Ohrnberger's coach talks about his star

Last weekend, East Meadow, Ny. lineman <b>Rich Ohrnberger</b> committed to the Nittany Lions. LionNews had the opportunity to speak with his head coach, Vinny Mascia, to discuss what makes his star player tick.

Name: Rich Ohrnberger
Position: OL/DL
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 275 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.9
School: East Meadow, Ny. (East Meadow HS)

Penn State's latest commitment sent a charge through the Nittany Lion internet community, causing people to wonder if he was the silent verbal, question the coaching staff's talent evaluation, and had fan wondering, 'who the heck is Rich Ohrnberger?'  Well according to East Meadow HS head football coach, Vinny Mascia, Rich Ohrnberger is a solid person and an even more solid addition to the Nittany Lion squad.  Coach Mascia chatted with LionNews about why Penn State decided to offer Rich, why Rich decided on Penn State, and at what position he sees Rich contributing.

Ohrnberger, a player not on many pre-season lists, may not have had a chance to become a Nittany Lion if he decided against attending Penn State's summer camp.

"(Defensive backs) Coach (Brian) Norwood was like we've got to see him at camp.  He was at camp last year, but Coach Norwood said, 'when I brought your name up to Coach (Bill) Kenney, he said he remembered you from last year but he (Rich) was about 225 pounds.'  He just hit the weight room and he grew another inch probably.   When the recruiting process started, [Coach Norwood] kept calling and said you've got to get him to camp, I can't convince Coach Kenney that he's 275," said Coach Mascia.  

"I said, 'Coach, you've got to be honest with me.  So many people are asking him to come to camp. Are you being sincere about this is or this just another guy you're trying to get into camp.'  And he said, 'Vinny, I wouldn't do that to you.  We really love this kid and Coach (Dick) Anderson and Coach Kenney have just got to see him.'  I tell you, Coach Norwood was 100% honest the whole way. He even said at the end, when he called up on a Sunday night when they broke camp.  They just finished the coaches' social and Coach Anderson had said to him, 'did you call Ohrnberger's coach yet because I want to make sure you get to him and let him know how interested we are,'" explained Coach Mascia.  "He said the problem is that they're just breaking for vacation and he (Coach Norwood) was going to Hawaii and Coach Paterno was going to his lake house; they were going all these different places."
Because the coaches were not in their Happy Valley based offices, Coach Norwood reassured Mascia that he would be in touch as soon as possible.

"He said if it takes two weeks, don't take it as disinterest.  Everybody's going to get back from vacation and we'll get to it.  But by coming to camp, he just leap frogged a whole bunch of kids.  Sure enough, like five or six days later, he's in Hawaii, I'm in Florida and all of a sudden I get the call.  He said that [the written scholarship] is in the mail and I don't want him to be surprised by the letter.  I said that there are a lot worse surprises than a formal scholarship offer from Penn State in the mail," laughed Coach Mascia.  "It really worked out great for the kid."

"He camped there last year, he went there this year.  He loved Coach Anderson, he loved Coach Johnson, and of course Coach Norwood is just, what a classy guy, what a gentleman.  From the first day he walked into the school, to the phone calls, he really won Rich over.  He fell in love with the place.  He was really impressed with the coaches and tradition obviously, the thought of playing for Coach Paterno, what that does for a kid.  It just really overwhelmed him.  When the offer came, he just couldn't pass it up," continued Coach Mascia.

With the advent of the internet, team depth charts, coaching bios, and recruiting lists are no more than a couple clicks away for someone researching information.  In order to keep tabs on Rich's favorite schools, Coach Mascia has kept an eye on recruiting--particularly the Penn State offensive line recruiting.

"When (Trent) Varva committed the other day, I read his article and it said that there's a mystery lineman out there with a silent verbal. With (Austin) Hinton as three, Varva as four, and the silent verbal as five, I said, 'I think this game is over,'" admitted Coach Mascia.  "I didn't want to tell Rich, but I said to the other guys that I think its over and Penn State's out.  A couple days later is when Coach Norwood called.  That's when I said, 'wow, this is a great surprise.'  I told Rich and he just loved it."

"Coach Norwood was honest with us.  He said that we're offering and we love him, it's unfair to do this to you, but we have offers out there and we're probably only going one more (lineman).  So he's going have to make a decision sometime soon."

Not wasting any more time than need be, Rich jumped on the Nittany Lion offer.  He did however have one question about the Penn State program.

