|School:||East Meadow, Ny. (East Meadow HS)|
The last time LionNews talked with East Meadow (NY) HS lineman Rich Ohrnberger, it sounded like there was a distinct possibility he could commit to Penn State if they offered him a scholarship. All it took was a series of long distance calls from Hawaii to Florida and Florida to Long Island to snare the Nittany Lions their fourteenth verbal commitment.
"[Coach Brian Norwood's] actually in Hawaii on vacation because this is the only time the coaching staff has vacationing time. So he's in Hawaii for a family reunion. He calls my coach (Vinny Mascia), who's vacationing in Universal Studios Florida, and they're talking on the cell phones. Coach Norwood said that he had some great news, saying, 'We're offering your player' and my coach said, 'That's great, I can't wait to tell him.'"
"He called me shortly after that and, I'll tell you, that was some exciting news. I hadn't yet reacted like I did, reacted as excited; none of the offers quite got me like that did," admitted Rich. "I won't say exactly what I said, but I can tell you what I did. I jumped out of my seat. I was absolutely thrilled."
Rich did not commit instantly however, instead waiting a couple days before pulling the trigger on his commitment.
"Wednesday they offered and yesterday (Saturday), sure enough, at 2:15 in the afternoon I called my recruiting coach, Coach Norwood, and sealed the deal," said Rich, one of four Nittany Lion verbals from New York. "[Penn State] was my number team after that visit (for camp). At that point, I hadn't seen all the schools but Penn State was the biggest school, it fit my agenda, and the coaches are great. Everything about it 100%. I looked at all the things and made my decision. To be honest, there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice."
Although Penn State was Rich's number one school, he wasn't dead set about making a commitment just yet--not until his coach really painted a crystal clear picture of Penn State's situation in the days between getting offered and giving a verbal.
"We were still planning to take this trip down south to see Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Duke. We were going to hit all three probably this upcoming weekend. West Virginia has offered, so I wanted to check out their campus. Virginia Tech and Duke had verbally offered, so going down there would probably get me another two [written] scholarship offers," explained Rich. "But the thing was Coach Mascia called me on the phone and said it's good that [Penn State] offered, but there might be time restraints because they might sign five guys they need and may not need anymore lineman."
"I said what kind of time are we looking at. I called Coach Norwood and spoke to him about that. He said, 'We're getting a lot of commitments real quick; we're doing really well in that respect.' Then he said, 'You know I want to see you in the Blue and White, so I'm going to give it you straight.' He's like, 'You don't have a lot of time, those line spots are starting to go' and 'It may be in your best interest to give it good thought before waiting too much longer,'" Rich explained.
"Hearing that from Coach Norwood and also my coach saying the same thing, I really started measuring things out in my head and I was thinking about where have I been or coaches that I've talked to where I've felt the best, was treated the best--talked to like a gentleman, dealt with like a gentleman. Penn State was at the top of that. That's one win doing the pro's and con's. How about facilities? Beaver Stadium--come on. Their weight room, their training table, their whole football facilities were just incredible. So they're on top of that list too."
Rich continued, "Everything about Penn State was at the top of my list, so I sat down and said well what's stopping me. Other things came up in my mind like playing time. I talked to my coach about it. We had a practice this past Saturday, so hours before I committed I was at a passing league scrimmage. My coach pulled me aside before we got started and he said, 'We've got a free moment here, I want to talk to you about something. He said, 'The spots are kind of closing up on the o-line, kids are committing pretty quickly.' I asked him about where that puts me and he said, 'I'd feel guilty if I didn't ask you a question and I know you'll answer it honestly but I just want to get this off my chest.' He said to me, 'Rich, if Coach Norwood called up and said all those line spots are taken, we don't really need another lineman or it's in your best interest to find somewhere else, how would that make you feel?' I said that I'd be heartbroken. He said, 'I knew you were going to say that.'"
