Recently, Chad Henne and his head coach, Jim Cantafio, held a press conference to discuss Chad's recruitment. During that press conference Chad narrowed his list of final choices to Penn State, Miami, Georgia, Tennessee, and Michigan.
As could have been predicted, the chorus of posts on various Penn State internet message boards immediately went into full swing. The emotions ran the entire spectrum.
Some are saying he'll go to Michigan, others say Miami, some figure it will be Penn State. The Harrisburg Patriot thought it would be a good idea to fully speculate on the odds for Henne and they installed Michigan as the early favorite at 2 to 1. Penn State came in at 5 to 2 on the Patriot betting sheet.
Penn State has made Chad their top priority this year at the QB spot, but our staff needs an answer of sorts by August 30th or they'll need to start offering other prospects. Chad has stated he'll decide by the end of August too. Sounds pretty good. There are a lot of kids that would want to play QB here, so Penn State will have to find out where they stand with Chad in the event he chooses to go elsewhere.
And what if Chad decides to go elsewhere? I've seen the message board angst already. It's an annual rite around here. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
One of the most common things I see on the net is the notion that if Chad decides to go to Michigan that this would signal that Penn State can't keep the good recruits in state any more. One knuckleheaded editor in the mid state area went so far as to suggest that Joe Paterno should retire if Chad Henne chooses to go elsewhere. I nearly spit out my coffee laughing when I read that one.
Oh yeah, our fans tend to lose their collective nerve over recruiting. You'd think they'd have figured out by now that Penn State has been playing winning football for years despite the fact that we have never gotten all the big name recruits. We have lost lots of kids as good as Chad Henne and won a lot of football games with the players who wanted to be here. We have won national championships, and we have fielded unbeaten teams, without ever having gotten all the stars.
Let's take a closer look. Take a trip down memory lane with me and see how many of these past hotshots you can recall.
In 1968 Penn State went unbeaten for the first time under new Head Coach Joe Paterno. Did Penn State get every star recruit in the PIAA in 1965? Not even close.
Bill Urbanik of Donora was another star that year. He went to Ohio State to play for Woody Hayes. Arizona State was good in those days and they grabbed Phil Booker out of Kiski Area and John Helton out of Mt. Union. Harry Orszulak went to Pitt.
Penn State got Mike Reid out of Altoona and Ted Kwalik from Montour, but there was no bigger star recruit that year than Terry Hanratty. Hanratty was a star QB who hailed from Butler High and he chose to go to Notre Dame to play for their legendary head man Ara Parseghian. To make matters worse, he managed to talk Charles Landolfi of Ellwood City into going to Notre Dame with him.
In 1966 Penn State lost more than a few top notch recruits.
Jeff Zimmerman, Dewey Poskon and Mike McKoy all chose Notre Dame in 1966. It seems the Irish and Michigan State were hot after having finished atop all the major wire service polls. McKoy was an out and out stud too. Everyone wanted him. He would leave Notre Dame a consensus all American before heading to then NFL Champion Green Bay.
Nebraska came into Pennsylvania that year and stole a couple of kids in Phil Vassar from Uniontown and Frank Vactor from Washington HS. Rich Saul left Butler HS and could have gone anywhere. He signed on with Duffy Dougherty's Michigan State Spartans. He later played with the Los Angeles Rams. Donnie Law of Brownsville also chose Michigan State.
Van Golmont of Beaver Falls and Joe Buchinski of Mt. Carmel chose the Miami Hurricanes. Golmont would later play in New Orleans with Archie Manning and the Saints. Freddie Sample of Churchill Area would go to Michigan that year. Yes indeed, Penn State didn't come close to landing everyone in 1996.
Despite all these enormous recruiting losses, Penn State managed to win a few football games between 1967 and 1969. I think I can recall a 30 game unbeaten streak in there somewhere. A pair of back to back unbeaten seasons too.
Between 1971 and 1974 Penn State would go 43-5. The Nits would have one unbeaten team and a string of national top 5 finishes during that period, so they must have landed every blue chipper on earth, or at least all of the Pennsy blue chippers, between 1968 and 1971, right?
Well, recruiting doesn't work that way. Yes, Penn State lost a lot of blue chippers back then and still managed to win a few games.
1968 was a very interesting recruiting year. Penn State failed to sign so much top talent that year it would make your lil' ole' recruitnik head spin worse than a Linda Blair doll sold on a K Mart blue light special.