"When we were talking, I said what's your only negative, your only con here.  He said there's a lot of offensive lineman there and I want to play football.  I don't want to get lost in the mix.  I said let's put it this way, if Coach Norwood and Coach Anderson and Coach Kenney didn't think that you could play there, a school like Penn State would not be offering you a scholarship.  A big smile came across his face and 'he said that makes sense; ok then I have no negatives,'" laughed Coach Mascia.

Although Rich attended Penn State camp as a junior and made enough of an impression that the coaches remembered his name, it was the his highlight video that forced the coaching staff to take notice.

"I got on the phone with Coach Norwood and he said that they hadn't seen it yet because they have so many films, which is understandable.  He ended up looking at it a week or so later and called me up and said the film was unbelievable.  He said, 'I'll be down in the area but I want to see him because on the film he doesn't look like he has the weight were looking for.'  On film he probably weighed about 235-240.  He ended coming down and saw [Rich], who was about 275 (pounds), and he said don't put another pound on him.  You keep him just like this and we'll do what we want with him.  He put on the forty pounds and he was still running a 4.97 forty."

"Actually, Purdue offered him a written, formal offer without ever seeing him in person, just off the film," admitted Coach Mascia, who sent out a sixty-five play tape.

Once the coaches got to work with him individually, at least one coach saw a glimpse of a former Nittany Lion great in Rich.

"Coach Anderson compared him to Mike Munchak, which I couldn't believe.  When he called me up that Sunday night, [Coach Norwood] said, 'Coach Anderson said to me, when he was watching him move and watching him do the things he was asking him to do, he kept seeing Mike Munchak.  I said that you've got to be kidding me.  How much better of a compliment can you give a kid?," said an enthused Coach Mascia, who admitted that Rich didn't quite grasp the significance of the comparison.  "These kids, they don't know any history.  It bothers the hell out of me.  How do you not know who Mike Munchak is?"

Another coach with a great deal of respect for Rich is Freeport HS's Russ Cellan.  Cellan has coached division one players like Syracuse NFLers Marlon Greenwood and Clifton Smith, along with Michael Haynes punching bag, Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson. During a previous meeting with East Meadow, Coach Cellan made sure his offense knew where Ohrnberger was on every play of the game on defense.

"He said to me, 'when we came to the line, the quarterback had to call out where Ohrnberger was [on the defense].  Then we slid the protection to him and we put our single back to his side.  That's what we thought about this kid,'" explained Mascia, who was impressed by the respect for his star.

Because both offensive line coaches, Anderson and Kenney, liked what they saw from Rich, it may be assumed that he will play solely on offense.  But defensive line coach, Coach (Larry) Johnson, could lobby for the athletic big man.  Have the coaches tipped their hands about where Rich will end up?

"They really didn't mention it.  They said Coach Johnson was very interested in him but they didn't mention the defensive side of the side, they seemed to be thinking offense," said Coach Mascia, who figured center or guard would be his best fit.  "Everything I got was from Coach Anderson."

A former lacrosse player, Rich had division one potential in that sport, but gave it up to concentrate on football.  His solid 235 pound frame and light feet helped him to strike fear into his opponents.  Despite the weight gain, it seems his speed has remains consistent.

"When he was 235, he was running a 4.93 (forty).  So he put on forty pounds, but he worked so hard with the speed and agility training with our trainer, by putting on forty pounds, most of it was muscle, he didn't lose the speed," explained Coach Mascia, who said Rich ran a 5.0 forty at Penn State's camp.

Coach Mascia believes that Penn State is getting a player fans will be excited to cheer for on and off the field.

"He's a no risk football player for any school that offers him.  He's a big, strong, fast athlete that can play a number of positions, he comes from a solid home, is a great moral kid.  There is no risk involved.  He's not going to screw you by doing something stupid.  He's not going to screw you by not going to class.  He's just not that kind of kid."

"Whenever anybody asks me about him, I've been coaching twenty-one years now, he's the best snap to whistle football player I've ever had.  He just goes from the time that ball is snapped, from man to man and he just keeps going.  If we have a big gain, like a fifty yard gain, if he didn't pancake a guy at the line of scrimmage, he's thirty, thirty-five yards down field with the running back," Coach Mascia said. "On defense, he's gotten some good nice coaching, we've got a real good line coach, so he's very technically sound.  His hands, his hand position, everything we wanted him to do on defense--whether he's taking on traps or spilling things outside to the linebackers--everything that you ask the kid to do, he does.  

"He's a great kid.  Captain for me last year as a junior.  He hasn't allowed a sack so far in eighteen varsity football games.  Puts the team first, making sure everything is going right.  He's probably going to be a helluva coach some day.  He just cares about everything that's going on.  It's not just about his game, which to me, is one of the most impressive things," extolled Coach Mascia.

(Interview by Steve Curry)

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