"[Coach Mascia] said, 'Honestly, think of it this way, if you'd feel that way if Coach Norwood said those words to you, then you'd feel like you were passing the biggest opportunity.' I said, 'You're right and I didn't think of it that way.' I said, 'I'll tell you right now, I've been doing a lot of thinking and I can't think of a place that I'd rather go.' I said, 'Coach, I might do this (verballing) tonight. He said, 'Rich, if that's how you feel, I can't support you more--there is no better choice," explained Rich, who then called his parents to talk things over.
How did his parents react to their son's choice of school?
"My dad actually said something that kind of sealed the deal for me. He said, 'Rich, at this point in the game, you're choosing between rubies and diamonds. And you're choosing diamonds, so where do you go wrong,'" Rich said, continuing, "So at that point I was like I've got to give Coach Norwood a call. So it happened 2:15 on Saturday."
Rich has already received his written offer from the Penn State coaching staff, after receiving the initial verbal offer from Coach Norwood.
Initially, playing time was the only concern Rich had about Penn State, but he feels his versatility on either side of the ball will enable him to see the field quickly after redshirting his freshman season.
"Playing time came up in my mind, but honestly, they're looking at me for both offense and defense. That's a great situation. If something goes wrong, where I feel that my strength is with the defense or vice versa, it gives me multiple options," explained Rich. "They like me, because of my height, for a center or guard position, and an inside position on the defensive line. That opens the door there. Say they don't need an offensive lineman, but they could use a d-tackle, maybe they could train me in both fashions and I could be a versatile player. Wherever they want to put me is where they'll put me--I just want to play."
At this point, Rich has no idea where the Nittany Lions coaches will line him up when he reaches the confines of Happy Valley, but he wants everyone to remember that he's not just strictly an offensive lineman.
"After 64 pancake blocks, people go, he's just an offensive lineman. But the cool thing at Penn State, they weren't just seeing the big plays. The defensive line coach, Coach [Larry] Johnson, was probably looking at run stops and blowing up a trap so the linebackers can get free because that was all in the highlight film too. The little things, it wasn't just me putting guys on their backs, it was some more of the technical things that I do well on defense. It felt real good, especially a coach of Coach Johnson's caliber, singing my praises to the coaching staff. Coach Norwood said that in conferences, Coach Johnson was very adamant about seeing me, so that humbled me a little," Rich stated.
Along with Larry Johnson, Sr., offensive line coach, Dick Anderson, a long time Penn State coach at a number of positions, likened his style of play to former Nittany Lions. After working with him at camp, Coach Anderson gave Rich a number of compliments, really boosting his confidence level.
"He started saying that I stay square very well. He said, 'All the things that a player needs to have, you have', and, 'All the things a player need to be taught, you already know.' He said I was coachable and he was very excited after we finished our session."
Although Rich can play multiple positions, does he have one favorite spot?
"I really have no preference on the field, I'll play wherever they put me," admitted Rich.
Before committing to Penn State, Rich visited the University of Maryland camp. Could any other schools have unseated Penn State as his number one choice?
"Syracuse looked good, but with all of this talk of Miami leaving the Big East kind of makes them a team without a conference, which makes me a little nervous. Maryland was one of my front runners as well. After I got home from their camp, I was a little disappointed because they were complimenting me and telling me I was doing a lot of things right. It felt like they would build me up, build me up. Coach D, he's their d-line coach, said that if you come to camp, you're leaving with a scholarship offer," said Rich, noting that Maryland never gave him an offer.
"The thing that I appreciated about the whole process with Penn State, is not once was I even mislead. Coach Norwood led me to believe I would be offered and two days later I was. That's very important to me. That integrity, especially in coaching staff, is what I looked for. It needs to be there. They didn't dance around the truth, they told it to me straight every time I spoke to them. That was a big part of my decision."
The Day of his decision to become a Nittany Lion, Rich met Penn State's first commitment and fellow Long Islander, Matt Hahn, at the passing camp East Meadow HS attended.
Although Rich and the other verbal commitments cannot sign their binding letters of intent until February of 2004, Rich maintained that his verbal is as strong as steel.
"I'm firm on that. I ain't moving. I don't care who offers me, Miami or anybody. I'm a Nittany Lion," Rich insisted proudly.
(Interview by Steve Curry)