Bill Ross from Beaver Falls went to Michigan, Jim Roberts of Freeport went to Miami, Ed Petcheney went to Georgia, and Bob Pabis of Monessen went to Nebraska where he'd play for a national title. Tommy Miller went to Maryland. Duwayne Cunningham went to Michigan State.
As good as all those players were, the top guys in Pennsy that year played at John Harris HS, and they had become local legends. None of them chose Penn State. George Buchanon chose Purdue, Mike Vecanski chose Ohio State, and the star of the entire state that year, James Jones, well, he went to USC.
Ed Beverly would come out of John Harris High in 1969 and go to Arizona State. Both he and Jones played pro ball. Jones in the Canadian Football League and Beverly with the 49ers. Two players chose Ohio State that year and two more Notre Dame. Arizona State took a few more that year. Gary Hrivnak of Johnstown went to Purdue and later to the Chicago Bears.
In 1970 Dave Waanstedt of Baldwin, Larry Tucker of John Harris and Derek Stokes of Wilkinsburg would choose Pitt. Notre Dame would pluck 5 Pennsy players that year including Clifton Brown of Middletown, a future Philadelphia Eagles player. Ohio State would take four out of Pennsy that year including Fred Pagac, a future Chicago Bears LB.
In 1971 Dennis Franks of Bethel Park went to Michigan and Doug Plank of Norwin went to Ohio State. He'd later play in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Perhaps the two best players in the state that year were Tim Miller of Mt. Lebo and QB Tom Clements of Canevin. Both chose Notre Dame.
None of these major recruits chose Penn State, yet we still had a better winning percentage in those years than you could imagine. Better than that of any of the teams these players played on, that's for sure.
In 1973, Upper Merion WR Bobby Thomas broke every conceivable receiving record in Pennsylvania. He chose Nebraska and became a star there. Bobby Baker broke all the passing records that year as the QB at Upper Merion. He chose Florida State. The biggest star that year was Hopewell RB Tony Dorsett, and as we all know, he chose Pitt.
In 1974 Joe Montana of Ringgold went to Notre Dame and Ed Smith of Pittsburgh Central Catholic went to Michigan State.
In 1975 future NFLers Jeff Delaney of Upper St. Clair and Gordon Jones of East Allegheny chose Pitt. In 1976 Jim Richter chose NC State. He'd play a long time in the NFL.
Thru the remainder of the 1970's, Pitt would sign Jimbo Covert of Freedom, Emil Boures of Bishop Kenrick, Russ Grimm of South Moreland and Danny Marino of Pittsburgh Central Catholic. All would become stars in the NFL.
QB Jim Kelly of East Brady would sign with Miami. QB Jeff Hostetler leave Pennsylvania after transferring from Penn State to West Virginia. Jerald Ingram of Beaver Area wound up at Michigan. All stars. All future NFL stars too.
In 1980 Norristown QB Steve Bono signed with UCLA and Hershey QB Scott Campbell with Purdue. Both would eventually play prominent roles in the record books at those schools before going on the NFL glory. Cedar Crest QB Frank Reich outdid both of them while attaining all American status at Maryland.
Bill Maas, Dwight Collins and Tom Flynn all signed with Pitt that year, and Chris Doleman with Temple. In 1981 Troy Benson from Altoona and Bill Fralic from North Hills HS chose Pitt. All had lengthy NFL careers.
In 1982, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, BC and Syracuse would pluck talent from Pennsylvania. In 1983, Sharon HS would send Teryl Austin to Pitt. He'd later come back as the Michigan defensive backfield coach to recruit several Pennsy boys to the Wolverines. For the 2nd year in a row, Boston College would pull the best offensive lineman in the state in Jim Ostrowski of Bishop Hoban.
1984 was probably a down year for recruiting in state kids. Bo Orlando of Berwick was probably the brightest star that year and he chose West Virginia. Never mind that Penn State has gotten more than a couple kids from Berwick over the years, until Gus Felder chose Penn State many years later, some were convinced Berwick's legendary head man, George Curry, simply had it out for us.
