva is 6-3 and 320 pounds and will not quit on any play.
FB Matt Hahn, Melville, N.Y. — A very solid blocker and he will not go down on first contact. He shows power, runs low, can block and catch. Last season, he carried the ball 141 times for 1,368 yards and 28 TDs, averaging 9.7 yards per carry
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was tough. Everybody here was pushing me to go to Pitt. I went up to Penn State and had a great time. They showed me everything I needed to see. I liked the academics. I liked how everything was real close to campus. It's a real college life, and I like that." — QB Anthony Morelli on why he chose Penn State over Pitt.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
GLANCE AT 2004: The Nittany Lions hope they can bounce back from a painful 3-9 season. Joe Paterno might decide to go with athletic Michael Robinson at quarterback because he is so difficult to defend, but once Anthony Morelli gets comfortable the job could be his. RB Austin Scott rushed for 436 yards before being slowed by mononucleosis. He has quickness and surprising strength. CB Alan Zemaitis has the ability to lead what could be a solid secondary.
PRO POTENTIAL: LB Gino Capone — The senior was one of the better tacklers in the Big Ten. He had 100 tackles for the season and was one of the few Nittany Lions who appeared hungry to play football for the full season. He understands assignments and is a quick study.
INJURY IMPACT: RB Austin Scott was slowed by mononucleosis, but he should be ready to roll for spring football.
Big Ten Recruiting: Penn State
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