|School:||Orange Coast, Ca. (Lutheran HS)|
One thing that has always remained strong at Penn State throughout the years is the strong family atmosphere. Current players Tony Johnson, Andy Guman, Chris Ganter, Pete Gilmore, Brent Wise, Casey Williams, Tom McHugh, and Jimmy Kanuch all have some family connection to Nittany Lion history. While pundits of the program may dismiss many of these players as "legacies," in reality, all have a strong sense of what Penn State stands for--a trait shared with by California athlete and son of a former Nittany Lion, Anthony Vernaglia.
Anthony stars as both a wide receiver and linebacker for Lutheran HS in Orange Coast, Ca. Last season, he caught 48 passes for over 800 yards. On defense, he was second on the team in scoring, although his statistics for both tackles and interceptions were not available.
His father, Kip, lettered for the Nittany Lions in the late 1970's. While Joe Paterno is still the head man, a number of current Nittany Lion coaches remain from the days when Kip graced the field in Beaver Stadium.
"Franny Ganter recruited me, so it was great to see Franny and Dick Anderson. Scrap (Tom Bradley) was a teammate of mine. When we left (Penn State), I had to go to therapy because they were all saying how much better my kid was than me," admitted Kip.
It's true that Anthony is quite the impressive athlete, standing 6'3'', weighing in at 216 pounds, and running a consistent 4.5 forty. At this very early point in the recruiting process, teams from all over the country have offered Anthony, including Penn State, Purdue, Virginia, and UCLA. Others like Usc, Stanford, and Cal have expressed their interest.
Two weeks ago, Anthony, Kip and Lutheran HS defensive coordinator Brett Vieselmeier, flew into to State College for an unofficial visit. For Anthony, it was his first visit to Penn State; for Kip, it was his first trip back in nearly ten years.
"I took my wife back to see the only game I've seen from the stands in that stadium, which was a Michigan State game back in 1995. I've watched them at different bowl games or when they come close out here (Southern California). That was before they put the final addition on the stadium."
Because California is obviously not within driving distance to Happy Valley, the trio flew into State College Thursday, staying until Saturday night.
What did their itinerary consist of?
"We got there Thursday night but we really didn't do anything," Anthony said. "We just kind of got use to the time. Friday we went to the athletic office and met everyone, because I had never been there before. We met the coaches and players. The facilities were huge. We did a little tour on our own. Everything is huge back there--it was pretty awesome. Since my dad went there, we really didn't have a tour guide. We just did our own thing."
"He was like a kid in a candy store. The minute we get there, he was like 'ok, this is what used to be the locker rooms and now it's this, and this is where we practiced.' It was cool."
The group was especially blown away by the new facilities, not yet constructed during Kip's last visit.
"They're huge and they're nice. They are all clean and modern, just huge. The indoor practice facility, the stadium, the practice fields, the weight room, they're just huge and massive. The computer room, I guess they call it the athletic support center, was just state of the art. Very impressive."
On Friday, Anthony spent the first part of the day meeting the coaches and players after his tour. Before attending the afternoon practice in Beaver Stadium, Anthony had the opportunity to sit down and experience a Penn State linebacker meeting.
"First, I got to go in the linebacker meeting the first day. It was cool. They just kind of went over what they were going to do in practice and went over a couple of the calls and stunts," Anthony stated.
"Then I got to watch the scrimmage on the field and I got to be in the huddle and all that good stuff. I got to be in the huddle and listen to all the calls and everything. It was like I was a player without pads on."
During the practice, Anthony had the chance to meet Joe Paterno.
"Coach Paterno is really cool. He was a lot of fun. He came over and talked to us for a while. He remember my dad and his dad, my grandfather."
On Saturday, when the official Junior Day event started, Anthony had another opportunity to interact, up close and personal, with the Nittany Lion players and coaches.
"I went into a safety's meeting with them. Because I was the only "skill" guy there, I got to work one-on-one with the safety coach (Brian Norwood) and he broke film down with me. He showed me the position; what they run. And then I got to do the same thing with the wide receiver coach (Kenny Carter)," stated Anthony.
Anthony admitted that he really liked all of the Penn State coaches, especially Carter, Norwood, and Bradley, because they made him and his family feel at home.
"Our defensive coordinator came with us back there and (Tom Bradley) was totally cool to him. He let him watch the films and treated him like he was a coach. It was a very good impression."
The Nittany Lion coaches also liked Anthony, especially his play on the field, offering his a scholarship during the visit.
"They told me and they sent me it in writing the next day. They didn't offer me until Saturday at lunch. I then had it in writing Tuesday at home," said Anthony.
Anthony explained that the Nittany Lions liked him at both strong safety and wide receiver, although he had no preference.
"I want to play both, so I'm just going to have to try it out when I get there."
Along with position, Anthony has no preference as to which coast he ends up on for college, because he has family on both.
"I wouldn't mind playing on the east coast. I just don't want to get stuck in the middle, where there's nobody. Purdue's close enough to the east coast, where my east coast family can still see me play. The west coast is cool because my family can see me play. Distance is no problem for me," admitted Anthony.
Anthony has visited everyone that has both shown an interest and offered him a scholarship. On Tuesday, he was expected to go to UCLA to see the Bruins campus for the first time in a non-football setting. After all of those visits has a leader or leaders emerged for his services?
"Yeah. Actually my favorites are Virginia and Penn State. They are my two leaders right now," said Anthony. "I'm excited to go to UCLA, but until I see that, right now, I'm thinking Penn State and Virginia are in the lead," stated Anthony, who says like Penn State, Virginia offers a great campus, great coaches, and a chance for a top-notch education.
Will there be an early decision in the near future for Anthony?
"I want to get it out of the way early, so I can concentrate on my senior season and I can concentrate on getting my team a championship. It's been bugging me because we got to the finals my freshman and sophomore year and lost. We got to the semi-finals last year. I don't have a ring yet and it's bugging me," laughed Anthony. "So I want to make a decision a little earlier than most people do."
Did his great visit to Penn State make a lasting impression on him?
"I've always been a Penn State fan. I've actually never been there. This was my first trip to Penn State ever. It was pretty overwhelming," admitted Anthony. "My dad has always bragged about it, like it was heaven on earth. It was pretty close. It was a very, very nice place. It met pretty much what I expected."
Will his father have any effect on Anthony's final choice?
"He wants me to go where's best for me, but he's thinking [Penn State's] it right now."
(Interview by Steve Curry)