Two of the top guys that got away in 1985 were Steel Valley product Brad Jones and Erie Cathedral Prep alum Mark Stepnoski. 1986 saw Arizona State, Ohio State and Michigan all take Pennsy kids away from the Commonwealth, but the biggest recruiting disappointments that year had to be Steel Valley's Adam Walker choosing Pitt, Allentown Central Catholic's Ed McCaffrey heading west to Stanford, and hotly recruited Ringgold QB Scott Zolak going to Maryland.
Maryland had now taken two very good QB's from Pennsylvania in just a few short years, uh oh! The sky is falling! Never mind that Penn State would win the national title that year!
1987 was a banner year for talent in Pennsylvania. Freeport's Jeff Christy chose Pitt. Southmoreland's Don Grimm was a "can't miss" prospect that year because of how good his brother Russ had been a few years earlier. He chose Notre Dame. Big OL Greg Skrepenak from Wilkes Barre GAR chose Michigan.
The three most prized recruits that year, however, were two running backs and a quarterback. Pennridge Area had an awesome back in Louis Riddick. He traversed the state hopping right over State College on his way to Pitt while Ricky Watters and his big mouth scooted off to Notre Dame. I can only imagine the furor that would have erupted around the net had it existed at that time. Never mind that Penn State would go to South Bend four years later an defeat then top rated Notre Dame on the way to finishing 3rd in the final AP Poll.
Penn State went hard in 1987 after a tall rock solid cannon armed QB from Ridley HS named Matt Blundin. Matt wanted to play both hoops and football, so he chose Virginia.
Blundin wasn't the only stud from Ridley that went to some school other than Penn State. Offensive lineman Joe Valerio went to Penn on his way to the Kansas City Chiefs. A couple of years before Blundin, bigtime RB Pat Randolph went to West Virginia where he became their all time leading rusher.
1988 saw two Pennsylvania standouts follow Ricky Watters to Notre Dame. One was the electrifying Raghib Ismail.
1989 gave recruitniks plenty of anti Penn State ammo when Coach Ron Dickerson's son, Ron Dickerson, Jr. of State College HS, committed to Arkansas of all places. Harrisburg's Kevin Mitchell chose Syracuse, Fox Chapel's PJ Killian chose Virginia, and Aliquippa's massive Sean Gilbert chose Pitt. All would find NFL glory later on, but perhaps none was as hotly recruited that year as Berwick's flashy QB Jake Kelchner. He chose West Virginia leaving Penn State and Notre Dame as bridesmaids.
In 1990 Andre Coleman of Hickory chose Kansas State while Neshaminy product Mike Frederick chose Virginia. Notre Dame plucked a pair of future NFL players in Anthony Peterson of Ringgold and Tim Ruddy of Dumore High.
1991 was an incredible year for in state talent. Most of that star power would choose to go to schools not named Penn State however. Somehow we managed to keep playing winning football despite it all.
In 91' the recruitniks watched forlornly as future NFL players left the state in droves. Shawn Wooden of Abington High and Ray Zellers of Oliver would go to Notre Dame. Tom Tumulty of Penn Hills, Deitrich Jells of Tech Memorial, and Mike Halapin of Kiski Area would choose Pitt on their way to the NFL.
Scott Milanovich was a hotly pursued QB from Butler who chose Maryland and Greg Delong from Parkland Area went to North Carolina. Shannon Stevens was an immense talent from Glen Mills who chose Georgia after his Battlin' Bulls team had played a game at Valdosta HS and he fell in love with the south. His career ended with a torn acl ligament, but he could really play.
All of these players except Stevens would wind up in the NFL, but there were two recruits that year that surpassed all others. Roman Catholic HS in Philly sent their incredibly talented wideout, Marvin Harrison, to Syracuse, and Pittsburgh Allerdice sent one of the best tailbacks to ever play ball in Pennsy, Curtis Martin, to Pitt. Somehow, Penn State did not fold it's tent.
The biggest stars in 1992 were Aliquippa's CB Ty Law and Farrell High LB Lorenzo Styles. Law went to Michigan and Styles to Ohio State. Oh, woe is us! West Chester East lineman Michael Mohring was pretty good that year too. He could have gone anywhere and had about 40 offers. He finally settled on Pitt when Paul Hackett told him he'd take his kid brother the next year if Michael would commit.
In 1993 Michigan would take Rob Swett from CB West, Damon Denson of Baldwin and Jon Ritchie from Cumberland Valley. Ultra quick DT Denny Fortney would leave Waynesboro for the warm breezes of Coral Gables. Omar Brown was an absolute stud of a strong safety down at William Penn High in York. He chose North Carolina for some unknown reason. Maybe he liked the powder blue colors. Maybe it was the girl he met on his recruiting trip to Chapel Hill.
