The Nittany Lion staff has set a wide reaching recruiting plan into motion, one that grew when the program discovered it would get back scholarships from the NCAA that it had lost due to heavy sanctions in the summer of 2012.
Penn State has already surpassed its original expected number of Class of 2014 commitments, as 16 prospects from nine different states have verbally pledged to wear blue and white. Eleven of them, along with two uncommitted prospects, traveled to University Park Friday to begin a three-day official visit. It certainly differed from the experience of State's Class of 2013.
Three of the commits in attendance, Swansboro (N.C.) receiver De'Andre Thompkins, Millville (N.J.) defensive tackle Antoine White and DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) running back Mark Allen took Fight On State through the weekend.
With most recruits arriving in the late afternoon hours with some travel difficulties due to weather, Friday was spent partially as a meet-and-greet, and partially as a learning experience.
Once all 13 prospects and their families were checked in at the Nittany Lion Inn, the group ate dinner at the hotel with the coaching staff, sorted throughout the room by position groupings. This would be a theme throughout the weekend, as all three recruits said they spent a majority of their time with the men who will soon coach them. The dinner set-up was a buffet style, but the popular items were lamb, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Following dinner, the group trekked out to spend time with current players at around 5:30 p.m., spending most of the evening in the freshmen dorms of current Lions tight end Adam Breneman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive end Garrett Sickels.
From what Fight On State has been able to track to date, St. Johns Prep (Danvers, Mass.) running back Johnathan Thomas was hosted by running back Akeel Lynch, Fairfield (Va.) running back Nick Scott by receiver DaeSean Hamilton, Allen by tight end Brent Wilkerson, White by defensive end Curtis Cothran, and Thompkins by cornerback Jordan Lucas.
The busiest day of the three, Saturday started bright and early with breakfast with the coaching staff at one of the dining halls on campus before the group embarked on a full day of stops. The set-up was similar to that of a normal recruiting weekend, as seminars and information regarding academics, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and meetings with position coaches plus O'Brien were all weaved into the day.
Of course, there was a stop at Beaver Stadium, a staple of last year's weekend that carried over to this one.
"They showed us all around campus, let us take pictures on the field, and then we talked to [strength coach Craig] Fitzgerald," Allen said. "The food was great."
A stop in the locker rooms and Lasch Building was mixed in before a three hour rest and relaxation back at the hotel. Dinner was then served at Pegula Ice Arena — again a buffet where player's sat with their position coach — before O'Brien gave his message to the group.
"I know how close the Class was in 2013, and Coach O'Brien talked about each year he wants us to be closer and closer," White said. "We already have a close knit class, and we all have each other's number. It was pretty cool building that bond."
"[O'Brien] said that we're a very strong class, and he wants us to come in and perform on the spot because there are really big expectations, just as the class before us," Thompkins added. "He talked about the high standard for our class, because there is so much talent, and he just thinks this class and the next class can come on the field fast and contribute."
Following dinner, the group meshed with current players to play video games and watch football. Thompkins and White planned their responsibilities for their pending plan to be roommates upon early enrolling, and he and the two other receiver commits, Mount Lebanon's (Pittsburgh, Pa.) Troy Apke and Middletown's (Del.) Chris Godwin, continued to build a bond they've long held.
All of it happened while getting to know their future teammates, and chatting about future dreams and future goals.
"It was really good, and nice to get a taste of it before I get there next month," White said. "I feel like I connected real well with those guys and who I'm going to be with when I get there in January.
"I met guys I haven't even met before, like Nnadi and Bookser, and talked a lot with the other commits."
He was referring to the two uncommitted prospects on the visit — Apke's high school teammate and offensive tackle Alex Bookser, and Virginia standout defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
None of the commits wanted to speak for the group as a whole, but it was clear all considered the weekend a success.
In what was a change from last years (not to mention from the previous staff), though there was a home men's basketball at the Jordan Center Saturday, the football recruits did not attend the contest. This despite the fact that O'Brien and Fitzgerald sat in the front row.
Penn State would not land a commitment immediately following this official visit weekend like it did in 2013, but the pledges in attendance were certainly in their uncommitted brethren's ear.
Following breakfast, the recruits bid farewell and headed their separate ways. Despite some travel trouble that kept some in State College until Monday morning and forced others to face lengthy waits in airports, it appeared all had returned home by Monday night.
Where Penn State's Class of 2014 goes from here is up in the air. Neither Bookser nor Nnadi are near a decision, what with the former taking an official to Ohio State Dec. 13 and Pittsburgh Jan 17, while the latter is still likely to announce his decision at the Under Armour All-American game Jan. 4 (or later).
Still, the 11 commits in attendance did what they could to put the right foot forward, both with their future classmates and those left undecided.
"Oh yeah, we were on them," Thompkins said. "Every recruit talked to them, but we tried not to bug them too much. We just told them about Penn State, and how we do things."
"I think everything was nice for those guys," Allen added. "We'll just have to see how it goes."