No recruit was more hyped in 1993 though than Ron Powlus. I think the first time I heard that Joe should hang it up after losing a hot QB recruit might have been when Powlus committed to Notre Dame. Or maybe it was Blundin, or Reich, or Campbell, or Cavanaugh, or Hostetler, or Montana, or Hanratty. My head is aching! We are doomed for sure!
1994 was an excellent year for Penn State football. We finished 12-0 and won the Rose Bowl. But it was yet another year of hotshot recruits heading elsewhere. Strath Haven sent two major recruits to Big10 schools not named Penn State. Ike Jones would head to West Lafayette and excellent corner Lamar Campbell to Wisconsin. Proof that Strath haven just has it out for us! Bishop McCourt is the alma mater of our then defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, but that helped little when speedy CB Atrell Hawkins spurned Penn State for Cincinnati.
Penn State would spend most of 1999 atop the major wire service polls, but 4 years earlier there was much heartache along the recruiting trail.
Harrisburg's Hank Poteat wanted to come to Penn State, but only if he could play tailback. Joe Paterno told him he was a safety and he chose Pitt. As could have been easily predicted, he played safety at Pitt. Pottsville DT prospect Randy Homa chose Ohio State that year.
RB Rashonn Drayton would leave Allentown Central Catholic to go to Florida State. He'd later leave FSU to drop down to Div. 3 football, but I doubt that would have stopped the naysayers from howling at Joe's door. You know "how can he let Bobby steal our in state kids"?
Ironically, I doubt anyone would have howled at Joe for not picking up Manheim Central FB Dan Kreider. No one recruited Kreider and he wound up at New Hampshire on his way to the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the top in state QB's that year was Marc Bulger and he chose West Virginia after Penn State had committed itself to one of the most hyped QB recruits to ever play football in the PIAA, Becahi superman Dan Kendra. Kendra actually committed to Penn State in December that year before backing out of his pledge and heading down to Tallahassee, Florida to play for the Noles.
In 1997 the all time leading rusher in PIAA history, East Stroudsburg's James Mungro, chose Syracuse. In 1998 we saw Franklin Regional OL Ryan Scarola head to South Bend, St. Joe Prep standout LB Victor Hobson to Michigan, Downingtown RB Arlen Harris to UVA, and hotly pursued WPIAL products Amir Purifoy and Brandon Williams to Pitt. Mungro and Hobson were, by far, the best of that lot, but all were heavily recruited.
None were as recruited that year quite like Dave Armstrong. Armstrong won every kind of all American honor coming down the pike. he was a tremendous high school wrestler and he had led CB West to state championships. Yessiree, he was the top dog in 1998, and he chose Michigan. One of the recruiting stories that made the rounds that year was that Dave was promised a captaincy at Michigan by head man Lloyd Carr. Dave never panned out at Michigan, and he would later transfer down a couple of levels to play at Shippensburg.
1999 saw a trio of talented players head to the ACC. Bruce Perry left George Washington High in Philly to go to Maryland while Harrisburg native Art Thomas and West Chester East QB Matt Schaub would go to Virginia.
One of the hot WR recruits in 2000 was Hazelton Area product Donnie Patrick. He chose Pitt, but he didn't last. Neither did national #1 fullback recruit Dustin Picciotti. Picciotti was so hot that he managed to play a starring role on an ESPN Special titled "Between the Lines" about CB West's ;legendary football program. He too chose Pitt, but he barely stepped on the field there due to problems with concussions. Musa Smith was a stud RB that year from the Central part of the state who chose Georgia and promptly became their top rusher.
No doubt the top recruit in 2000 was Manheim QB Jeff Smoker. Everyone wanted Jeff, including Penn State. Jeff wound up at Michigan State after Coach Paterno offered three QB's and told them all he'd take the first two to commit. California native Zac Wasserman and Maryland's Zack Mills took Penn State up on the offer and the rest is history. Jeff has yet to beat Penn State, this despite us not playing real good football in 2000 and 2001.
2001 was more of the same. Sharon's standout corner, Marlin Jackson, would be wowed by Michigan d backs coach Teryl Austin and Penn State wouldn't even be able to close the deal on Aliquippa corner Josh Lay. He initially chose Penn State only to back out the very next day and opt to play at Pitt.
Recruitniks fretted that year over nationally touted Bishop McDevitt WR Fred Lee. Fred's older brother had played at Penn State and when we failed to land him it was a certain sign that "Joe just can't recruit in state guys any more, not even legacy recruits"!!!
Parkland TE Tim Massaquoi was promised by Lloyd Carr that he could play WR, so he chose Michigan over Penn State. As anyone who saw him play could have predicted, he's now a TE at Michigan. Belle Vernon LB Scott McClintock also chose Michigan.
Without doubt, the top dog that year was Cardinal O'Hara RB Kevin Jones. Jones actually committed to Penn State on January 12th of that year. One week later he backed out of his commitment to Penn State and pledged to Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. He'll probably be an all American in Blacksburg this year. We did OK at RB though when Larry Johnson ran for 2000 yards last fall and Austin Scott made a commitment to play at Penn State in February of this year.
2002 came and went with more of the same old/same old. Woody Hills had a sensational WR prospect in Steve Breaston who chose Michigan. Cedar Crest RB phenom Jaren Hayes picked Michigan State, Cathedral Prep RB standout Jawan Walker chose Pitt, and Archbishop Carroll WR Maurice Stovall packed his bags and went to South Bend where he promptly landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated only two weeks into his freshman season. Brian Mattes left Scranton for Notre Dame too, and Brandon Darlington left Downingtown for Syracuse spurning both Penn State and Miami in the process.
Two of the top dogs that year were QB's. Perry Patterson from McCaskey High in Lancaster chose Syracuse and one of Tom Lemming's top national picks, three time WPIAL Player of the Year, Tyler Palko, he chose Pitt.
Last summer a lot of the fretting was over another McCaskey product, huge OL Joel Holler. That would prove to be wasted energy though as Holler would choose Penn State despite the fears of some Penn State recruiting aficionados. Ryan Mundy was a national hotshot too. Another Woody Hills kid. As some had feared, he picked Michigan, which, of course, is proof that Joe can't keep in state recruits in state, if you get my drift here.
There was daily worry last summer that RB phenom Darrell Blackman from Williamsport would spurn Penn State, and this was just amplified by the fact that former PSU great Gary Brown was an assistant coach for the Millionaires. If we couldn't land Blackman with Gary Brown running things up there then this would certainly prove, once and for all, that Joe can't keep in state recruits from getting away.
Well, Blackman did get away. But lo and behold, little attention had been paid last summer to another pretty good running back by the name of Austin Scott. Scott had a bone chip in his knee the year before and had basically fallen off the radar screen. Well, as it turns out, he became the top running back in PIAA history last fall when he broke every conceivable single season rushing record we keep track of around here. Somehow, Penn State is managing to get by.
Folk's, I could list dozens of additional top flight kids that got away. People like Coatesville native Walt Downing, a massive offensive linemen who went to Michigan in the late 60's before spending 11 years in the NFL. Guys like New York Jets standout DT Joe Klecko from St. James, and Haverford High products Randy Grossman and Steve Joachim. Or players like Norristown WR Priest Ramsey or Monsignor Bonner's Anthony Becht. How about Tennessee Titans star TE Frank Wychek or Dallas Cowboys OL Erik Williams from West Philly? For one reason or another, none of them did their thing at Penn State.
Check this out. Since 1967 Penn State has lost only several hundred top flight football recruits from our great state, yet, despite it all, the Nittany Lions have won more football games than just about any program in the nation.
Since 1967 we have seen 25 seasons of 9 or more wins, 18 seasons of 10 or more wins, and an incredible 12 seasons of 11 or more wins. Six times Penn State has either gone unbeaten or won the National Championship. yes, Penn State is getting by alright. We're doing a little more than that though, aren't we? You betcha. Penn State is thriving. We have had a couple of down years, but we are a great program that is headed right back where it's always been - on top of things.
The next time someone tells you that Penn State is faltering because the newest hotshot recruit might go somewhere else, you tell them it's OK. Penn State will be fine. Penn State will play winning football with the players that want to be here in Happy Valley. You tell them that you know better. You tell them you want the kids who are proud to wear the Blue and White and proclaim "We Are Penn State!" You tell them we can win a lot of football games with those Penn State kids.